Troubleshooting in Pond Paradise
By: Christina DiMartino
The water garden of your dreams is complete and provides the utmost enjoyment. Its meticulously chosen setting serves as the visual centerpiece of your landscape. Lush foliage lines its borders, and waterlilies supporting open blossoms float on its surface. Frolicking fish periodically poke their noses through the mirrored exterior breaing the water’s stillness. Currents run gently down a raised waterfall positioned at one end of the pond, splashing gracefully against a rock placed in its center. Perhaps a fountain spurts from its interior – arms spread tall and wide – offering wildlife a refreshing shower on warm days. The gentle sound of chirping birds quenching their thirst brightens your day. A welcoming cherub sits pondside, next to the charming park bench that has become your favorite reading spot.
Ahh…serenity, sweet bliss.
In contrast, if something occurs to blemish this scene, stay calm. It is best not to overreact to an unexpected problems; instead, exercise caution. Experts suggest that left unattended, and incidental pond dilemma can escalate into a nightmare, but do not start tearing your pond apart right away. A quick online search can help identify common quandaries and offer instant remedial help, but talking to your pond care professional is essential. He or she will provide reassurance, make suggestions and give direction. It is important to keep in mind that a water garden is a natural ecosystem, and it is now supposed to look as sterile and pristine as a swimming pool or spa.
A sampling of common problems (and solutions!) experienced by new pond owners follows.
What causes algae growth and how can I fix the problem?
This is usually the result of the ponds being over stocked with fish or having too few plants; sometimes it is a combination of these factors.
Not having enough plants results in algae gobbling up all the oxygen and nutrients. A lack of surface plants allows too much sunlight to reach beneath the water, which promotes algae blossoms. Plant fertilizers, even those that are harmless to fish, can also cause algae growth.
Overfeeding fish can aggravate an already present algae condition. Fish generally thrive on naturally occurring foods. If you add feed, either reduce that amount or stop completely.
If the problem persists, flush the pond and add new water and more aquatic plants (allowing as much as 50 percent of the water’s surface to be covered). Add a biological or mechanical filter, and, if necessary, reduce the number of fish in the pond.
How can I control leaves and debris in my water garden?
These are coming from nearby trees and shrubs. Skim the pond often with a net on a large pole. Trim branches in the pond’s vicinity to prevent shedding.
Some people feel that netting takes away from the aesthetic quality of the pond, but you many have no choice, at least during shedding periods. Stretch basic garden netting across the pond’s surface and anchor it securely on all sides.
What causes the water in my newly established pond to be green and slimy?
Some green water conditions are common, especially for three or four weeks after the pond is first filled. Water clears as it equalizes the combined nutrients from plants and fish.
My pond water is cloudy and brown. How do I correct this?
This is most likely due to a dirty filter. From filters must be removed and washed with water and liquid detergent. Cartridge filters should be hosed with a strong stream of water.
My floating plants are turning yellow and brown, and they are not blooming. What can I do to restore them?
Excessive leaf growth above the waterline can prevent waterlilies and similar plants from getting nutrients necessary to promote blooming. Remove plants from containers, divide them and replant half in separate containers.
What causes my fish to get sick and die?
Fish can become unhealthy for several reasons, the most common is the lack of oxygen. This is often easily corrected by adding submerged plants to the environment.
An imbalance of the fish-to-pond-size ratio can also cause inadequate oxygen levels. A conservative estimate used for healthy fish capacity is to allow one inch of fish for every square foot of surface area (water depth is not considered). Remember to include the ultimate size of the fish within your calculations, i.e., a koi that is small in May might be twice its size by January.
Too much chlorine or chloramines in the water can also be deadly to fish. There are kits that test for this, and depending upon the results, use commercial treatments to balance the water to a safe level.
How can I prevent plants and fish from freezing under ice during the winter?
Most popular pond fish species do very well throughout cold months, as long as they have a oxygen supply. Pond aerators also circulate and de-ice the water. Another choice is simply place small floating ball in the pond. This will keep a portion of the surface from freezing and allow air to reach the water.
Container plants that are not winter-hardy may have to be moved to a sheltered place and replanted when the weather turns warmer. Check with your local horticulture specialist to learn how to care for plans in your growing zone.
Should I add water from the hose when the level drops?
Yes. Water evaporates, especially in hot weather. It should be added as needed, but not more often than necessary. If water loss is excessive, check for a leak in your pond liner or fiberglass form. Repair kits are available for both types of systems.
Help! Birds are diving into my pond and flying off with my koi! What can I do to stop them?
It is difficult to accept that having a natural ecosystem means that it is also susceptible to nature’s conditions, including the innate food chain. Large birds have been feeding on fish since the beginning of time, and they do not know that the rules are different in your backyard.
Some ponds owners report warding off birds with scarecrow types of structures or plastic owls. If all else fails, you many place a mesh screening over the pond, at least until your feathered friends find a new dinning hall.
Above all, remember that Mother Nature rules, so when it comes to pond care, try to leave the job to her.
A Fairytale Brook by Deck and Patio
The owners of this Long Island residence were looking for a way to enhance the beauty of their Huntington home. The area leading up to the pool was in need of an interesting focal point. The homeowners decided to have a pool designed because it was something they could enjoy all year round.
The Deck and Patio Company of Huntington Station created a stream and pond on an unusable sloped area just off their patio. A 35 foot stream formed a meandering, watery trail lined with natural moss rock boulders and river stone gravel. Bluestone stepping stones provide a charming path leading from the patio, across the stream, and up to the pool area.
Each spill rock in the stream is carefully positioned to depict the most natural water movement. The Deck and Patio Company takes time to consider how to recreate a natural waterfall without looking manmade. The stream flows gracefully down and over the 2’ x 4’ wide moss rock waterfall and cascades into a 10’x15’ pond. The freeform pond is a big hit with the nature loving family as well as the vibrant orange koi that live within it. “It draws so much wildlife such as frogs and birds and that is really one of my favorite things about having a pond,” says the homeowner.
“We get to really enjoy the pond at night as well. I enjoy looking out and being able to see it from my home and offices as well.”
The soothing acoustical sounds of the falls and tranquil visions of fish swimming about peacefully is something the homeowners look forward to at the end of a long day.
The meticulous landscaping provides the final touch on this project. Tall grasses such as Miscanthus and evergreens like Juniper Parsoni create a rich, lush, green backdrop. Purple cone flowers, Spirea Anthony Waterers and Coreopsis bring forth a burst of color. The views of the pond can be seen from the back patio, pool area, and home. During the cold winter months, the moss rock boulders form breathtaking ice sculptures prolonging the enjoyment of the water feature.
Deck and Patio Provides Visible Impact
Recreating water and nature is an art form which takes a trained eye, many years of field experience, extensive knowledge of hydraulics and plant material, a true passion for nature and most importantly and understanding of how to balance the relationship between architecture and its natural surroundings. That is especially true when integrating water with the “built” environment as many site related factors must be considered such as topography, solar exposure, soil conditions, existing trees, property size, active and passive use areas as well as the style of architecture. The client, who is a prominent local architect, loves to incorporate natural materials with his designs for The Deck and Patio Co. it was a perfect match for combining creative ideas and years of experience in design and constructions methods.
Rather than clear cutting this ½ acre property, the residence was designed and built amongst mature oaks, maples and pines so as to preserve the surrounding landscape environment. Considering the size of the property and overall dimensions of the house was an important aspect of the design and required design of the project with the intent that the pool and spa would be built a year or so later, leaving access for pool construction and not disturb much of the existing work. To the client, visual and audio impact was a key element, taking into account viewing angles from inside the house, entering the back yard as well as interacting with the water feature when sitting outside.
According to Marc Wiener, ASLA and Director of Design and Sales at the Deck and Patio Co., “to make a water feature successful, the installation process is very detailed and must rely upon keen eye for rock placement and its direct correlation with the ‘architectural’ elements of form, texture, shape and height including the finishing touches plant material and gravel offers an effort to recreate nature.”
The water feature consisted of a 5’ high multi-tiered waterfall and 35 feet meandering stream which discharged into a 10’ x 15’ freeform Koi pond. The pond was built with much consideration for the fish as natural predators exist in and around the north shore locale. A small cave was constructed for the fish to hide and to lay dormant during the winter months.
So as to minimize the impact of this feature to the much needed lawn area for the clients’ active children, Deck and Patio designed the stream and waterfall to transverse the rear property line and utilized the existing topography to their advantage in order to create multiple spills and change water direction so it could be easily seen as well as heard from the rear patio and from inside the residence.
Landscaping the water feature required much thought so as not to block the views of the stream from the house, future pool and existing rear patio. Understanding how plant material will eventually grow makes for a sound design. Low lying evergreens and groundcover perennials were used in and around the rock outcroppings and stream for color and texture and to soften these large boulders which would otherwise stand out and detract from the overall intent of looking “natural.” Larger flowering planting were installed behind the water feature to provide accenting and screening of the surrounding neighbors and blend with other mature plantings that exist on the site. On lower portions of the slope, the water feature was planted with flowers for cutting and small beds for annuals so the client could interact with the stream garden throughout the season.
After a year of enjoying their water feature, the client decided it was time to install the pool and spa and complete the back yard renovation. The swimming pool had similar design constraints being that the depth of the property were minimal at best it would take up the majority of the left side of the rear yard once installed. The pool was designed with the intent to be “organic” with its natural surroundings. The 24’ x 42’ freeform concrete wall, vinyl lined swimming pool and raised 8’ diameter spa with spillway captured the very essence of the clients desire to have a body of water that would be harmonious with the residence existing patio, outdoor kitchen area, waterfall, stream and Koi pond.
The pool was nestled into the landscape with careful consideration for existing trees and mature shrub root systems so that minimal impact would occur during excavation and construction. In doing so, the mature integrity of the landscape was able to be maintained. The spa was built 12” above the pool water line which provided a picturesque spillway intermingling with the surrounding landscape. From certain vantage points you could see the spa itself, but the client wanted the spa to be unique and provide some seclusion from the main patio and other viewing angles. A 2’ high cascading waterfall was incorporated into the spa design which provided not only a gentle massage should you sit under it, but added to the overall theme of visual and audio effects of moving water in the rear yard.
The spa was situated in this location not for ease of access from the pool; rather it was so the client could view the Koi pond and waterfalls while relaxing in the spa. Since the client did not wish to remove the entire existing brick patio nor have a walkway around the entire pool, a random bluestone coping was incorporated which brought the lawn area up to the pool. This also aided in creating an “organic” relationship between landscape and hardscape. Many landscape designers pave the entire pool area, but with minimal space, inventive ideas come into play in order to conserve on cost and impact to the surrounding setting.
The pool and spa is fully automated with state of the art technology salt chlorine generator, mineral purifiers, pumps and filtration system. All of which can be accessed from inside the house, by the spa or by remote. With rising fuel and energy costs, many of the pool functions are energy efficient and can be programmed to perform minimal tasks to keep the pool water clear and circulating and when needed, the functions of the pool and spa power the waterfalls, spa jets and filtration system.
The pool was also constructed with a moss rock boulder coping which brings the landscape right up to the beam of the pool and created a natural setting. Wiener statues, “Vibration flowers and fragrance provided by many varieties of perennials, evergreen and deciduous plantings created successional color throughout the pool season.” In recognition for the design and installation of the pool, spa and water features, this back yard won two prestigious awards from NESPA and APSP in 2007.
The overall intent to combine water and nature and create a harmonious relationship with the built environment is a task many designers try to capture, but few have mastered the craft. With the advent of new technological advancements in construction methods and the use of green products, Deck and Patio continually strives for creative design solutions and most importantly provide their clientele with quality installations.
We’ve been conditioned in the United States to think that the only safe water is water that has been sanitized by powerful chemicals and/or devices using ozone or ultraviolet light. In fact, it seems that our industry has promulgated a doctrine that we need to kill everything in the pool (except for swimmers).
While it is certainly true that disinfected water is safe for swimming, we need to keep in mind that we mammals evolved on our planet over millions of years both drinking and swimming in water that was clarified and purified naturally in ponds, streams, rivers and freshwater wetlands.
This makes it interesting to speak with prospective clients about the benefits of natural swimming pools — that is, pools in which biological processes treat the water in place of familiar chemical treatments — and to describe to wary homeowners how plants and microbial activity actually work to make the water perfectly safe for swimming.
Originally a skeptic myself, I have spent a tremendous amount of time understanding the science behind natural swimming pools and observing their operation in the field. Fortunately, the science at the heart of the natural swimming pool concept is well-established. Indeed, it stands at the core of how all healthy freshwater systems work in nature (at least on this planet).
Nature’s Waste-Management System
These days, few of us consider that humankind developed and thrived without knowing how to apply chlorine, ozone or any of the other chemicals or devices used to treat water.
Our ancestors spread across the planet drinking natural water from a variety of sources without much trouble at all. And the waterborne diseases that eventually required chemical water treatment didn’t become a problem until cities became densely populated and the detritus of human occupation contaminated local water supplies. Similarly, the copious quantity of fertilizer used in farming has made its way into water systems, polluting them and knocking them out of their natural ecological balance.
The science behind the biological water treatment in natural swimming pools is called limnology, which some refer to as the “oceanography of fresh water.” It is the study of biological systems present in the fresh water we’ve relied on since the dawn of man. The idea behind natural swimming pools is an extension of this science, bringing common natural processes to manmade systems.
By mimicking the natural processes in a specially constructed and controlled environment, we are able to clarify and purify pool water without the use of chemicals and/or devices. The key to all of this is the nitrogen cycle, which might be best described as nature’s waste-management system.
Here’s how it works: Organic matter made up of debris and detritus enters the water in the form of all the compounds associated with human bathing and other sources (including leaves and fertilizer). These compounds give rise to microbial growth and algae that, since early in the 20th century, we have sanitized and oxidized using chlorine and other substances in our chemically treated pools.
In natural swimming pools, by contrast, beneficial agents called heterotrophic bacteria break down these compounds and convert them to carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia. Next, another beneficial bacteria known as nitrosomonas bacteria converts the ammonia into nitrites (NO2). Finally, in the third step of this elegant process, nitrobacter bacteria convert the nitrites into nitrate (NO3).
Nitrate is the compound that makes up the bulk of the fertilizer we buy to feed plants. In traditional swimming pools, this material can be a major problem, as nitrates are the primary food for algae. In a natural swimming pool, however, nitrates are removed by aquatic plants that we place in what we call regeneration zones.
In effect, the detritus that would otherwise require oxidation is instead used to grow plants, and the plants removing the nutrients from the pool water results in pool water that is perfectly clear.
Again, in achieving this effect we are relying on ecological relationships that exist in natural bodies of water. In this context, bacteria are essentially “reducers” that take detritus and transform it into oxygen and nutrients for plants and phytoplankton such as algae. The phytoplanktons and oxygen are then consumed by a host of tiny animal species categorized as zooplanktons.
Natural swimming pools include the abovementioned regeneration zones (or what some call constructed wetlands) to harbor these biological processes and make the water safe for swimming. And that is just one application of this approach: In fact, the “wetlands effect” is now being used with great success to treat mass quantities of wastewater and to restore natural bodies of water to healthy, balanced conditions.
(In fact, one of my friends has successfully used constructed wetland technology in lieu of a septic system at a number of homes in the Colorado Rockies, and many municipalities are now planning systems that use constructed-wetland technology for municipal sewage and wastewater treatment.)
The conceptual foundation for all of this is the nitrogen cycle as it’s applied in closed-loop systems. Here, the compounds that might otherwise engender growth of harmful pathogens instead wind up inside the plants, which we can harvest and remove from the system. Through this harvesting, we actually reduce the volume of nutrients carried by the overall system — although once the nutrients are bound up in the plants, they no longer are a source of potential problems.
Harvesting is just one of the tactics we use to control the nutrient burden. Another key detail of these systems is the fact that the plants in our constructed wetlands are not rooted in soil; instead, they grow in gravel in a hydroponic system. The only place these plants can gather nutrients is from the water itself, so they’re very hungry.
Not only do these concepts make sense, they can be applied with just a few variations on the techniques that are already used to build conventional swimming pools. These natural systems, for example, require proper hydraulic design with respect to flow rates, turnover rates and pump/plumbing sizing — just as is the case with their chemically treated cousins.
As for differences, there are two main ones, both of which are related to the design and construction of the regeneration zones. First, the gravel must be right for the job; second, the system must be set up so the aquatic plants stay hungry — meaning we are sure to eliminate any surface runoff into the pool that can carry fertilizers, pesticides or other organic compounds into the water from the surrounding landscape.
Additionally, the water plants must be able to out-compete the algae for the nutrients in the water, thereby limiting the amount of algae that can grow in the system.
It also bears mentioning that proper regeneration zones will attract animals in the form of amphibians, insects, birds and other species that thrive in natural wetlands. A family of happy frogs living in a regeneration zone is a good indication that the system is in equilibrium. In fact, we use skimmers that are frog-friendly; instead of finding bleached-white dead frogs in our skimmer baskets, the frogs are able to easily escape.
Setting Accurate Expectations
In speaking with clients about these systems, we’ve come to recognize that it is extremely important to set accurate expectations.
Most of us have had the experience of swimming in natural bodies of fresh water in the form of rivers, streams, lakes and ponds — and we survived with little concern about the presence of plants, microbial life forms, biofilm and other animals. Nonetheless, once you start talking about a “swimming pool,” all sorts of suppositions about how that body of water will look and how it will perform crop up almost instantly. The natural swimming pools that I have seen — designed and built correctly, of course — all had water that was transparently clear, and I was perfectly able to see right to the bottom of the deep end.
We never make any bones about it: The inescapable fact is that natural swimming pools teem with life, and the distinction we work to convey is that the nitrogen cycle our clients’ children are learning about in their science classes is what makes that water safe for swimming.
We also point out in some cases that our own bodies teem with microbial life. In fact, every healthy human body plays host to trillions of microbes of perhaps a thousand different species. The list of those that are harmful is infinitesimal compared to the vast majority that are beneficial. We couldn’t survive without them. Indeed, our bodies host about 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells — so all in all, we’re about 90 percent microbes!
Ultimately, we keep coming back to a simple fact: The processes we use to keep the water safe in natural swimming pools are akin to the reliable set of enduring biological relationships that enabled our ancestors to flourish around the globe without ever giving a passing thought to the plants and microbes that keep us safe.
In 2006 The Deck and Patio Company was awarded the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals Chairman’s award, the highest award, for a design and construction that we proudly built in Dix Hills, NY. This honor signifies recognition not just from our industry peers, but from the association as well. We have hundreds of successful ponds and water garden projects and we are always proud to show you photos to inspire you on the possibilities for a pond and water garden on your own. See video of Bill Renter from the Deck and Patio Company as he describes his favorite pond project on House TV
In 2010 The Deck and Patio Company was recognized again, this time by the APSP with a GOLD Medal for residential waterfeature design. This project was located in Nassau County Long Island and feature a 260′ x 45′ Waterfall, and Pond with rainwater harvesting , biological bog filtration, and a 3,000 gallon water storage vessel for irrigation in the surronding landscape.
The Deck and Patio Company only uses current “state of the art” water garden products, visit AQUASCAPE INC.™. for more information.
To get the design that works with your water garden or other water features, call 631 549-8100 or email the Deck and Patio Company.
This is our new Timbertech XLM Rustic Bark deck display. It also includes a working Bullfrog spa model 462 and a “Sonoma” outdoor fireplace. We are open Saturdays starting 4-9-11 all Spring and Summer. Please come by or call our office to schedule a tour of our Design Center to get great ideas for your outdoor project.
You’ve found the right place. Ask your question about and outdoor project and our Expert Bill Renter of the Deck and Patio Company in Huntington Station Long Island will answer it promptly. Are you doing research before you call to make an appointment? Our blog and website is full of useful information about current trends and long lasting durable products and their proper installation.
We answer questions about building a deck, patio. paver patio, ponds, waterfalls, waterfeatures, watergardens, Bullfrog spas and hot tubs, pergolas, swimming pools, spillover spas, landscape design landscaping, outdoor kitchens, outdoor bbq, fire pits camp fires, in Nassau and Suffolk county New York.
When looking for a deck builder on Long Island, look for a company that has been established for a number of years. The Deck and Patio Company has been building wood, composite, and pvc decks since 1992. They specialize in decking from Trex including Transend, Escapes, and Accents, also Timbertech XLM, Earthwood Evolutions, Twin Finish, and Reliaboard, also Azek decking.
The Most Energy Efficient Hot Tubs
January 27th, 2011
The JetPak System and Full Foam Insulation Combine to Make Bullfrog Spas Incredibly Energy Efficient
These days most people just can’t afford to waste money. So, it’s important to know that your hot tub doesn’t have a direct debit line to your bank account. Many hot tubs out there claim to be energy efficient but may cost you hundreds of dollars per month on your electricity bill – a Bullfrog Spa probably costs less than $20.
Of course, costs vary depending on the climate where you live, energy rates, and how often you use your hot tub. One thing is certain though, a Bullfrog Spa is extremely energy efficient, which will cost you less money in the long run, all the while providing better massages, true customization, American-made quality and extreme durability.
Why are Bullfrog Spas more energy efficient?
Well, it all comes down to the fact that Bullfrog Spas are built differently than every other spa out there. Bullfrog Spas are the only hot tubs built with the patented JetPak System. JetPak Technology provides a more advanced and more efficient way to build a hot tub. The JetPak System eliminates up to 90% of the plumbing that is required to build all other spas. In addition, almost all of the plumbing utilized in the JetPak System resides inside the spa’s warm water so it recycles heat instead of losing it to the outside environment. Bullfrog combines the JetPak System with high-grade full foam insulation and insulated tight fitting hot tub covers to achieve maximum heat retention.
The result: A Bullfrog Spa holds heat better and requires far less electricity to maintain warm water.
In energy efficiency stats compiled by the California Energy Commission, Bullfrog Spas either lead or are top 4 on the list for every category in which we have a spa model. And, keep in mind, we didn’t make any modifications to our normal production spas for these tests.