Just got back from the IWGS Symposium

We just back from the 2010 International Water Garden Society (IWGS) Symposium in San Angelo, Texas. It was fun to see old and new friends, meet people from nearly a dozen countries, and share an interest in water gardens and water plants.

The highlight of the Symposium had to be the International Waterlily Collection, housed in San Angelo and very capably managed by Ken Landon, world-famous lily hybridizer. He is only able to display a small percentage of his collection each year, but it was still spectacular!

We also took a few days beforehand and a couple days after to visit some other noteworthy places in the West. You can see everything at this address. A few pictures will be replaced and the sets will be expanded as things are collected from the SECOND photographer. We wanted to get some things up quickly to whet your appetites.

FYI - Our last post promised to expand the visuals on the site. We are almost done and will upload soon. Thanks for your patience. Since our last post, we’ve also spent 10 days in Hawaii (5 days each on Oahu and the Big Island). Those pictures are posted now at the address above.

Updates to the Site

Hello, everyone….

It looks like we’ve been neglecting the site, but really we’ve been pulling information (especially photographs) together from a variety of hard drives and beginning to compile them for inclusion on the site. We also have a lot of video we need to do something with.

You will notice several NEW items on the home page. We are happy to debut our new ZenPhoto gallery. It works so much “slicker” than the older CopperMine gallery we have been using.

We’ve also included a link to a new .pdf publication available from Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Entomology Professor at Colorado State University. Whitney worked with several members of the Colorado Water Garden Society (CWGS) the past few years to identify the bugs and insects we find in our water gardens. The book is a draft of the final product. You may also order a printed copy for your library.

At the 25th Anniversary celebration of CWGS last year, I presented a display of the edible water plants we have in our gardens and provided samples for consumption. All the details about harvesting, preparing and, especially, safely using the plants are included. We are not responsible for any use or misuse of the plants, and we used the best information available at the time.

As we pull things together, we will get them online as quickly as possible. We have a tremendous assortment of water plants and marginals, photographed in our own garden as well as dozens of others, that will be available for viewing. We have also visited several growers, nurseries and gardens as we’ve traveled the past decade, and those photos will be displayed in our gallery, as well. This Spring we will be heading to Hawaii for 10 days, and intend to take hundreds of photos and hours of video there.

Keep checking back and, as ever, we would like to see your gardens and discuss water gardening with you. We might be able to solve some problems along the way and make your gardening efforts seem less like work.

Until next time,


Ponds and Gardens Should be Nearing Their Peak

We continue to receive a few newsletters from other water garden societies, and July appears to be the month for each society to sponsor a pond tour, usually as a fundraising and membership building activity. One or two do it in August, a couple wait until September, but July should be the peak time for most of your plants.
We haven’t had a Lotus bloom, yet, but we have several aerial leaves on our large lotus, and good growth on a miniature in an in-ground pot in the front yard. The large lotus, a “Mrs. Perry D. Slocum”, is in an in-ground pond about three feet across and a foot deep.

We have consented (relented?) to be on the Colorado Water Garden Society tour this year and, at this writing, have just over two weeks to finalize our work. Yesterday we took the rest of the plants out of the sunroom and are beginning to harden them off. We have been planting for the past three weeks, anyway, but the tour makes it more incumbent on us to look better than usual.

We have been doing a lot of construction this year - expanding and building a new Japanese garden, finally ringing our large ponds with a breeze walkway, removing a large grape vine and arbor that was beginning to sag, and basic home maintenance activities.

Needless to say, everything else in the yard and ponds are nearing their peak, as yours should be. The goal of every water gardener, or terrestrial gardener for that matter, is to be near “tour quality” by this time each year. Your hardest work should almost be behind you and, as I pointed out last time, this is the time of year to enjoy your ponds and gardens, knowing it’s mostly downhill from here.

It’s also evident at the garden centers and big box stores that the planting season is going away, although we still have plants to get in the ground. The choice of plants is greatly reduced, the quality is diminished, and a lot of plants are on clearance.

The 90-degree plus days we’ve had since Summer began last week will make it difficult to keep everything alive without constant watering, but most plants like the sunshine and heat, as long as they also get the water, too.

We are planning several series of photographs for the gallery, and also have a lot of video to edit. We will be sharing water garden plants, more pictures of the yard (similar to the Pond Tour pictures already online), and a few more projects for water gardeners. We have several different things on video we will provide short snippets of, from koi spawning to more project info.

Stay tuned…..

Are You Enjoying Your Pond, Yet??

Strange question, you say? Strange because you built a water garden so you could enjoy it, right? Wasn’t that what all the money you’ve spent was for? Let me explain….

Summer, even early Summer, is the season you should really be enjoying your water garden. Spring is primarily “prep time” for Summer, as Fall isĀ  “prep time” for Winter. Summer is the season you should be able to sit back and enjoy what you’ve built. But are you, really? If not, you’ve probably done something to make your work harder than it should be.

We have enough going on around the yard from Spring through Fall that sometimes it’s hard to remember that ponds don’t need much care right now. As I thought really hard about what we’ve done lately, most of our efforts have been for things around the pond, not IN the pond.

Last year, we finally pulled the plastic cover off the tropical pond about this time, but then had to clean some junk out of the pond we dropped in removing the cover. That led to a quick clean-out of some of the overflow water lettuce and hyacinths we sold to a local nursery. Then Cyndie started rooting around in the pond and found a few lily tubers that had outgrown their pots. These are tasks you can’t really do in the Spring (except for the lilies).

This year, we’ve been working in the yard. We’ve done some pond cleanup, but still have lots of plants to thin, and lots of plants to bring out of our sunroom where they were stored for the winter so they can harden. No, we’re ready to enjoy the pond, yet!

Along the way, we’ve added two fountains in the yard, buried a lotus tub, created new flower beds, removed an ugly grape arbor and replaced it with a small Japanese-style garden, and several other landscaped improvement tasks. We have more trash out for weekly pickup than we’ve had in a long time.

Back to the original thought, whether or not you’re enjoying your water garden. We’re enjoying ours, even though there is still a level of work/maintenance that goes on around them. Repotting the tropicals is the only real job we’ve done in and to the ponds in quite a while, reinforcing their basic lack of need for heavy maintenance this time of year.

What we’ve done OUTSIDE and AROUND the ponds makes our enjoyment of the ponds even sweeter. They look better, fit better into the overall landscape, and draw the same ooh’s and aah’s the entire yard does.
The lesson to be learned here, at least in my mind, is to continue to work on anything that makes the ponds look better, even if this is the season to kind of ignore the ponds themselves! Now go out and enjoy your water gardens with a clear conscience!

Dr. Whitney Cranshaw - Colorado State University Pond Insect Study

At a meeting of the Colorado Water Garden Society a few years ago, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Professor of Entymology at Colorado State University, presented some of his findings based on a study of several members’ water gardens the previous summer. No one had ever done a comprehensive study of the types of wildlife before, especially the bugs and insects we all find in and around our ponds.

Comprised of three parts - 1) Water Garden Features Determine What You Will Find; 2) Potential Water Garden Insects; and 3) Predators Found in Water Gardens - the presentation was nearly an hour and a half. We have broken the presentation into ten (10) segments, with BOTH video and audio files available. Windows Media Player will play types of files with no problem.

Access the movies and audio files at this address:

Due to the size of the files, download them to your computer Desktop before viewing or listening.

Pond Balance …. or, How to Prevent Green Water and Algae (yeah, right!)

A major concern of potential pond owners (and those who are new to the hobby!) can be summed up in one word - Algae! This is usually one of the first questions they ask.

What we tell people is that algae is usually caused by lack of pond coverage by plants and leaves (too much sunlight) or excess bio-load from too many fish, making the water just a bit too nutritious.

What we also tell people is that a little algae is good for you, and shows you have a healthy pond. A healthy pond comes from a healthy balance of all the elements of an ecosystem - plants, animals, insects, etc. Too much of any one element disrupts the balance, and another element tends to try to “take over” the environment.

That’s why too much sun is bad - plants need sunlight to grow, and they really do well if they get a lot of sun. The Sun also warms the water, and everything does better in warmer water. Plants also need food to grow (you fertilize your lilies, don’t you?), so fish fertilizer also helps them grow. Algae is a plant that is present in your pond, so it grows, too, only faster and thicker than anything else in the pond!

One day at a local garden center, I saw a water garden handout that brought a little more science and detail to the process of balancing a pond. Let me share some of the points they made here:

  • It takes time for the pond to “adjust” to the change of seasons, so algae tends to be a bit worse early-on;
  • Keep run-off water from getting in the pond. It carries silt, fertilizers and other chemicals that throw the pond off-balance;
  • If the pond is in full-sun, 50-70 percent of the pond surface should be covered by plants and leaves. Fewer plants are OK in a partially-shaded area;
  • Use one bunch (what’s a “bunch” equivalent to?) of oxygenators for each two square feet of pond surface. Use more for smaller ponds (I assume this is because smaller ponds warm up faster);
  • Use no more than one inch of fish per square foot of surface to begin with. (We like to see lots of fish swimming around, but fish excrement and leftover food feeds the “algae bloom” too). Don’t feed your fish more than what they can eat in about five minutes;
  • Add biological filtration. (This can be almost anything, from simple lava rock and polyester fill filter elements to the high-end charcoal filters with plastic balls with millions of square inches of surface area to breed bacteria. Take your pick!);
  • Keep dead organic matter out of your pond.

Patching a Rubber Pond Liner

At some point, we all experience some sort of liner problem. We usually identify it quickly by the rapid loss of water level in the pond that accompanies it. Spring is a good time to have the problem because we are removing debris, moving plants around, adding new pots, and so on.

In our first liner failure, about three years ago, we ended up with five holes in a heavy-duty rubber (EPDM) liner. It required us to drain nearly 500 gallons of water without disturbing the plants or fish too much and then apply patches in two separate locations. All of this was due to a reed we have been growing for several years - it got tired of being in the pond and decided to leave, through the liner.

There is also a potential for problems if you ever walk around in your pond to clean debris, set pots, or other maintenance tasks. If you use a cheap liner that is susceptible to damage from the Sun, you will also have a problem, but will probably end up replacing the whole liner.

We’ve created a project page to show you how to do a patch. It’s not as intimidating as it might appear, just time consuming and requires a bit of caution. Check it out here: http://www.natures-water.com/education_information/projects/liner_repair/index.htm

Aquarium Life vs. Pond Life

Cyndie gave a presentation to the Colorado Aquarium Society a couple years ago. On the way to the presentation, we did some extra research. We figured they were the fish experts and their approach to things would be different than us, the pond people.

We had a number of aquariums in the house as our two daughters were growing up, and still have a 30-gallon hexagon tank with a large fancy goldfish, a clawed frog and a plecostomis. We don’t see him much, but he isn’t carrying his share of the aquarium maintenance, anyway.

What we found out during our research was interesting. Let’s begin with some items to just make you think a bit before you decide the main difference is that one container is inside, while the other is outside! You can have a water garden INSIDE, too, but that’s another topic for later.

When planning a water garden, the first thing an aquarium/fish person needs to consider is what kind of water garden to have. Nothing new here, but it’s not the way most fish people think. Your best bet is to build an entire habitat, not just the clear water pool to showcase the fish. This is also nothing new. In our opinion, the best water garden is a NATURAL water garden with ALL that nature provides, including plants, fish, insects, birds, small mammals and, yes, algae!

Many Koi owners spend hours in maintenance time and hundreds or thousands of dollars creating outdoor aquariums for their fish. If you pay several thousand for a fish, I guess you think that’s the best way to view it. First mistake is the loss of the natural feeling of the pond and its ability to support other life. Even the simple algae that seems to be such a bother feeds the zooplankton that feed the insects that feed the fish that feed the larger fish that feed the great blue heron that feed….

Think about this, too. When you view your aquarium pets, you’re looking from the side and see them in all their glory, FROM THE SIDE! It’s hard for some people to translate that to what the fish will look like from the TOP, as in the pond. Face it, some fish just don’t look good from either direction, so don’t sweat it here.

You won’t see a lot from the side in a pond anyway, because the water is only clear down to a depth of about 18 inches in even the clearest of pond water. That should be MINIMUM depth if you’re not in a tropical zone, just so the fish have a place to go and hibernate in the winter. If you have plants in your aquarium, you may rely on the fish to fertilize them. In a pond, the fertilizer helps to create the algae bloom that begins the life cycle in your garden. If you can see deeper than 18 inches, you’re under-fertilized!

To begin translating your aquarium experience into an enviable pond, stock it first with plants. The best time is in the Spring. Snails, tadpoles, turtles, frogs, etc. are all nice to have, but not totally necessary at this point.

As the pond progresses and the water begins to “season,” you will see the beginnings of an algae bloom. Don’t panic, just add more plants. Oddly enough, it’s almost impossible to have too many plants, regardless of the size of your pond.

Fish can be added AFTER the pond has seasoned a while and you’re sure everything is healthy. You’ll know, because you’ll begin to see birds, squirrels, and other wildlife you probably never noticed before. Then you can add the fish, but ONLY coldwater fish like goldfish, shubunkins and a few others. Our previous post on this blog dealt specifically with the three types of fish and which are best in ponds.

Three Types of Goldfish - Not All Are Appropriate For Your Pond

Fish are broken into three different groups when it comes to ponds and water gardens. Some fish are appropriate for water gardens, but some are not and are better left in a protected aquarium environment. Group 1 includes comets, Group 2, fancy goldfish, and Group 3, very fancy goldfish. Those in Groups I and 2 can easily be transferred to and enjoyed in your water garden. Group 3 cannot, and I’ll explain why in a moment. All of these fish in the three groups are of the species Carassius Auratus, and could possibly interbreed if left uncontrolled.

Comets (what most people call Common Goldfish) are good fish for your pond. Over time, they can grow too large for many aquariums (12″ or more), but you can see them better (from the side) than you can from the top in a pond. FYI - comets can live 20 years with proper care, and some have been documented to live to be over 70 years old!

Shubunkins are also comets, but are multi-colored. Both shubunkins and comets adapt to a pond nicely in moderate temperatures, and will over-winter just fine if you have a deep pond (at least 18″-24″) for them to hibernate in.

The best pond for goldfish is at least 50 gallons, has good water circulation and aeration, and is not heated because these are coolwater fish. We have goldfish in our small tropical pond which is heated year-round, but the water temperature seldom gets above the mid-70’s.

Feed the fish floating food designed for goldfish, not tropical fish. Flakes or pellets do just fine. The fish also like worms and the usual treats you give them in the aquarium. Goldfish are not “bottom-feeders” like some fish, but they eat from all areas of the pond.

To wrap up, Group 1 Goldfish, comets, shubunkins and koi all co-exist very well together. The koi will tend to grow faster, but usually don’t bother the goldfish. If you intend to breed either fish, however, you must separate them so the eggs have a better chance of hatching. All fish will eat eggs, their own or others, so you also need to provide some areas with protection for the eggs to grow and hatch. If you don’t want more fish, then don’t worry about it.

Group 2, the fancy goldfish, include orandas, fantails, black moors, and telescopes. They are also good fish for coolwater aquariums and ponds, but don’t co-exist well with comets and shubunkins. Group I fish swim faster than Group 2 fish, are more aggressive, eat most of the food, and tend to nip and bully the smaller fancies.

Ponds for Group 2 fish should be at least 30 gallons, with well-circulated and aerated water and no heater. They tolerate water in the 35-75 degree F range well, but prefer about 65 degrees F. As with all fish, expose them to the pond gradually, letting the temperature change slowly.

Fancies less than 3″ in length should be fed floating flake food at least twice a day. Larger fish over 3″ in length can be fed the floating pellets other fish eat. All food should be designed for goldfish, not tropical fish. Overall growth can be 8″ or more, and these fish can also live 20 years or longer.

Finally, Group 3 goldfish are the very fancy fish, including bubble eyes, celestials and lionheads. They will survive in a pond like the other groups, but ONLY if grown by themselves, and not mixed with the others. Personally, if I had very fancy goldfish, I wouldn’t think of putting them outside in a pond. They are just too unusual, and too pretty, to enjoy overhead in a pond. Plus, they are usually more expensive and a little more difficult to acquire than the others.

Water Plants - Submerged Plants

The final category of water plants you will find is submerged plants, those plants that live UNDER the water. Many people don’t “get into” this group of plants, but they play a vital role in the water garden’s ecosystem.
Submerged plants can be potted just like lilies or marginals, but they are usually sold in small bunches. The usual packaging method (approximately 6 pieces) will cover about 3 square feet of pond area. They may also be placed in the pond without potting, but should be anchored in some way (lead weights, etc.) to keep the foliage underwater.

Mistakenly called “oxygenators,” submerged plants do add oxygen to the water, but not enough to really help anything and, at night, return to their normal role of oxygen users. They do assist with algae growth a bit, however, by absorbing carbon dioxide and minerals in the water. Plant any of these plants in sand and gravel, rather than soil, and DO NOT fertilize them. The minerals in the water do that part of the job.

What submerged plants do really well is provide cover for the fish in the pond, primarily in spawning areas for egg-laying. Pots, stones, bricks, and other features in the pond may provide the same type of protection, as well as provide a place for the fish to hide when predators come around the pond. Some submerged plants also provide food for the fish, as well as natural filtration.

You will find that some submerged plants do well, while others don’t. Try a variety of plants, knowing that some need more sunlight, more fertilization, more room to grow, or more of something not every pond can provide. Some will grow well enough to attempt to “take over” in the bottom of the pond, but can be controlled with simple removal from time to time. In fact, many submerged plants are shared among pondkeepers as a way of using the plants that have been removed.