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Building a backyard pond: pt 3

In eieihome’s final installment in this series on building a backyard pond, we’re going to talk about adding plants and fish to your pond. We will also touch on what you need to do to successfully prepare your pond for the colder weather.

As in our second part of this interview, we spoke with water features expert Terri John from Vandermeer Nursery, to learn more about how homeowners can get started in this fun and fulfilling hobby.

Selecting Plants

When you begin adding plants to your pond, Terri states that it’s best to pick your plants to scale. In other words, if you have a tiny pond, choose smaller plants such as dwarf cattails or miniature water lilies. However, size isn’t the only thing to consider:

“Match plants on the outside to plants on the inside,” Terri says. “If you have irises in the pond s put some on the outside. If you have spreading marginals inside use a spreader outside.”

Another factor to consider is the height of any features, such as a waterfall.

“If you have a waterfall feature, generally you want the plant material to build up toward the water fall but not block it off,” Terri advises.

Plants that attract

In a dedicated effort to “bring back the bees”, many homeowners are gardening with the thought of attracting honeybees in mind.

If this is something that you have a passion for, then you’ll be pleased to hear that you can also attract bees with your water garden. Terri mentions primrose and water calla lilies as being particularly enticing to bees.

She also notes that Cardinal flower and Monkey flower, may be beneficial in bringing hummingbirds to your pond. Of course water lilies with their flat, floating pads are famous for the perch that they often provide to frogs.

Stocking a fish pond

It is definitely worth noting right from the start that koi ponds are a lot of work.

“Keeping koi takes a lot of dedication,” Terri says. “Koi can live to be 20 – 30 years old […] A lot of people aren’t aware of that”.

Terri warns that if you plan to keep koi, you might want to avoid adding plants to your pond due to the destructive nature of the koi. You have to really dedicate a lot of time to supplementing their diet to keep them from attacking your plants.

However, don’t be disheartened. If you love the idea of seeing fish and plants in your pond, you can always opt for goldfish instead, since they are much kinder to the plants.

If you have a larger property in a more rural area, then you can also choose to keep native fish such as pickerel, small mouth bass or trout. Just don’t plan on mixing any goldfish in with the native fish.

“[Homeowners] with really large ponds [usually] regret adding goldfish,” Terri says. “[Goldfish] breed like rabbits. [People] think the bass will eat the goldfish if there are too many. However, the bass will stop eating them after a while and then [the goldfish] take over”.

“If you’re going with fish, less is more,” Terri says.

Overwintering your water garden

As you can imagine, overwintering a water garden is much easier than overwintering a fish pond. Of course, there are still certain maintenance steps that should be taken to ensure the health of your water garden year after year.

“Remove your equipment and make sure your lines are well drained,” Terri says. “Then cut back your plant materials [as required] and then and put [your pond] to bed.

Many of the plants you’ll choose are marginal plants –meaning they grow in shallow water or in moist soil. The benefit with these plants is that they overwinter quite well.

“As long as they’re in soil they’re fine,” Terri says.

However, certain plants will need a bit of care over winter. If you have bulrushes or reeds, you’ll need to cut them back if they’re well above the water line. If you have water lilies, you should plan to cut then back at the end of the season to avoid having a lot of dead plant material in your pond over the winter.

Overwintering your fish pond

If you’re overwintering a fish pond, it’s very important to some sort of method for keeping an amount of surface open in the ice. This is something that is generally done with a pond deicer, which a device is used to heat a little bit of the surface around it.

Using a deicer is essential, because the fish need gas escape happening at the surface to maintain the water quality.

“You can get a lot of co2 build up in the water,” Terri tells us.”It’s like being locked in your garage with the car going”.

Terri also warns pond owners not to forget about water chemistry over winter.

“The #1 killer over winter is ph crash,” she says.

If you’ve been following our series on building a backyard pond and you’re ready to jump in with both feet, be sure to find a local water features expert. Of course, there is a lot of information available online, but going out and actually seeing the equipment and talking to a pond expert will better equip you to get started on the right foot.

If you missed our first installment in this series on building a backyard pond, you can read it here.

Vandermeer nursery has served Ajax and the Durham Region for over 40 years, providing high quality, 98% locally grown plants, gardening supplies and accessories, ponding equipment, fish and more to the Greater Toronto Area.

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