PLANNING & MAINTAINING A WATER GARDEN
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Water Gardening has been one of the fastest growing hobbies, and now that more do-it-yourself gardeners are installing ponds the future growth of the hobby will continue well into the next millennium. I find two secrets for success to derive the greatest amount of enjoyment from your pond are to start correctly and have 4 - 6 weeks of patience. I will discuss the correct fundamentals for a successful pond and please try to follow these suggestions, the result will be approximately 1 hour of maintenance per month and a pond you will be very proud of. There are two types of ponds to consider, one that is referred to as a koi pond because this pond is constructed to keep the beautiful Japanese koi. These fish get up to 24 plus inches in length and love to eat many of the aquatic plants. The most popular water garden pond is one that has an assortment of aquatic plants plus a variety of different goldfish, however it should be void of any koi. Siting and construction of the two ponds are very different so it is very important to decide on what type you would like. I will be discussing the plant pond.
Siting of the garden pond is very important for several reasons. Aquatic plants require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight to produce beautiful blooms. Eight is better. Good drainage of the area surrounding the pond is important. Avoid siting the pond in a low-lying area where puddles collect during wet periods. At all costs avoid runoff into the pond which might contaminate the pond. Avoid a site that collects leaves, and you probably won' t need to empty and clean the pond in the autumn. You will need to add water to your pond to compensate for evaporation, so place the water garden within reach of a hose. Also the sound of water from a fountain or water feature will usually be added so the need to be close to the house for electrical source is important.
One final consideration to be able to gain maximum enjoyment from your pond is to site the pond close to a patio or deck or outside a kitchen window so you will able to view the pond more often. Since the cost of a concrete pond is somewhat cost prohibitive and requires periodic maintenance and the use of plastic preform ponds will not be deep enough to winterize the fish and plants in the colder Canadian climate, I would recommend the installation of a flexible liner. To determine the shape of your garden pond simply take a garden hose and play with the different shapes until you find a shape that you will enjoy. Remember you are only limited by our own imagination when you install a flexible liner pond. Once a shape is determined place some flour or lime over the hose and you can begin with your local authorities to see if there are any limitations on how deep you can dig your pond before you have to put a fence around it. A depth of 2 feet will be the minimum depth consideration, a depth of 3 feet in the deepest area is recommended.
The use of shelves approx.. 12" below the surface and 15" - 18" in width are used to keep the marginal plants which create a beautiful finished appearance to your pond. Slope the sides at a 75 degree angle, unless your site has a very loose soil, then a side angle closer to 45 degrees to keep the soil from caving in is recommended. Once the excavation is complete make sure you place a board across the pond with a Carpenters Level to make sure the surface is even. This will prevent the liner from being exposed to the UV rays of the sun. Before placing the liner into the hole put down underliner material to prevent the liner from puncturing. This is a very important step and should always be done.
There are many types of liner material and all have long guarantees, so the choice of material is up to the individual. Place the liner loosely in the hole placing bricks or rocks at the corners holding the liner in place. Smooth out any creases and do not worry about getting them all out because in a short period of time you will develop a thin algae coating which will hide the liner. Fill the pond and place the coping rocks around the top edge of the pond. Any excess liner can be trimmed. Before we add fish and plants we have to install the filter and condition the water to make it safe for the inhabitants. There are many styles of filters that go inside the pond and outside the pond and the final choice will come down to how easy a filter you want to maintain. The " outside the pond filters" offers a greater ease of maintenance however will cost more to purchase. Whatever filter you decide to use it is important to size the pump at 1/2 the size of the pond. For example if you determine your pond is 1000 gallons you want to purchase a pump that is rated at 500 gallons per hour. Another important reminder is to operate your pump and filter 24 hours a day between water temperatures of 50 degrees in the spring and until you shut off your pump in the autumn when the water temperature reaches 50.
To properly develop the biological filter, the addition of a liquid bacteria is suggested to help reduce the level of toxic ammonia. I like to suggest the use of a zeolite product in the filter for the first 2 months until the pond is balanced. I also would like to add enzymatic bacteria to eat up the organic waste and debris on the bottom of the pond. You do not see bacteria work but trust me and try and watch how well your filter functions and how clean your pond bottom stays.
To condition the water, it is important to know what type of water you have. Is it well water or municipal water. Use the recommended product because products that remove chlorine from tap water might not remove heavy metals from well water.
Please note: To determine gallons in your pond multiply all the dimensions by the common denominator 7.5 and you will get the approx. gallons in your pond. For example if your pond is 10' long by 5' wide and has a depth of 2' you multiply 10 x 5 which totals 50 then multiply 50 by the depth 2 to equal 100 and multiply 100 by 7.5 to total a 750 gallon pond. Use the water conditioner for the full gallon size of the pond. Remember also when you have to add water to the pond due to evaporation, use the water conditioner for the full gallons of the pond.
The pH of the pond water should be between 7.0-7.5 before you add fish and plants. Use the correct pH adjuster to balance the water and test your pH on a weekly basis between the hours of 8:00 am and 10:00 am because the pH will rise during the daylight hours during photosynthesis.
Green water is the single biggest complaint consumers have with their pond. In most cases you do not have the correct number of plants. The proper formula for a balanced pond should be as follows: 1-bunch of oxygenating plant (anacharis or cabomba) for every 2 sq. ft. of surface area. For example a pond 10' x 5' which has 50 sq. ft. of surface area would require 25 oxygenating plants for this pond; buy the correct amount. This might be the single biggest fault if you do not buy enough because you will have prolonged periods of green water. Do not forget to fertilize these plants with a liquid fertilizer. Also all oxygenators should be potted in shallow pots with gravel. If you develop green water condition, while plants are balancing the pond, consider the use of an algae remedy that temporarily solves the symptoms of green water. The second part of the formula is to cover 50% of the surface with floating plants. Water lettuce and water hyacinths (where permitted) along with water lilies are recommended. After the plants are in the pond for 4 - 6 weeks, the water will be very clear. Be patient and do not replace the water if it is green just wait for the plants to work.
Water lilies are very beautiful and do require regular fertilization in order to bloom through the season. Lilies are fertilized with a tablet fertilizer once or twice a month depending on the type. Also don' t forget to fertilize your marginal plants monthly from April through September.
The addition of fish to the pond help in the overall balance and the suggested amount of fish is 1" of fish for every 2 sq. ft. of surface area. A pond 10' x 5' would be able to keep 25" of fish. That might be 5-5" fish. Please try to keep to the suggested amount.
When keeping pond fish it is important to test your water of Ammonia and Nitrite. These two testsdetermine how well your filter is functioning and how much waste build up is in your pond. Test weekly to determine if you need any corrective action.
Pond fish have different nutritional needs depending on the temperature of the water. Lower protein foods and higher carbohydrate foods are used in the spring and autumn. In the summer when fish are more active a higher protein food should be fed to get fish in the proper condition.
Because regulations are more strict for outdoor ponds in regards to medications, I use Pond salt to prevent my fish from becoming stressed or sick. Use the proper amount depending on whether your pond has plants and you will get tremendous benefits from the use of salt.
If medicating your fish for disease is necessary, use the correct amount of medication and provide plenty of oxygen into the pond.
These suggestions should help you have a very successful water gardening pond. Remember the first season is always the most challenging however use the formula for plant balance and watch how successful you will be.