This fast-growing plant, which can grow rooted or floating, is named for its ability to provide baby guppies with plenty of hiding places when born. It’s also great at removing toxins from water. As is the case with most fast-growing plants, it is exceptional at taking up nutrients in the form of heavy metals, toxins, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates from water. It consumes almost every free nutrient in the water leaving little behind for algae growth. As great as that sounds, don’t run out and plant your water garden up with Guppy Grass until you understand its growth habits.
In our experience, it grows faster than algae, which can cause some inconvenient problems if not constantly removed from your stream. It spreads throughout small ponds like a wildfire and once it is completely rooted throughout your stream, it has the ability to displace most of the water in your shallow babbling brook in just a couple of weeks, which means if you don’t “mow” it to the stones every week, you are in for some displacement leaks.
How did guppy grass get into my pond? I didn’t plant it there!
Guppy grass is native to the Americas, from Canada to southern Mexico. It is an extremely popular plant in the aquarium hobby. So, basically, it’s everywhere. It’s commonly found in golf course ponds and backyard ponds that do not have circulation systems, largely due to its amazing ability to sponge impurities from the water. It only takes an inch of plant to start a new plant. So, a one-inch piece of plant can hitchhike its way to your pond on a bird that visited a golf course pond just before it stopped off at your pond. We have seen this several times now.
If you have a golf course pond nearby (as so many of us do here in the Valley of the Sun), keep a watchful eye on your pond for any new and unknown plants showing up. The most likely place for you to see the Guppy Grass first is in your stream bed. If you should see it, carefully remove ALL of it immediately. It doesn’t take long for it to get a foothold and once established, it is virtually impossible to remove without a complete cleanout, and dry-out, of your organic water garden. In short, it is rarely worth the effort.
That’s not to say that there is never a time Guppy Grass is a good idea. However, if you have a longish gravel stream bed, Guppy Grass presents a higher maintenance issue than filamentous algae.
What do I do about Guppy Grass?
Please check with your Pond Gnome Pond Pro to see if Guppy Grass is right for your pond!
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Turtles are great! The Pond Gnome has lots of clients who adore their turtle pets. And just like any pet, turtles need certain conditions to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. We don’t profess to be herpetologists by any stretch, but we can help with some basics for our area of the country, as well as some references for more information.
Most Common Breeds Kept in Arizona
Turtles are well-adapted to our desert climate, and most species will live about 30 years given a proper habitat and diet. The most common turtle species we see in backyard ponds are the Red-Eared Slider. They are native to the southeastern United States and northeastern Mexico.
The second most commonly seen backyard turtle is the Mississippi Map Turtle, which is native to the Mississippi watershed, as the name suggests. These two species likely make up 80% of the pet turtles in Arizona.
Our native species is the Arizona Mud Turtle. There are three species of mud turtles that are found in and near creeks, rivers, lakes, stock tanks, and ciénegas in central and southeastern Arizona. Mud Turtles can be relatively common in their preferred habitats. A hunting license is required to lawfully collect and possess Mud Turtles in Arizona.
Security and Safety for Their Health and our Native Environment
The most important thing to remember about keeping exotic pets like turtles, is to keep them properly contained. Escaped exotic turtles do a lot of damage to our native species. Allowing them to escape into natural rivers and streams is an environmental disaster of sorts.
Proper fencing designed to contain them from both climbing out, and digging out, is crucial. Also keep in mind they are not the top of the food chain. If you live in an area with racoons, you must also keep the racoons out of your turtle habitat, or build you turtle pond large enough for your turtle pets to escape predation.
Turtles are omnivores. They eat whatever they can catch or find, including insects, small fish, frogs, and many aquatic plants, as well as dead fish or frogs. This makes an organic water garden a utopian environment for them! Just make sure it is large and diverse enough to handle their foraging activities, and the biological filters are designed to handle the ammonia production of your turtle pets.
Of course, lots of folks like to hand-feed their turtles various veggies. We know of a few really spoilt turtles whose owners interact with them every single day with treats and attention, and swear that they come when called.
Turtles will spend most of their life in the water. When active, they can hold their breath under water for up to 30 minutes! During the colder months, they can enter a state of torpor and remain under water for months at a time! Still, they should have a sunny rock to bask on in the middle of their pond where they can feel safe while soaking up the warm sunshine. They should also have a space of terrestrial dirt, and maybe event composted mulch and a shrub or two, to hang out under once in a while.
Turtles need a body of water to hang out in to stay hydrated. They cannot survive long without a healthy, organic, body of water. Having a filtered pond big enough to swim in, to hide in, and within which to forage is optimal. If you relegate them to an enclosure with a small water tub, know that the water in the tub will need to be changed frequently as turtles defecate mostly in the water. Thus, a properly built filtration system designed to handle their output is essential if you want to also enjoy that pond aesthetically.
Responsible Turtle Parenting
As with any pet, you should design and build a good habitat for the creature before bringing it home. Many folks get a turtle on a whim, or by gift, and don’t have a good environment in place, causing suffering, and sometimes even death. All the good intentions in the world fall short of proper planning.
Resources for More TURTLE Information
Arizona Game and Fish Department: http://www.gf.state.az.us/
Arizona Herpetological Association: http://www.azreptiles.com
Online field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Arizona: http://www.reptilesofaz.com/
Reptiles of Arizona: http://reptilesofaz.org/turtles.htm
My fish died overnight, and I don’t know why!
It’s absolutely heart-breaking to wake up in the morning and find your fish floating in the pond – especially when you don’t know why it happened. If they don’t have any visible wounds on them, and it’s mid-Summer in Phoenix, the cause is probably suffocation.
Several factors can contribute to this issue:
If any (or all) of these factors combine with the already low oxygen levels in warm water, the pond fish can suffocate. Here in Phoenix, during the summer, our nighttime lows can remain above 90 degrees! This sets up a very oxygen poor environment in our water to start with. Warmer water naturally holds much less oxygen than colder water.
What goes in must come out
An over-abundance of plant life provides plenty of oxygen in the daytime, but exhales carbon dioxide at night (photosynthesis). That’s right: too many plants allowed to grow out of control actually rob your pond of oxygen at night. Now, that’s not so bad in the wintertime, when cold water is oxygen-rich and the fish’s metabolism has slowed to a dormant rate, so they’re not in need of as much. But in the summer, the fish are more active, their metabolism is at full-throttle, and they need all the oxygen they can get.
Plants grow like wildfire in Phoenix from Spring through Fall, taking up the nutrients from the fish waste and adding shade and oxygen to the water all day long. Then nighttime comes along, and the plants reverse this process, stealing oxygen from the pond and releasing carbon dioxide, just like a human inhaling and exhaling. If you have a lot of fish (measured in inches) competing for that oxygen, someone’s going to lose -- and the plants can hold their breath longer than the fish.
Sun exposure, aeration, depth, plant varieties, etc. play a role in healthy pond-keeping practices. The following preventative measures are rules of thumb, and you need to remember that each pond is an individual and unique unto itself.
Pond Size & Fish Load
The first rule of ponding is to not over-fish your pond. Yep, there are a lot of really cool fish out there, and people are tempted to collect them all. If you want to do that, build a bigger pond with appropriate filtration for that goal. Otherwise, choose wisely.
Experts agree that you should keep your fish collecting to between ½” and 1” of fish per ten gallons of water. And if you have other aquatic life in the pond, such as a turtle, you need to take that into account, as well.
A well-maintained ecosystem pond really should only need a complete drain & clean every 3-5 years here in Phoenix. Preventative measures can extend that timeframe, or even eliminate it. That estimation changes depending on how many fish you have, other aquatic life in the pond, and how much food and waste accumulate.
The toxicity of the mulm building up on the floor of a pond depends on many factors: the types and size of your fish, the circulation system on the pond, the filtration system on the pond, etc. Preventative measures like netting the floor or adding sludge digesters to the pond regularly could actually keep you from ever having to worry about this issue.
If your pond wasn’t originally planned for abundant fish-keeping goals, you should err on the side of caution when adding fish and stick to the ½” of fish per 10 gallons of water recommendation.
If you’re just starting to think about a pond, you need to make sure you (or the professional you’re hiring) are clear on your goals of desired fish-keeping so that the design of the filtration system is appropriate.
Keep plants under control
This is a big part of maintaining an ecosystem pond. In the wintertime, it’s no big deal because the water is cold and both the fish and plants are fairly dormant. Plus, a bit of extra dormant plant material in the pond makes for great cover for over-wintering amphibious life.
But once Spring hits, those plants start growing like crazy! Just trimming off the dead leaves isn’t enough. You need to make sure you’re keeping the roots under control – which also has the added bonus of preventing water displacement leaks. A good rule of thumb is to keep your plants from covering over 50% of the pond’s surface area. If you have stellar aeration, you can have more; less aeration, less coverage. Sun exposure and depth play a role, as well.
Pond Maintenance Programs
Ponds need regular maintenance. Most well-built ecosystem ponds with appropriate filtration for their size need as little as 10 minutes a week, and provide hours of enjoyment. But it has to be done.
If you are unable, unwilling, or just plain too busy to do the maintenance, but still want a gorgeous living water feature, The Pond Gnome has maintenance programs for folks who want to do a little, a little more, or not a bloody thing!
How can we help?
My Fish Seem Like They're Fighting, or Picking on One Fish in Particular.
They're actually NOT fighting. They are attempting to breed. Yep, your fish are gettin' busy. The males in the pond are trying to get the female to release her eggs into the water so that they can be fertilized. It does look like a brutal process to an outsider or first-time pond owner, but it's simply the fish's process of procreation. The female actually requires a bit of help from the males to release her eggs that have developed inside of her. She may look a little worse for wear for a short time, but should recover fairly quickly once the eggs are released, which brings us to the next issue...
Why is there foam in my pond?
The wise old owl told Bambi that every living creature gets "twitterpated" in the Spring. Well, your fish are living creatures! If you've noticed a foaming in your pond that comes and goes, don't panic. It's simply your fish responding to Spring's siren call. Love is in the water, and so are excess proteins. If the foam in the pond is a bit fishy smelling, then that is what's going on and it should be gone in a couple of days. There's no need to treat it.
There are a few potential causes of foam in your pond. The most common reason for foam in a pond this time of year is that your fish are doing the Spring thing.
Over-application of pond bacteria can create foam in the pond temporarily, in which case there would be no odor accompanying the foam and it will dissipate in a few days.
Another cause of foam in a pond could be a dead animal in the pond and you will need to locate and remove it immediately.
Soap being thrown in the water can obviously cause foam in a pond. This typically doesn't happen to backyard ponds, but if you have a front yard pond or it's in a commercial location, it's a possibility. In this case, the pond will have to be drained, cleaned, and re-started. This would also kill the fish. If this has happened to you, you have our sincere condolences. And may the bad karma of whoever did it be swift!
So, if it's just your fish being twitterpated, no worries, all will settle down again shortly. If it's something else that you need help with, don't hesitate to ask for help.
Look at that Escargot!
Okay, yes, it's an old joke! But some people don't think snails in their pond are too funny. Snails that originate in an aquatic environment do not survive in the desert outside the pond. The aquatic snails feed on algae and dead plant material (pond detritus), and are therefore considered a beneficial critter in the aquatic environment. There are very few varieties that feed on living aquatic plant material, and we only rarely see these varieties. If you do see them, they will most likely be eating your water lilies.
What should I do about snails in my Phoenix pond?
Don't worry about the pond snails. They are pretty much relegated to life inside the pond. AND, BONUS, it's great fun for young children to hunt for them in the rocks and plants -- it's an activity that can keep them busy for hours!
What Should I do About Snails in my Garden?
If you have snails in your garden, on the other hand, the Master Gardeners can help you out here, because those are a nuisance. You can also contact them via email: MaricopaCountyPlantHotline@gmail.com.
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