One of my very first backyard landscape design projects was a small urban backyard renovation where the homeowners were tired of lawn and old shrubs. Ryan and Jill were dreaming of a much more peaceful, enchanting scene and asked me to design a pond that they could view from their deck.
The sound of water running in a small creek from a small rocky “outcropping” and mound in a far corner of the garden into the pond, and a dense leafy screen surrounding the garden would make the backyard very private and block out most of the city noises.
I did arrive with some trepidations: My original choice of screening trees had not been the happiest: The Brazilian Tipuana tipu is a beautiful tree with lacey foliage and a wide, umbrella-like crown. It fits well into a low water landscape, is ‘green’ through our Southern California winter but starts shedding its foliage when most other deciduous trees have leafed out already. This takes several weeks until, in early summer, it bursts into the prettiest bloom of orange-yellow Sweet Pea-like flowers. Besides the leave drop problem I had expected that the trees in this xeriscape design would crowd each other out eventually, and I was expecting that the homeowner might regret that selection.
I was thrilled to see a scene not much changed since the garden had been installed: The creek was still running to the pond, providing needed oxygen and delighting us with its gurgling and bubbling sounds. Some twelve smallish Koi were busily milling close to the deck as the evening was approaching, to receive their daily feeding. The peaceful mood was still there as were the trees, although the homeowner said he would remove them soon because he intended to install solar panels on his roof. To my relief he said that he had loved their look and therefore didn’t mind the extra maintenance. I asked him about his maintenance program, and he explained that he adds a biological clarifier on a weekly basis, and an algaecide as needed (both are biological controls). He also uses a skimmer and filter cloth, hidden under a fake rock, that get cleaned weekly (except during heavy drop like the Tipus drop their leaves); then there’s a biofall (where the waterfall starts) in another plastic box that has the same filter mesh at the bottom and 2 mesh bags of rock. The leaves and petals are not too bad, he says – even when the wind has blown an extra load of petals into the water.
What about “visitors”? He has created some hollow spaces at the bottom of the pond under several overturned clay tiles where the fish hide when an occasional heron or egret comes to visit. Raccoons merely push a few of the smaller rocks around in their attempt to catch a Koi, but always give up – they don’t like the deep in the middle of the pond where the fish hide.
Over the years Ryan and Jill have enjoyed their water feature that always entertains them with a lively yet peaceful scenery: There are rocks and boulders, rushes and grasses at the water’s edge, and there’s the cherished Pineapple Guava that has grown into a graceful large shrub, on the other side of the pond.
There’s the play of sunlight on the water’s surface and the steady darting of dragon flies or other beneficial insects that land on blades and pads of Iris and Water Lilies. Birds of course come to the water’s edge to bathe and drink as well as other critters. Visitors come to stay, such as frogs, others wonder out again, such as the occasional raccoon.. There’s the comfortable chair across from the deck inviting to sit and watch the activities at the pond from a different angle, especially the perennial glint and splash of the Koi fish. There are lots of babies at this time – they are the babies that hatched in early summer of last year.
The prominent ingredients of a fish pond are water, plants, fish, snails, soil, light, temperature – and time. After all the ingredients have been put together, it takes time for all to balance out and grow into a clear pond.
Algae, while they are unsightly, may not necessarily be unhealthy; they can make the water appear brownish or green, or grow as fine threads or moss-like coverings on shells, snails, walls and stones. Small fish can feed on some of these algae… Threadlike algae are often associated with crystal clear water and are evidence of the oxygen-generating ability of algae. A lot of things feed plants, algae and fish: Food that we give the fish; foliage that drops into the water and decays; and the waste that fish produce.
Adding aquatic plants to a pond not only increases its visual appeal and natural look; floaters such as Water Hyacinth , marginals such as Water Iris , and Water Lilies help reduce algae as they feed on nutrients or block out sunlight – both will starve the algae. Shading the water with leaves keeps the water cooler which is desirable. Chemical control may also be used if necessary, however great care must be taken to select chemicals safe for fish and plant life. As the pond matures, the need for chemicals should diminish. Keeping decomposing material in the water to a minimum will also lower the nutrients in the water, less food will then be available for the algae to feed upon. Prune off old leaves and skim the surface for fallen leaves.
The pH of the water can also affect pond balance, and there are formulas suggested to help achieve it. Also, you can determine the most balanced amount of fish and plants for your pond by calculating the water’s volume and surface area.
I’m not an expert in pond matters; I’d rather refer to an ‘ocean’ of information and helpful videos online… You can contact the local chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association to refer you to a San Diego landscaper experienced in pond building.
Did you know that fish eat mosquito larvae and that mosquitoes don’t like moving water? Keeping your water moving and cleaning off debris regularly that provides hiding places for mosquitoes is a good recipe to control mosquitoes.
What not to love about a pond! I myself have one, as part of my front yard landscape design, by my front door. I watch it from my living room window, and although its location isn’t perfect either (the previous owners must have decided to live with the maintenance; they created the pond at the edge of an oak canopy), it’s a most cherished delight of my garden.