Backyard ponds have become an exciting landscaping trend! Most homeowners want a pond to add ambiance to their yard or to simply enhance their outdoor living space. Their goals range from fish collecting to plant collecting to simply wanting to enjoy the sight and sound of water. Ponds create a respite from the techno-crazy world and a haven for prized Koi and local wildlife. Yet few realize the countless environmental benefits of installing an ecosystem pond or water feature.
According to the National Gardening Association’s 2008 Environmental Lawn and Garden Survey, 9 out of 10 households believe it’s important to maintain their landscape in a way that benefits the environment. However, only about half of those are knowledgeable about how to maintain lawns and gardens in an environmentally-friendly way. Lots of homeowners hire a service to care for their landscape, and as long as it looks good, they don't really pay attention to what chemicals are being used, etc. Those that maintain their own, tend to run to the big-box store, buy chemicals, don't really read the instructions, and use way more than what is truly necessary. Many people don’t realize that by replacing some (or all) of their lawn with a pond or water feature, they can conserve water and energy, save money, and support the environment – not to mention reduce personal stress.
Lawns use A LOT of water
According to the University of Arizona, the average 15'x15' bermudagrass lawn uses over 5,000 gallons of water per year. A typical residential lawn sprinkler system broadcasts about 10–18 gallons per minute, per valve or zone. By the way, broadcasting water like that increases evaporation and the lawn doesn’t really receive as much water as is being broadcast.
So, if a lawn has two zones and runs for 15 minutes each three times per week, the water consumption would range between 4,500 and 7,560 gallons per month. In Phoenix, that would equate to about $175 to $275 per month on your water bill. Yikes!
PONDS USE LESS WATER THAN A LAWN
Evaporation on a pond is the same as on a swimming pool: 1” per day per square footage of surface area during the hottest, driest months of the year (typically mid-May through mid-June). During the rest of the year, the evaporation is negligible. AND you’re not adding water during monsoon storms and general rain days. Unless you have one of those expensive timers that detects the moisture in the air and doesn’t water when it’s raining, your lawn gets watered no matter what. A pond will have an autofill device that only adds water when it’s needed.
Lawns GENERALLY require more maintenance than ponds
Maintaining a lush lawn obviously requires regular watering, as pointed out above. But there’s also a LOT more that goes into maintaining a nice-looking lawn, right? You also have to fertilize it. When not done properly, runoff of excess fertilizer causes groundwater pollution. The EPA estimates that only 35 percent of lawn fertilizers applied ever reach the grass plant – the remainder ends up in our air or seeps into our water supply. During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are reportedly applied in pursuit of that perfect lawn and garden, says the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns. Is your “little patch of estate” worth that?
You have to mow and edge it, enslaving the average man (or woman) for at least half a day on any given weekend. Aside from the time involved, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, using 800 million gallons of gas per year, AND producing tons of air pollutants, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Garden equipment engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides, producing up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution (and a good deal more in metropolitan areas). A traditional gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars, each being driven 12,000 miles. Lastly, more than 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year refueling lawn and garden equipment. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the amount of oil that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska. And this all adds to groundwater contamination and smog, the EPA reports.
And then there's the noise pollution. The sounds of lawn mowers and edgers are NOT soothing. They are an irritant to anyone within range.
PONDS ADD TO THE AMBIENCE AND REDUCE STRESS
Ponds, however, reduce the need for lawn pesticides and fertilizers. They require about 10 minutes of maintenance per week, and pay you back with hours of enjoyment. And they certainly don’t require any gas-powered equipment. As an added benefit, the debris and sludge collected by your pond filter can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your lawn, garden, and/or trees.
And as to sound, who wouldn't rather listen to a waterfall or babbling brook rather than mowers & blowers?
Now, if you have a bunch of kids that need a football or soccer field to play on, then by all means, plant a lawn! Or you could make use of a nearby park and let the City deal with the time and cost of the maintenance. But if you’re looking for a low water use, low maintenance, super enjoyable, and entertaining landscape option, you might want to consider an ecosystem pond or water feature.
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Yes, we have raccoons in Phoenix, AZ! Arizona's backyard ponds serve as tranquil havens, providing homeowners with a slice of nature within their property. However, maintaining these water features comes with its challenges, especially when raccoons decide to make your pond their nightly playground. Raccoons can wreak havoc on ponds, causing damage to aquatic plant life and disrupting the aesthetics of your backyard paradise. In this blog, we'll explore effective strategies to defend your Arizona backyard pond from raccoon intruders, while preserving the harmonious coexistence between your water feature and local wildlife.
Understanding the Threat
Raccoons are intelligent and resourceful creatures, known for their curiosity and dexterity (some people call them cats with hands). When they discover a pond, they view it as a potential food source and an opportunity for play. The potential damage caused by raccoons includes uprooting plants, disturbing the pond substrate, and even predation on fish and other aquatic life. They can be quite destructive, especially if your pond is hosting an entire gaze of raccoons (yes, you read that right: a group of raccoons is referred to as a “gaze”). Now you know.
Implementing RACCOON Defense Strategies
The most effective direct barrier for raccoons is an electric barrier fence. Ranch supply stores, like Tractor Supply, sell very affordable electric barrier fencing options. The obvious drawback is that this type of fencing will also limit your pet’s ability to access the pond. Since raccoons are nocturnal predators, the answer to that issue is to put a timer on the fencing transformer so that it is only active between bedtime and dawn. And then remember the times when you can let your dog out without mishap.
You could install motion-activated sprinklers or lights (sometimes called “Scarecrows”). Raccoons are nocturnal, and sudden bursts of water, light, or sound can startle and deter them. These devices are an effective way to discourage raccoons from approaching your pond. If you opt for water, be sure to deactivate it before you go out, or you’re gonna get an unexpected shower. The funniest noise option story I’ve heard is using a motion-activated power source to activate an electric drill with a bent bit inside of an old metal mailbox. The racket will scare the hair off the raccoon and if it happens to wake you that makes for a good chuckle before you fall back to sleep and dream about your koi greeting you from their safe haven in the morning!
Place floating objects like large plastic balls or inflated pool toys in your pond. Raccoons are less likely to enter water where these objects are present, as they can be unpredictable and uncomfortable for the animals.
Use predator decoys or scents. Strategically place decoys of natural predators, like owls or hawks, around the pond. Additionally, you can use predator urine or scents to create the illusion of danger, making raccoons think twice before approaching.
An actual patrol dog is another obvious choice.
Secure Feeding Practices
Refrain from feeding other local wildlife near the pond, as this may attract raccoons looking for an easy meal. Remove any potential food sources, such as fallen fruit or pet food, that might entice them onto your property.
Strategic Landscaping and Regular Maintenance
Keep surrounding vegetation trimmed to eliminate potential hiding spots for raccoons. This also ensures clear lines of sight, making your pond less appealing as a shelter.
Professional Pest Management
If you have an ongoing raccoon issue, you can contact a pest control company properly licensed to capture and relocate these critters. One good choice would be Arizona Wildlife Control.
Defending your Arizona backyard pond against raccoons requires a combination of preventive measures and thoughtful landscaping. By implementing physical barriers, motion-activated devices, floating deterrents, and/or natural deterrents, and maintaining secure feeding practices, you can coexist peacefully with local wildlife while preserving the beauty of your pond. With these strategies in place, you can enjoy the serenity of your backyard oasis without the fear of raccoon disturbances.
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Build it and they will come! Everything needs water to survive, and if you have a living backyard pond in Phoenix, you can count on visitors. Some of these will delight the eye; others may not be so welcome. An organic, healthy water source is a boon for local wildlife, as well as native & migratory birds. But everything in life is a package deal, especially when it comes to backyard landscape ideas.
The possibility of pond predators seeking out your backyard pond is a valid concern in terms of the safety of your pond's inhabitants and your family, but the possibility shouldn't be a reason to avoid having a backyard pond, and a little common sense goes a long way. We've listed here a few visitors that you might encounter.
RACCOONS ARE PREDATORS
Yes, we have raccoons in Phoenix. Raccoons generally won't actually swim in your pond. That's not to say they couldn't stand on the side of your pond and take a swipe at your fish. Fortunately, most fish will swim to a deeper, more protected part of the pond when a predator is threatening them. We had a raccoon visit with us for a short time. Yep, ate our favorite fish. There are pest control companies that can help you with these guys. And there are several deterrents that can be employed to discourage them from coming near your pond.
BLUE HERONS ARE HUNGRY BIRDS
The one predator with legitimate credentials to raid your backyard pond is the Blue Heron. These birds can easily wade into your pond, help themselves to any fish of their choice, and fly away with their bellies full. They are a protected species, so don’t get any crazy ideas about getting out your BB gun.
Giving your fish a place to hide in your backyard pond (adding Koi caves) dramatically increases their odds of survival, and/or a motion-sensing sprinkler can be set up alongside your pond ready to fire a steady stream of water at a predator has had some degree of success in warding off these curious critters. Just remember to turn the darn thing off before YOU go outside, or be prepared to get an unexpected shower.
COYOTES ARE A BIT WEIRD
Coyotes really just want a drink of water. Although, as you can see from the photo below, sometimes they like to bathe or lay in a shallow stream to cool off. They've also been known to take a poop in a stream, which we find to be a bizarre behavior. If you have coyotes in your neighborhood, take a quick peak out a window before you go charging out the door, just to be on the safe side, or before you let your little pooch outside.
JAVELINA CAN BE DANGEROUS
Again, Javelina are just stopping by for a drink. They're not interested in your fish. However, they can be dangerous, especially if they have young with them. Always check your surroundings before venturing out of the house.
RODENTS CAN BE SERIOUS PESTS
If you live in an area where rodents are prevalent, you will probably attract some to your backyard pond. They can be real pests, as they tend to dig. Rodents will make homes in the back of waterfalls and can wreak all sorts of damage if not caught early.
And with rodents come the predators of rodents. Reptiles are generally a retiring bunch, and don’t want anything more to do with humans than humans want to do with them.
THE BEES' KNEES
Now that we’ve scared the wits out of you, let’s talk about some terrific beneficial creatures that will be attracted to your organic water feature. We’ll start by talking about bees. Yes, bees are friendlies! They are after the water. These girls are very busy collecting it to take back to the hive to keep the rest of the hive alive, especially during the hot summer months. Bees are a “collective,” meaning that they each (as drones) are programmed to do a specific job for the “collective,” and no more. The only way they sting is in confusion or self-defense. So, don't interrupt their day.
NATIVE & MIGRATORY BIRDS ARE FUN TO WATCH
Birds are probably the prominent creatures that you will notice around your backyard pond. Want to see Orioles, Cardinals, Warblers, Cactus Wren, etc., right outside your living room window? A pond gives them a healthy, organic water source, whether they’re there to stay, or just making a pit stop along the way to their destination, making this backyard landscape idea a favorite of bird lovers.
OTHER COOL CRITTERS
Frogs, toads, butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies are other awesome critters that are attracted to backyard ponds. Not only are they great fun to observe, but they provide the best possible integrated pest management you can imagine!
Other cute critters you might spy around your pond would be families of quail, bunnies, and lizards. Whether they’re pets or friendlies is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.
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Also known as oxygenators, submerged pond plants live entirely underwater – well, almost. They do flower and the flowers will rise to the surface of the pond for pollination. However, most of these flowers are insignificant and don’t constitute a compelling reason to purchase the plants. Submerged pond plants act as a wonderful natural filter in your pond, consuming excess nutrients. Here are some great reasons why you need submerged plants in your pond.
For the most part, submerged plants take their nutrients directly from the water, which means they compete with algae for their dinner. Algae is nothing more than a single-celled, green aquatic plant (the first weed in the garden, we like to say). Being bigger, more voracious, and better-looking than algae, submerged pond plants usually end up with most of the food, thereby starving the algae out (like a healthy vegetable garden or a healthy lawn). So, if algae control is at the top of your list for maintaining your pond, you’ll want to add a few oxygenators to the water garden.
Another great function that submerged aquatic plants serves is providing areas for fish to spawn and baby fish (fry) to hide.
Purchasing (or adopting) and Planting
When purchasing submerged plants, you’ll find they are usually sold in bunches of stem cuttings and are available weighted or unweighted. Weighted bunches have a weight tied to the bunch that helps keep the plant in place at the bottom of the pond. If you’re unable to find weighted plants, simply tuck their ends under a rock to keep them from traveling and floating into your skimmer (or being plucked up by your Koi).
Weighted bunches can be tossed into your pond. Unweighted plants can be planted in an aquatic plant pot with gravel, sand, or potting media. If you have a rock substrate, you can easily plant them directly into the pond. Most submerged pond plants prefer water that is 24” to 36” deep, except for hornwort which floats near the surface of the water.
Adopting pond plants from other people’s ponds carries a few caveats, and we have a separate blog on that subject.
Types of Submerged Pond Plants
Just like with marginals and waterlilies, some pond owners have their favorite submerged plants. Here are four of the more popular varieties that are all native to North America.
Anacharis – Egeria densa
Anacharis is the most popular of the submerged plants. It grows rooted in pond substrate or potted in sand or pond plant media. It has tiny white flowers that develop on the surface of the water in the summer. Each stem has short, thin leaves whorled around it, like a bottle brush, and can grow up to six feet in length. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum
Hornwort grows as a dense, rootless mass that floats below the surface of the pond. It has very small white flowers in the summer that often look like pollen floating on the surface. Keep these wanderers in place by weighting them with a rock. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Cabomba – Cabomba caroliniana
Cabomba lays completely flat when growing out of the water but produces a beautiful fan when submerged under water. The tops of the finely cut leaves are dark green and the underside is dark red. Cabomba bears small white flowers in summer. The fronds of cabomba are softer than hornwort, and therefore, more agreeable to pond fish. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Eel Grass – Vallisneria americana
Eel grass has long, eel-like leaves that grow from a rooted runner planted in the pond substrate or in a pot with pond plant media. It grows 24 to 36 inches long and forms a thick mat across the bottom of the pond. There are many varieties of eel grass, each with different growing habits such as a corkscrew form and some that have red foliage. Hardy in Zones 4-11.
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Many people believe that their pond must be power washed in order to be appropriately “cleaned.” This may very well apply to non-living water features. However, here at The Pond Gnome, we have three primary reasons for not wanting to perform this commonly-requested service on ecosystem ponds and water features.
Basically, power washing an ecosystem pond or water feature will be worse than sending it back to the genesis period before there was a lot of life and nutrients within the feature.
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