Water gardening and ponds have become popular trends in home yard design over the last several years, and their popularity as a home improvement is gaining ground every day. The backyard pond has become the favorite space outside the house for relaxing alone, with the family, or entertaining friends. Similar to having a swimming pool in your backyard, there’s more to having a pond than simply digging a hole, filling it with water, dropping in a few fish and surrounding it with some greenery. Some basic pond maintenance is essential to the longevity of your water garden. A little regular pond care and the installation of pond filtration systems will keep your backyard oasis thriving and beautiful for many years of enjoyment.
Pond maintenance can be low once you understand the basics. The main concept for maintaining a healthy pond is the understanding that caring for your pond requires managing animal and plant waste, such as fish excrement and the growth of algae. Rivers and streams naturally renew themselves with nutrients and fresh water; however, a man-made pond is a closed ecosystem. This means that nothing is organically added in or taken out by natural outside forces (except for maybe that ocassional dust storm). For successful pond maintenance, manual intervention is necessary to take care of what nature isn’t and to keep the ecosystem of the pond in balance.
In a closed pond system, as opposed to an open, natural ecosystem, waste and algae needs to be equalized, and for this reason a proper biological and mechanical pond filtration system is needed. By caring for your pond, filtering out organic materials and not letting them break down and decay in the water, a healthy balance will be maintained in the pond. The best way to ensure a healthy pond is by installing a pond filtration system. A professional pond designer/builder will install a filtration system that is adequate for the size of the pond you have, and add appropriate water plants to help with the filtration process.
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Aquatic plants are a very important step in achieving a truly balanced ecosystem pond. Regardless of why you got into the water gardening hobby, adding aquatic plants to the pond is an important part of the water garden. They provide beauty and naturalization with a huge array of plant choices.
Most importantly, they help balance the pond’s ecosystem, as well as provide valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other minerals from pond water. These excess nutrients are often the cause of unsightly water conditions. The end result helps to minimize pond maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy your pond. Without aquatic plants, your pond would not be able to function as a complete ecosystem.
Pond Plants in a Backyard Koi Pond
Aquatic plants can be classified into a few main categories: water lilies, marginal plants, floaters and submerged (also known as oxygenators). Plants can also be put into two basic types known as “tropical” and “hardy.” Hardy plants will over-winter in colder climates and tropical plants are more suited to warmer climates, although tropical plants are often used as annuals in colder climate zones.
Water lilies are among the most popular of aquatic plants and are often the centerpiece of the water garden. A water garden never seems complete without a few beautiful water lilies. Not only are water lilies breathtaking, but they provide valuable shade (a respite from our summer heat), which helps to keep the pond cool while providing refuge for pond fish. Ideally, only thirty to fifty percent of the water surface should be covered with aquatic plants.
The marginal plant group is the largest aquatic plant group by far, containing both hardy and tropical plants. Marginal plants serve many functions such as adding beauty and providing valuable filtration. They are called “marginals” because they typically grow around the edges or “margins” of a pond or lake. Marginal plants thrive in wet soil or standing water that covers the crown or base of the plant by as little as two inches and up to as much as six inches. Some examples of marginals include Yerba manza and Creeping Jenny.
Floating plants do just as their name indicates: they float on the water’s surface. Their roots dangle beneath the plant absorbing all their nutrients from the water. Most floating plants do a great job of filtering ponds by removing nutrients directly from the water, as opposed to the rock substrate where most other aquatic plants are situated or planted.
Like the name implies, this group of plants lives below the water surface. They are commonly referred to as oxygenators. Submerged aquatics do produce oxygen during most of the day. Submerged aquatic plants live entirely under water, almost. Some oxygenators bloom and the flowers often rise to the surface. They include plants such as elodea, anacharis, hornwort, foxtail, cabomba, and vallisneria. For the most part, submerged plants absorb their nutrients directly from the water. This means they compete with algae for nutrients, thereby helping to balance the ecosystem.
Putting it All Together
Just like their soil counterparts, a good mix of aquatic plants lends the best visual impact for your water garden. Marginals help to blend the pond into the surrounding landscape, while water lilies provide pops of color at the water’s surface. Take some time to familiarize yourself with all the wonderful options out there and you’ll soon find what most appeals to you. For your convenience, we have a page on our website dedicated to the aquatic plants that we know work well in our Sonoran Desert.
Should I ADD salt TO my Phoenix pond?
We often get the question about salting ponds. Salt enhances the slime coat on fish, which aids them in fending off parasites. If your fish are jumping and flashing (scratching up against rocks, or other hard edges), then we do recommend salt for helping the fish fight the itching that comes with the spring parasite bloom. But there are some rules and caveats!
What are the drawbacks to using salt in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
The main drawback is that your aquatic plants are not keen on a lot of salt in the water, so you have to be careful as to how much you add. Too much salt may affect your plants and cause them to die. Also, when salt is used constantly in a system, even at low levels, various parasites can become resistant and pose an even bigger threat to the overall health of your fish. For this reason, it would be best to use salt as a preventative for disease in the springtime only, allowing the water to return to it's natural level the rest of the year. Massive die-offs of algae due to the addition of salt can also cause a substantial drop in oxygen levels in your pond, causing stress and/or death to your fish.
How much salt should I use in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
Recommendations range from 1% to 3% solutions in your water. So....if your fish seem fine and your plants are young, you probably shouldn't add anything to the water. If your fish are itchy and your plants are mature, you might want to add a 2-3% solution, but be aware that your plants will start to suffer and burn at a level over 2%, and at over 3% you will kill more delicate plants.
What kind of salt should I use in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
You absolutely don't use table salt! You want pure non-iodized salt. Avoid using any salt with additives such as iodine and other minerals, as well as those with anti-caking agents which can out-right suffocate your fish.
Pond salt can be purchased on-line, or at various pet supply stores.
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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