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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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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What to Expect When You're Expecting -- a Phoenix Ecosystem Pond!
Welcome to the world of organic water gardening! Unlike lawns and pools, ecosystem ponds in Phoenix are not as common knowledge for most of us. Very few Phoenix natives or early transplants grew up with a backyard pond or knew anyone who had one. And if we did, it’s unlikely that they were practicing organic water gardening specifically.
But why go through the trouble of creating an ecosystem versus just tossing in some chemicals and getting instant results? For one thing, ecosystems are Earth-friendly. There is life and nature in an organic pond, and life will visit that organic water. Isn't there enough chemicals and concrete covering our planet already? Wouldn't you like to feel good about choosing this home improvement option? So, an ecosystem water feature adds beauty to your yard, gives you hours upon hours of entertainment and viewing pleasure, AND you get to feel good about the choice. Oh, and if you have pets, they can safely drink the water - bonus!
The Process of Creating an Ecosystem
Basically, we are working with the same processes in a new water feature as are used in organic vegetable gardening, and even hydroponics systems. Well cared for and properly maintained your feature will provide decades of beautiful, low maintenance, entertainment, and viewing pleasure.
Maybe think of the new feature as a new puppy. “Pond chemicals” (i.e., algaecide) are akin to a rolled-up newspaper or a swift kick. That’s no way to train a new pet! With patience, and proper positive reinforcement, an organic water feature, like a puppy, will develop into a cherished and well-behaved individual. The key is patience, along with using natural products like beneficial bacteria and enzymes, encouraging the "good-guys," and having the right balance of plants, rocks, and fish. This combination creates a closed ecosystem that can be managed easily. Our philosophy has always been KISS: keep it simple, silly!
An Ecosystem IS WORTH THE TIME & PATIENCE IN THE LONG RUN
But here’s what happens right away as the ecosystem in a living water feature is brought to life. Like a new garden, we prepare the foundation: building with natural rocks (to support the zooplankton life), and adding aquatic plants, fish, and beneficial bacteria (just like good soil, amendments, and plant starts in a garden).
You also need to keep the “weeds” at bay, which in an organic water feature means string algae. Once the aquatic plants get established and start growing aggressively, the algae, like weeds in a healthy garden, will be choked out for the most part. Remember that there will always be green fuzz on the rocks – this is not a pool or spa with sterile water. That green fuzz actually serves as another filter to produce crystal-clear water (we call it the pond patina).
The process of bringing a living water feature to life takes a bit of time and patience. It may take a bit longer, or it may happen quicker, depending on many factors, including the weather. Each water feature is an individual and will balance when it’s darn good and ready. But we promise you that this WILL happen as long as no one tries to “help” things along adding chemical treatments and "quick fixes." Once you add chemicals to your pond, it perpetuates that process and becomes a chemically-dependent water feature.
Pond Ecosystem in a Nutshell
Here are the key ingredients to a healthy, natural-looking ecosystem pond that remains low-maintenance:
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Did you know that fish possess body language? If you familiarize yourself with the good body language in fish, you’ll be able to also recognize bad fish body language. Then you’ll be able to diagnose and treat your fish before any illness or situation becomes too severe.
Let’s first take a look at good body language in your pond fish:
Some examples of bad fish body language include:
Loss of appetite
When fish lose their appetite, numerous possibilities loom but without any additional symptoms, you could suspect some deterioration in water quality. In particular, warm water with low oxygen adversely affects fish appetites, which you’ll typically see during the hottest summer months. In ponds that are more than four feet deep and without water movement in the deeper areas, the oxygen levels sag, which can result in suffering fish. In either situation, adding an aerator to boost oxygen levels in the pond could be a simple fix.
Fish may also lose their appetite if nitrogen is imbalanced. When the nitrate levels climb in established ponds, fish will lose their appetite. A quick water test will let you know if nitrate is to blame. If nitrate is ruled out, then it could be a parasite problem. You’ll also notice a loss in appetite when the pond water temperature falls below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is normal.
When fish hold their fins close to their body, it’s a symptom of illness. Poor water quality and parasites are the likely culprits. Fish with clamped fins look like a fish with only a tail because all the other fins are pulled in close to the body. The fish may just rest on the bottom of the pond with its fins clamped. An assessment of water quality is the place to start. If nothing is found, the fish likely has a parasite that needs to be addressed (see how to identify and treat fish parasites).
Resting on the bottom
A common sign of illness is when the fish rests on the bottom of the pond. The most common cause of this bad fish body language is high water temperatures, high nitrates, and low oxygen levels. Parasites could also be the cause. Test the water, and if nothing is found, you’ve probably got a parasite issue.
Laying on the bottom
This behavior is slightly different because the fish will lay on the bottom of the pond on its side. This is a sign of severe, life-threatening stress. Usually, very cold water is the cause of this bad body language. Water quality and overwhelming parasitism can also cause this.
Stiff swimming with clamped fins
Stiff swimming is a serious sign in fish and almost always points to poor water quality, but the most common cause is parasitism, which is then swinging into a full-blown bacterial infection. Start by testing the water, and if nothing is found, a biopsy can be conducted to confirm the presence of parasites. You can also closely check the gills of your fish for signs of bacterial infection.
Piping at the pond surface
When fish are gasping at the surface of the pond, it’s highly illustrative of two things. Either the pond water doesn’t have enough oxygen in it, or the fish can’t get that oxygen because its gills are being wrecked by something. Adding an aerator typically alleviates this problem but if it doesn’t, you likely have a parasite problem.
Less active or floating in water
Less activity isn’t necessarily a sign of illness, but you’ll want to keep some things in mind. Low oxygen levels can cause the fish to resist higher activity and foraging behaviors. This would be especially true if the listless less active fish are the larger ones whose oxygen demand is higher. Warm water carries less oxygen and if the pond is warm and there’s minimal water turnover from a waterfall or aerator, this could be a contributor. Adding a pond aerator will remedy this problem within four to six hours. If the fish becomes actively engaged again, you’ve solved the problem. If not, suspect the presence of a parasite.
Flashing, or scratching, is bad body language when it’s common among your fish. It’s not uncommon to see a fish flash or scratch on the pond bottom of other submerged ornamentation. This isn’t considered a problem. However, if you see many fish scratching or flashing every hour, that would be bad body language and considered a problem. Flashing can be caused by several things, but your main suspects are the pH level of the pond or a parasite.
Once you become familiar with good and bad body language in your pond fish, you’ll be better equipped to remedy any negative situation and provide them with a healthy, happy home.
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One of the most confusing and intimidating aspects of caring for pond fish is the science of water quality and the pond nitrogen cycle. You may have heard horror stories about the constant monitoring of pond water just to make sure that the fish stay healthy. Unfortunately, these stories unnecessarily frighten people away from the joy of keeping fish.
While pond water quality is important to the health of your fish, it doesn’t have to be complicated or scary. You don’t need to become obsessive with testing water quality, constantly adding chemicals, and doing things to make sure the water is pristine and perfect. There truly can be too much messing around with water. Keep it simple and your fish will thank you.
Let’s look at the basic cycle of pond water and how it can affect your fish.
The Importance of the Pond Nitrogen Cycle
The nitrogen cycle is a natural process in which different types of beneficial bacteria break down compounds like ammonia and nitrite, reducing them to less harmful compounds like nitrate. This process occurs across three steps, from ammonia, to nitrite, to the final conversion into nitrate.
The first process involves the accumulation of ammonia due to fish waste and decomposing material. As ammonia increases, Nitrosomonas bacteria start to consume it and break it down into nitrite. Once nitrite starts to accumulate, denitrifying bacteria break them down into nitrates. Nitrates are then removed from the system by plants, algae, or water changes.
Because so many biological processes are required, it generally takes six to eight weeks for a pond system to run through the complete nitrogen cycle.
Ammonia in the Pond
Ammonia is the main nitrogen waste from your fish, turtles, and other aquatic creatures, and functions as the start of nature’s nitrogen cycle. Did you know that ammonia is excreted partly by the fish’s kidneys, but mostly by the gills? This is relevant because it calls to mind the fact that if there is damage to a fish’s gills, the fish suffer more than just difficulty breathing. They could have trouble expelling their ammonia too. Constipation in any creature is not a happy place to be.
High ammonia levels indicate that there are not enough beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria living in the pond yet. These bacteria proliferate over time, so ammonia problems are most common during the first six to eight weeks of a pond’s break-in period. Later, ammonia levels can climb again if the filter gets clogged up or a fish dies and starts decaying in the pond. You might see your fish “jumping” out of the pond when ammonia levels get high. This isn’t the only reason that fish jump, but it can be an indicator to just check for any issues.
Control of ammonia involves reduced or suspended fish feedings, feeding low-protein food (33 percent or less), and/or upgrading your pond’s filtration. While water changes are the single best remedy for ammonia accumulations that threaten your fish, you can also use Ammonia Neutralizer.
How Nitrite Affects Pond Fish
Nitrite is produced from ammonia in the water by beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria. These bacteria cleave off ammonia’s hydrogen ions and replace them with oxygen. The pH of the water is then decreased by the release of these hydrogen ions.
Your fish absorbs nitrites through the skin and gills. Inside the fish, nitrites bind the red blood cells, changing them from red to brown. Brown blood disease results from nitrite accumulations in the system. Nitrite is poisonous at levels as low as 0.1 ppm (parts per million), and fish that die from nitrite poisoning will commonly have flared gill covers.
Nitrate: The Final Product
Nitrate is the final product in the nitrogen cycle. Nitrites are broken down by another beneficial nitrogen-reducing bacteria and become nitrates.
Plants and algae use nitrates, along with phosphates and iron, for cellular growth. When the nitrogen cycle is finished, you will see a sudden bloom of algae on the pond floor, or a green water explosion that obscures your view of the fish.
This completion of the nitrogen cycle is typically a non-issue for fish health because fish aren’t harmed by acute or sudden exposure. However, with chronic, high levels of nitrate, you may notice weaker fish, slower growth, and increased illness overall. This is because high nitrate levels represent inferior water quality and this causes stress, making fish more vulnerable to disease.
Nitrates should always be less than 80 ppm in an ornamental pond. To reduce nitrates, plants can be added, water changes can be performed, or algae growth can be encouraged. There are tremendous health benefits to a carpet of emerald-green algae on the pond bottom, the greatest of which is nutrition for the fish. This is why we always say that a little bit of algae is a good thing. Here at The Pond Gnome, we call it Pond Patina.
Testing the pH of Your Pond
In Arizona, this will drive you crazier than being put in a round room and told to sit in the corner. Our pH is very high, and oftentimes comes out of the tap at 9.0! Yep, we have very hard water here. Honestly, we don’t recommend worrying about or trying to affect the pH in your pond. But if you must…
Testing water pH is simply a measurement of the free hydrogen ions (H+) in the pond. It is measured on a scale of one to fourteen with anything below seven being acidic and anything above seven being alkaline. The pH required for aquatic life ranges between 5.5 and 8.0. Koi and goldfish can tolerate a very high pH measurement.
Some pond owners spend a lot of time trying to bring down the pH level, but this is unnecessary unless there is also ammonia accumulation in the pond. The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH, so at higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic. Below a pH of 7.2, most ammonia is ionized to ammonium and is far less toxic.
The pH level in ponds impacts fish in several ways. First, if it is too low, a condition inside the fish called acidosis results. Symptoms are a loss of appetite and then production of excess slime, as well as isolation and resting on the bottom of the pond. This is followed by a streaking of the fins, and then death.
If the pH is too high (over 10.0), the fish will produce excess slime and gasp at the surface of the water. This condition, called alkalosis, is hard to rapidly reverse once it occurs.
A Word About Chlorine and Chloramine
Chlorine and chloramines are generally added to tap water by municipal water suppliers to make it safe to drink. However, these same compounds are toxic to fish and bacteria and can kill them if exposed for too long. Basically, the chlorine and chloramines burn and destroy the gills of the fish. De-chlorinators such as Pond Detoxifier remove and neutralize these chemicals and should be used whenever more than 10 to 15 percent of the pond’s total water volume is being added.
The good news is that these chemicals evaporate out of the water fairly quickly on their own.
The Final Verdict
The only way to know for sure what your pond is up to is to test the water for harmful compounds or changing parameters. There is no need to perform regular testing, however, especially if your fish level is low. We recommend stocking your pond with no more than one inch of fish per 10 gallons of water. You might want to test the water if you see your fish behaving or looking differently. A quick test can help you identify your next steps for encouraging a healthy environment for your finned friends.
Granted, it may seem intimidating at first, but once you understand how to measure and control pond water factors, it becomes easy and starts to feel like second nature. The bottom line – healthy water equals healthy fish.
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