Feb 16, 2017

What do you do with your plants in the winter?

A Little Time With Your Aquatic Plants Now Means Less Time Spent on Them in the Spring

How you care for each of the plants in your water feature will depend on what type of plant it is. Regardless, remember to either dispose of tropical plants or bring them in before the first hard freeze.
Hardy vs. Tropical
Any plant that can go through a winter in your area and then re-emerge the next year is hardy to your area. When you purchase a plant for your landscape or water garden it should be marked as to it's "hardiness zone." In Indiana, we are either a 5a, 6a, or 6b zone. If those zones sound a little different from what you have heard in the past, the USDA recently updated the zone map. Marion County, Indiana was formally a zone 5 now a 6a. Many plant tags may not have the revised numbers yet. Check out the USDA map for the entire country here. Whether a plant is tropical or hardy will determine how you treat it for the winter.

This is water forget-me-not. It is one of our favorite hardy marginals!

Hardy Marginal Plants
Most hardy marginal plants (marginal plants have their roots planted under the water and the foliage above the water level) will over winter easily in your pond without much fuss. In the fall after they have died back, trim them back to about 1"-2" above the water level. A few finicky plants such as Cardinal Flower, Pickerel Rush, Parrots Feather, and Lizards Tail prefer to be in an ice-free area of the pond. So either submerged or close to a deicer.
Cigar plants are beautiful topical marginals that attract butterflies

Tropical Marginal Plants
Either bring these plants inside and treat them as house plants or discard them. If brought inside, there's no need to keep them completely submerged, just keep them very damp and near a sunny window. Read more about overwinter tropical plants here.
This Colorado water lily will come back year after year.

Hardy Water Lilies and Lotus

Trim back the foliage of water lilies and lotus about 2" above the crown of the plant if possible. Make sure they are in at least 12" of water.
Surfrider is a tropical water lily in purple-- a color unique to tropical lilies.

Tropical Water Lilies

It's best just to treat a tropical water lily as an annual and replace it each year. It is possible to keep them, the difficulty lies in getting them ready to go back out in the spring. It takes a sunny 70 degree (water temperature) location to get them going before placing them outside again. Most homes just don't have place like that. Compare your tropical water lily to a hanging basket that you purchase each year. It's a nice treat!
Hornwort is a great option for submerged plants.
Submerged Plants
Also referred to as oxygenators, some submerged plants will survive the winter others will not. It mostly depends on the severity of the winter. Trim them back to 2"-4" and keep them at an "ice-free" height. It seems the deeper in the pond the better their chances.

Water hyacinth have beautiful blooms.

Floating Plants

Water hyacinth and water lettuce are not hardy. They should be removed in the fall as they begin to brown and die.
Final Thoughts
Most aquatic plants are fairly forgiving. They'll come back no matter if they have been trimmed back or not. But taking care of them now means a cleaner water feature in the spring and less time maintaining and more time enjoying! 

You inherited a pond... now what?

More and more lately we've become experts with the "inherited pond." You moved into a new house, and lo and behold, the previous owners left a pond! But... now what do you do with it?

This is so exciting for me, as your pond guide. I get to teach how to be a water gardener! It's akin to getting someone hooked on your favorite show. You just love spreading your hobbies, right?

I've seen a range of types of inherited ponds. I've seen ponds that people have unearthed underneath a forest of weeds. I've seen beautiful, established ponds that enchanted people to buy the home in the first place. For every situation though, I get pretty much the same question. "What do I do now?"

First, I implore you to visit our shop. Bring photos of your water feature, take a tour of our gardens to see what our water features look like, and talk to us about what you'd like to do with your new water feature! Trust me, no question is too small or too silly.

Secondly, take a look around here at this blog! We've got tons of info we've compiled over the years. We've gathered a list to get you started:

Why you should aerate your pond. (And what the heck does that mean.)

Everything you need to know about algae.

All about keeping pond fish.

What is a pond filter?

How to enjoy your water garden.

So, congratulations on your new adventure! We're thrilled to be able to share the experience with you. We hope to speak with you soon.

Everything You Need to Know About Algae

The following article is for pond owners! If you have what we call a "pondless" or "pondfree" waterfall (that is, just a waterfall with an underground basin but no standing body of water), you can get away with just one simple treatment. It's that easy!

We highly recommend you bring a photo of your pond as well as a water sample to our store. We will give a free water analysis and guide you through the necessary steps to clearing your algae. You'll even leave with a personalized step-by-step treatment brochure.


Algae is a very broad term for hundreds of thousands of species. You'd be surprised how many species there are in our ponds alone! For our purposes, we group algae into three main groups:

Single-celled algae at its finest!
Single-Celled Algae -- Causes green water, looks like pea soup or a deep forest green color

That's a healthy crop of string algae!
String Algae -- A.k.a. moss, green slime, green hair, fuzzy stuff

Those green rocks are ideal! That's carpet algae.
Carpet Algae -- The very light green coating on your rocks. (This stuff is GREAT! And we want to keep it! Find out why below.)


Let's talk about how algae grows. We're going to break down the Nitrogen cycle in very simple terms for our purposes.
That's quite a lot of dead leaves in the pond.

  • Organic waste (fish food, fish poo, dead plant leaves, dead tree leaves, etc.) break down into ammonia. Ammonia is useless and toxic.

  • Bacteria breaks ammonia into nitrites. mostly useless still but way less toxic.

  • Bacteria further breaks down ammonia into nitrates. Hey, now we have something useful! High levels can still be dangerous, but nitrates are something that can be consumed by plants.

So where a pond can go "wrong" is somewhere in this cycle. If this is imbalanced in any way, then the pond will look like a mess. It will be bright green or have crazy amounts of string algae. We're going to break down the cycle step-by-step and follow where you can go "wrong."


Step 1-- Limit organic waste build-up.

Fish Feeding -- Feeding your fish too often or with cheap foods full of waste can wreak havoc on your water. Read more here.

Feeding your fish is fun-- just do it responsibly!
Fish Population -- The general rule of thumb is 1" of fish per 10 gallons of water. Are you overpopulated already? Find out what to do with your extra fish here.

Keeping Aquatic Plants In Check -- Once a year, it's a good idea to thin out your plants. And keep those water lilies potted! For more info about keeping plants in check, follow this link.

Most ponds benefit from annual cleanings.

Step 2 -- Boost your aerobic bacteria.

We love our aerobic bacteria! Most of what we do in building and maintaining a pond is to foster the growth of those bacteria colonies. 

This is our most popular model of aeration system.
Aeration -- You need oxygen for your aerobic bacteria! Your waterfall or spitter are not doing you any justice, either. Read more about the right type of aeration here.

We add treatments weekly.
Using The Right Bacteria -- We've used a ton of different bacteria in the pond market. I mean a TON. We know what's out there. We know what is a waste of money, and we know what's not. The bacteria we sell is what we use exclusively, even in our own personal ponds!

Surface Area -- Bacteria needs somewhere to grow, right? Our ponds provide surface area with river rock and biological filtration. Need help finding the right filter for your own pond? Stop in and we'll set you up. 

Step 3 -- Use aquatic plants.

If you don't use aquatic plants, then even if you follow every step listed above, you will still struggle with algae. Because guess what? Algae eats nutrients just like other plants!

Pickerel weed is a native aquatic marginal. Isn't it beautiful?
There are correct aquatic plants to use for nitrate-eating purposes: floating plants (water hyacinth and water lettuce) and marginals. Marginal plants grow on the sides of the pond. 

We have a ton of resources for aquatic plants here, but if you really want to get the best idea of what's available, stop in the shop and check out the selection. You'll be surprised how many different types of blooms, heights, and colors are available!


Additional Info About Specific Types of Algae:

Single-Celled Algae (Green Water)

This type of algae is potentially dangerous for your fish in the warm summer months. It pulls oxygen from the water and can suffocate your fish. 

If you have this algae, do not use any treatments for string algae! Including ones we normally prescribe. 

String Algae

There is an additional product we use with our bacteria to help quell unruly string algae: enzymes. No, this is not an algaecide! Algaecides are a BIG no-no for us. Yes, they kill algae, and they do so very quickly. Once that dead algae begins decaying all at once, it sucks oxygen from the water. This can (and has, in many of our poor customers' experiences) kill off entire populations of fish! Scary stuff.

Instead, we use a natural enzyme, which prohibits the algae from eating. It slowly starves the algae, and it dies off gradually. The bacteria you're using will help break it down into plant food.

Carpet Algae

This is an algae we want to have! Every pond should have a light, fuzzy coating on the rocks. It helps keep your water crystal clear, as it acts like a big "plant." Many, many times we will have people complain of green water, and it boils down to them not having an adequate layer of carpet algae!


Having a clear, beautiful pond is attainable! You don't have to live with algae. We've helped thousands of pond owners improve and maintain their ponds, and we can help you too.

How do I size a pump / liner / filter for my pond?

We live in an amazing time when almost every bit of information is available to us online. For example, I want to find out why my knee has been hurting lately. So I jump on WebMD and start inputting my symptoms... Wait, I have leprosy??

Okay, maybe the internet isn't always right. After all, it gives a voice to every average Joe with a computer, so surely a few average Joes are going to be wrong. If I really need to know what's up with my knee, I should probably go see a real doctor.

So we're going to give you the same advice when you need to size a pump or a liner or a filter for your pond. Don't scour the internet. Go talk to an expert! Every water feature has very specific nuances, and you will use your pond differently than another pond owner.

We could't possible write an article telling you exactly how to size components for YOUR pond, because your tastes and needs are unique! We need to talk to you before we can advise you.

If you live near Cool Ponds, come chat with us. We will get to know your exact needs, recommend the best option for your space and budget, and show you how to install it and what it looks like in the ground.

We offer a hands-on Build A Pond class every year to teach you every aspect of pond building.

Feb 15, 2017

How Deep Should My Pond Be?

How deep should your pond be? Here's the short answer: deep enough!

Okay, sarcasm aside, the depth of your pond is very, very important. The proper depth will help with water clarity, fish safety, maintenance ease, and aesthetics.

Our ponds are all installed at least 2 ft deep, with a maximum depth of 3.5 ft deep.

Here are some common misconceptions about pond depth that we'd like to clear up:

  • Fish need at least 4 ft to be healthy. This is a common thing you'll hear from die-hard koi enthusiasts. Their thinking is that a large fish (larger than 12" say) needs to swim upwards and downwards in a water column to build proper muscle. Unless you have monster koi, then 3.5 ft is a safe depth.
  • You need a 12" plant shelf around the perimeter of the pond. Pond building of this style is a little old school these days, and it can coax predators like herons and raccoons to your pond to each fish. Our ponds have plant shelves, but they are small and much shallower than 12".
  • Fish won't survive winter in less than 3ft of water. In Indiana, we have a pretty shallow frost line. It will be a very harsh winter if we have more than 2" of ice (VERY harsh!!). As long as your water column is 18" deep, your fish will have plenty of warmth to survive the winter. For more about winter fish care, check this article.
  • You can't swim in a pond less than 5 ft deep. You can't dive in a pond that's less than that, sure! But the Wickers have swam in their 3.5 ft deep pond plenty of times with no trouble at all

So how deep should your pond be? Deeper than 18" but no deeper than 3.5 ft. Happy digging!


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