Keeping a pond healthy is critical to its success. To maintain a functioning ecosystem, a backyard water feature requires occasional plant thinning or dividing, which should initially be done just as the water warms up after winter. This particular backyard water feature maintenance should continue as needed throughout the entire growing season: as long as the water is above 60°F. Thinning out plants as needed keeps your circulation system going and prevents water displacement leaks.
Pond plants rooted in rocks on the bottom of an organic backyard water feature spread more vigorously than those confined in containers set on concrete pond bottoms. Once established, pond plants may cover the entire water surface within several years. Such abundant greenery, although lush to look at, inhibits water circulation. This, in turn, reduces the effectiveness of the pond's biological filtration and skimmer system that maintains the clear water in your backyard water feature.
When more than 50-70% of your backyard water feature’s surface is covered by pond plants —whether the plant roots have spread naturally or are restricted by pots—it's time to thin or divide them!
Mid to late March is prime time to perform this task initially for the year, because pond plants are beginning their growth cycle and will recover quickly. AND, the pond water has warmed sufficiently to be comfortable to step into, but hasn't become so warm that maintenance threatens fish health.
Disturbing a backyard water feature stresses your fish, and parasitic activity increases as water temperatures climb. The combination of those two things are dangerous to larger Koi. Smaller Koi and goldfish handle the stress much better. Don't thin plants much during the cooler winter months, when they are dormant, as this could cause them to die back and rot, in turn causing major water quality issues with your backyard water feature.
Thinning Plants in a Phoenix Pond
Many species of pond plants can be thinned by pulling or digging out the excess, root and all. Wear a sturdy pair of neoprene gloves to protect your hands. You may replant the excess in other areas of your backyard water feature, compost them, give them away or trade them with other pond owners, or simply discard them. Such plants that you might find in an Arizona backyard water feature include Pennywort (Hydrocotyle verticillata), Rush (Juncus sp.), Water Clover (Marsilea sp.), Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) and Taro, also known as elephant's ear (Colocasia escutenta). Any of these can become quite prolific if left unchecked.
Dividing Plants in a Phoenix Pond
Other species of pond plants need to be lifted and divided, similar to perennials. These backyard water feature plants might include Taro's black varieties ('Black Beauty', 'Black Magic', 'Black Ruffles') and 'Illustris.’ To divide a pond plant, carefully dig up the entire root ball (or lift it from its container, if applicable). Remove any excess soil or pond muck so that you can clearly see the rhizomes: horizontally growing underground stems from which new shoots and roots will sprout.
Cut and divide the clump with bypass pruners so that each new section is left with at least 3” of healthy rhizome with growing tips. Healthy pond plant tissue will be firm and bright white. Trim and discard any mushy or brown material, which are signs of rot. In addition to the Black Taro varieties, pond plants in your backyard water feature that require division include Canna, Iris, Pickerel (Pontederia cordata) and Water Lily.
Re-Planting Plants in a Phoenix Pond
Replant rhizome sections in the backyard water feature’s rock bottom, and then anchor them with a handful of pea gravel to prevent your voracious fish from uprooting them, or replant in the dirt containers. For heavy feeders, such as Iris, Taro and Water Lily, you can tuck a slow-release fertilizer tablet next to the roots. Only use tablets formulated for pond plants and follow package instructions. Nutrient overload encourages algae bloom, so don't be tempted to over-fertilize!
Not comfortable with doing it yourself? We can help! Contact us at 623-572-5607, via Email, or sign up for one of our No Worries Maintenance Programs.
The video below is an excerpt from our Annual Cleaning Clinic on how to transplant an aquatic plant in a Phoenix pond.
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Our monsoon season here in Arizona can be madness for pond owners. Between the dust storms that can wreak short-term havoc on a pond’s water quality and the heavy rain (water with attitude) causing or adding to a leak situation, ponding can be a bit of a challenge.
The following are the types of issues you might experience during monsoon season, and what to do about them.
Rapid plant growth during this time of year can cause a water diversion leak, typically in waterfalls and streams. Aquatic plants are happiest during our hot and humid monsoon-ridden months. People will trim off excess growth or dead leaves and stems, but often forget about the roots, which are the real offenders when it comes to diverting water. You gotta reach in there and grab that plant by the roots, and remove enough mass to allow the water to flow freely again. Don’t be shy! You can use the excess plant material in other parts of your pond or stream if you’d like.
During a heavy rain, sometimes a pond’s or stream’s edge will settle a bit. This can exacerbate diversion leaks because a small leak causes erosion. If any settling occurs, that small leak will suddenly become a big leak, which could quickly drain your water feature. The good news that this is an easy fix in a liner pond! You just move some rocks out of the way at the leak location, pull the liner back up above the water level, shove some dirt under it to hold it in place, and replace the rocks around the edges, covering the liner. Ta dah!
Storm damage is also prevalent this time of year with the high winds we get, usually before the rain hits. High winds can blow excessive debris, and large debris, into a stream bed, creating a damn, which diverts water over the edge of the liner: a diversion leak, which can cause the water feature to drain.
With the arrival of the monsoon storms, the desert wildlife kicks into foraging and home expansion mode. Ground squirrels, pack rats, and various other critters start digging around rocky areas looking for new home opportunities and places to store away the plethora of seeds and fruit they are harvesting from the desert, which is most productive during this time of year. These critters love digging in between the rocks that surround your waterfall and stream. Do not allow them to dig in between these rocks! If you see signs of rodent activity around your waterfall or pond, pack river cobble into the hole to discourage them from continuing their efforts in these locations.
We hope this information helps you with controlling issues that crop up during this time of year, and you can avoid the Monsoon Madness!
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We HIGHLY recommend (and have been preaching this for years) that Phoenix pond owners keep some battery-operated air stones on hand in case of emergency during the summer months. Warm water naturally holds less oxygen than cold water. At night, aquatic plants respirate carbon dioxide and steal oxygen from the already low-oxygenated warm water. Combined with a power or pump outage, this can create a very dangerous situation and suffocate the large fish in your pond overnight. Water movement and oxygen exchange are critical for keeping larger fish in your pond.
Having an aerator in your pond is a great way to help out the oxygen transfer (as well as offer some predator protection because they can’t see through the bubbles), but if your power goes out for any length of time, a battery-operated air stone could save the lives of your larger fish. Having an extra pump on hand may seem like a smart idea; however, the warranty period starts running at the time of purchase. Air stones are not ideal, but it’s certainly way better than nothing!
Guidelines for Air Stones IN A PHOENIX POND
There are some general guidelines to help determine how many air stones you might need to have on hand and drop in your pond in case of emergency. The guidelines assume the following:
If your pond meets the standards listed above, there is a rule of thumb you can use to determine how many 8” air stones you would need to keep your fish alive during a power outage or pump failure. If your pond exceeds any of these standards, you will need to adjust the recommended quantity to account for your specific conditions. Err on the side of caution because you can't have TOO much oxygen.
Rule of Thumb for Air Stones in a Phoenix Pond
We recommend one 8” air stone for every 25 sf of pond surface area. Remember, square feet is calculated by multiplying length times width. So, if you have an 8’ x 10’ pond, you have 80 square feet of surface area. 20% plant coverage would mean no more than 16 sf of water lily/plant coverage over the surface, so you would need a MINIMUM of 3 air stones. Again, if you have fish over 6” long, you need more because they need more oxygen than smaller fish.
If there is mulm on the bottom of the pond, keep the air stone(s) on a shelf above that so that you’re not stirring the mulm into the water column, which would exacerbate the situation.
Where to Get Air Stones for your Phoenix Pond
Air stones are used for bait keepers, and can generally be found at any sporting goods store. They are used to keep bait alive for fishermen.
Don’t wait until something happens, and the emergency is upon you – prepare now! At this time, The Pond Gnome does not offer 24-hour emergency service outside of our Platinum Maintenance Program. We may not be able to get help to you as soon as we would like for a pump replacement (and we have no control over power outages or electrical failures), so please, please, PLEASE take steps to take care of your fin-babies!
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Besides all of the wonderful aquatic plants available to us, we can also use annuals in Phoenix ponds and water features to spice things up a bit. Being annuals, yes, they will eventually spend and die, but they last for a whole season! This is most helpful in the wintertime when most aquatic plants are dormant and not showing off with blooms. However, it's also a great way to really liven things up in the summer, and add even more variety to your aquatic plant palette.
Check out a short video on how and why The Pond Gnome adds annuals to our water features:
Yes, you can avoid draining & cleaning your Phoenix pond! There are some simple maintenance techniques that will keep your pond in tip-top shape all year long, for many years. In fact, we have clients who have NEVER drained and cleaned their pond in 20 years.
Watch this short video to learn the secret to never having to drain & clean your pond:
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