Sep 1, 2016

Planting for Your Birds

Gotta Catch Em All!

The Pokemon Go craze that’s sweeping the country reminds me of a pastime near and dear to my heart: bird watching. I bird watch like I hunt pokemon—I’ve gotta catch ‘em all! Finding a new species is incredibly exciting to me. After freaking out for a few minutes, making notes of the bird’s distinguishing figures, consulting my guidebook (a few times), I proudly mark the new bird off my list. Another one down!

Most people think of bird watching during fall and spring migrations, since that’s when the unusual species really come through. I have seen some really great species during those times. But my absolute favorite time to bird watch? Winter. It’s basically cheating! With no leaves on the trees and bright white snow highlighting our beautiful birds, it really couldn’t be easier.

A cedar waxwing perches on a winter-fruiting tree.

Now I’m not saying I go out snow-shoeing to find birds; although I have gone in some pretty extreme conditions to find new critters! I prefer to sit in the comfort of my home and watch my backyard.

Okay so why am I talking about this now? The leaves haven’t even started to turn color yet! Isn’t winter bird watching a little far from now?

Yes and no! Preparing your yard for your winter visitors begins now. Your birds need shelter, water, and food. They need thick, coniferous shrubs and trees to hunker down in the polar winds. They run the risk of dehydration in the winter, so they need a fresh water source (don’t worry – your pond or pondless has you covered). And of course you’re planning on putting out lots of high protein and high fat foods like suet, peanuts, and sunflower meats. But you can go one step further, and your birds will thank you.

Consider planting fall and winter-fruiting plants. Not only will they benefit the birds when you’re too chilled to bother with filling your bird feeders, you may see some birds that don’t normally frequent bird feeders! Need some help with bird ID? Check out our article here for 4 steps to ID a bird quickly.

The plants below are some of our favorites. Don’t know where to get these? Give us a call – we can come out and plant them for you!

  • Crabapple tree – produces fall fruit that persists to winter. Great for shelter too.
  • Flowering dogwood – fall fruits that attract lots of birds, including bluebirds! Great for spring nesting too.
  • Eastern red cedar – a fast growing conifer tree. Produces fruit in the fall that persists in winter that cedar waxwings love and gives great shelter.
  • Northern bayberry – shrub with fall fruits that persist in winter. Tree swallows will appreciate these!
  • Viburnum – shrubs that have fall fruits that persist in winter. Attracts many types of birds and has beautiful white flowers in the spring-time!

Enjoy your bird hunting! Good luck on your own journey to "catch em all!"

Aug 10, 2016

A Frog Bog!

So if you read any Cool Ponds articles, newsletters, postcards, etc. you know that as of July 23, 2016 we have a new "Serenity Garden" here. We've plugged it pretty hard. The photo above shows the bog area of the pond surrounded by water lilies both hardy and tropical. What's great about this bog is not only is it awesome aesthetically and helping to keep the pond clean... it's also now home to two frogs.

They must have moved in almost as soon as the pond was finished. I guess they like the "serenity" of the garden as well. Can you see the bullfrog in the photo above? Check out the close up below:

They love the bog because they can float in among the aquatic plants and be pretty much unnoticeable. Honestly I wouldn't have seen them if Kasey hadn't pointed them out! (There is actually a Leopard Frog behind the boulder sticking out of the water in the top photo it's just not visible.) Plus there's an unlimited supply of little insects for them to eat. We have frogs all over the place here at our shop and we can pretty much attribute that to the heavy plant cover in all our water features.

If you are looking to entice some frogs to live in and enjoy your pond, I recommend creating a bog area. What is a bog? It's a shallow area that's filled with marginal aquatic plants.  All of our ponds here at the store have some type of bog area -- some of them multiple bogs. Marginal plants are those that have their roots in the water but the foliage is above the water surface.

It's not difficult to create a bog on an existing pond.
Option 1: Build a little retaining area with boulders inside the pond and fill the area with river rock to 1-2" below the water surface. You might be able to expand an existing shelf, possibly? The key is that it needs to be shallow.

Option 2: (More advanced.) Dig a shallow area next to your pond and attach new liner to create the bog area. Fill the new area with river rock.

For me the critters that live in my pond are what I enjoy most. Anything I can do to make them feel more at home and safe is a project well worth it!

Staci Wicker
Cool Ponds Co-owner

Jul 7, 2016

What Exactly Is Pond Filtration?

Pond Filtration Primer

Clear water is the goal. Now how do we achieve that?

Probably most realize that backyard ponds need filtration. Filtration comes in all sorts of forms however -- maybe not what you have pictured in your mind either!

Ancient pond filtration. No one wants to see this in the
bottom of their pond!

Submerged Filters
In the beginning... okay maybe not the beginning, but before modern day pond filtration was invented in the early 1990's, most pond filtration consisted of a pump in the pond bottom which drew the water through a container of lava rock also sitting in the pond bottom. This was somewhat effective, but unsightly and very high maintenance. This system was tweaked a bit to become the submerged filters that are still sold today -- a good percentage of new pond owners start this way, but it hasn't changed that much -- you can still see it in the pond bottom and it's still high maintenance. But for many, this is a low cost way to filter their pond and get started.

Today, modern filtration equipment is not
seen at all in or around the pond when
it is installed properly.

Modern Filtration
Today's modern day filtration consists of two components -- a biological waterfall and a skimmer. This system filters the pond exponentially better than the submerged filter and if installed properly is hidden, making the pond look much more natural.  The biological waterfall cleans and clarifies the water while the skimmer both protects the pump from debris and removes debris from the water. Read more about Biological Waterfalls here.

This spilling urn is both a filter and decorative!

External Filtration
Somewhere in between the submerged filter and the waterfall/skimmer combination lies the external filter. While the pump still sits in the pond bottom, the filter sits outside the pond making filter maintenance easier. These filters can be easily hidden or decorative such as the photo above. These filters are a great option for very small or hard-lined ponds.

There are other natural pond filters in the pond as well. 

There IS a creek in there! The plants are thriving!

If you look closely you can see the debris build-up.

Creeks and Streams
This spring we added a creek to our large pond in front of our shop. We added it simply as a debris filter. Because of the way the pond is constructed and the fact that our street floods terribly when it rains, all the debris from the parking lot ends up in the pond -- yeah, not a great situation. So we added this creek (and an accompanying skimmer) to remove the fine, excess debris. As the water flows through the rocks and gravel in the creek, it drops and collects in the gravel. You can see the build up. We simply use a pond vac and vac it out every so often. Works like a charm! Read more about the benefits of adding a creek here.

Rocks and Gravel in the Pond
What exactly is biological filtration? It's beneficial bacteria going to work breaking down and eating up all the excess nutrients in your pond that can feed algae. In order for the beneficial bacterial to do their job, they need a place to live -- like all the surfaces in your pond. If you add rocks and gravel to the pond, the surface area for bacteria to colonize will increase exponentially! One to two inches of river rock in the pond bottom is an awesome filter!

Aquatic Plants
Plants are natural filters all the way! They eat excess nutrients that build up in the pond. Not all plants are as good eaters as others, however. Although water lilies shade the water, they're not great nutrient eaters. For the best results, marginal plants put in areas where water flows through their roots will be the best at filtration. As well as eating nutrients, their roots will catch fine debris too. (Another reason to add a creek!)

Supplemental Beneficial Bacteria
In our backyards, we're trying to imitate Mother Nature. She has plenty of beneficial bacterial to keep natural bodies of water in balance. In our backyard ponds, we do things to upset that balance -- too many fish, fish food, inadequate plant quantities, etc. So it's important to supplement with BioClear and Clean (beneficial bacteria) to keep that balance by its consuming the excess nutrients.

All ponds are unique and require their own filtration solution to look their best and remain healthy. There are lots of easy ways to increase your pond's filtration or you can start with the easiest and lowest possible maintenance -- the biological waterfall and skimmer. Need some advice? All of us at Cool Ponds are happy to help!

May 13, 2016

How Much Should I Expect to Pay for a Water Feature?

When you say the word water feature, lots of images come to mind. I mean a water feature can be a lot of things. A simple pot with a fountain is a water feature. For the purposes of this article, I'm talking about ponds and pond-free waterfalls. Remember that our goal in installing your water feature is to build a long-term relationship with you and your water feature. We want you to love your water feature so much you can't wait to tell everyone about it and how wonderful it is and you get to enjoy it without spending a lot of time working on it. Does that describe the water feature you have now?

When we talk about pond kits and installed ponds at Cool Ponds, we are talking about something very specific. Our ponds have biological and mechanical filtration, are lined with 45 mil rubber liner, and include EVERYTHING you need to have a beautiful, low maintenance pond. Plus, when complete, you will not see any rubber liner, tubing, pump, filter, wires... it will look completely natural.  Can you picture it? This isn't the pond you see in the hardware store flyer and it's certainly not as high maintenance either! Believe it or not... our installed ponds start at $5400 for an 8' by 10' by 2' deep pond with a waterfall and 5' long creek. Everything you need for that pond is there when we are finished. Plus we walk you step by step through how to take care of it. If you don't want to take care of it, we can sign you up for our maintenance program and you never lift a finger!

Pond-Free Waterfalls
A pond-free waterfall is a waterfall and creek without the pond at the bottom. It actually has a small pond but it's underground so you don't see it. If you want the sound and sight of a waterfall but don't necessarily want fish or water lilies, then a pond-free might be an option for you. Our pond-free waterfalls also look completely natural with no mechanical parts showing. Our 5' waterfall and creek pond-free starts at $2950. Again when we are finished, it will be complete and we will discuss everything you need to do to maintain your feature ... which isn't much.

Working with us is different... in a good way. You will love our people, our ponds and our passion. We hope you will contact us for a design consultation soon!

May 11, 2016

The Cool Ponds Difference

Let me be clear: we are big fans of doing it yourself. Our home has been remodeled by our family team of five many times (and most of those times our team members were just big enough to wield a hammer!). So when it came to deciding to hire someone to paint our house, it was not without some reservations.

After an inspiring visit to the Home Show, we decided to contact a short list of painting contractors for estimates.

It has been a crazy experience.

Our estimates have ranged by the thousands, for no apparent reasoning. Some people say the house can be painted in two days, some say seven. Some of them gave us pricing before they left our yard, and others gave us pricing many days later. From some we received professional printouts, and others simply scribbled notes on the backs of business cards. Some had excellent communication with us, and some just dropped off the face of the Earth.

We finally found a professional we liked who was upfront and fair, and we're dying to see our new paint color!

This huge array of paint contractors is an accurate representation of any contracting world-- including our own pond niche. It can be difficult to know who you're working with, and it can be scary trusting someone in your house or yard.

So we're here to be totally upfront with you. The following is how WE do business...

We're going to detail exactly what our process for our installation is. After all, you're inviting us into your home, asking us to tear up your yard... You should have precise knowledge of what that looks like!

Initial Contact

Whether you found us online, at the Flower and Patio Show, or heard about us from your neighbor's cousin's daughter's boyfriend, we ask that you visit our store before we ever come out to your house.

You wouldn't buy a car over the phone, would you? Most likely not. You go to the showroom. You test drive a few models. You pick out the color. You find the right package so that you can get that sunroof, right?

It's the same principle with ponds. You need to visit our store, see what our style is like, find the right size pond and waterfall, find out where the pump goes, etc. And get pricing. Our display features at our store are all priced so there are no surprises when our designers arrive at your home. Our retail staff will answer all your questions.

Setting An Appointment 

Once you've visited our store, we will set an appointment to have a designer come to your house (either Steve or Steven Jr.-- or both!). We require a $100 design consultation fee, which will come off the price of the work once we've been contracted. We're not just measuring siding here, we are designing a unique water feature that fits your needs. We have a vast array of experience that we draw from to design what will work best with your location and fit what you desire in a water feature.

Initial House Call 

At this initial house visit, we'll take a look at your yard and find out what exactly you would like. If you really have no clue what you'd like except that you know you want some water-- don't worry. We're very good at brainstorming and designing something specifically for you.

Plus, we don't just do ponds. If you want a patio next to your water feature, a fire pit, some plantings around it to make it look totally natural, we can do all that for you too. This initial house call is the perfect time to paint a complete picture of what you'd like to have.

Before we leave your house, we'll hand you an estimate, broken down line-by-line for you to see exactly what we're charging. This estimate will only change if you want to add something in the process. There's no "Well, we forgot this rock, and we're short this-and-this, so we had to increase your bill," at the end. The price we give you is the price. Period. You'll see the starting prices that you saw at our store that would have only increased if something was added or you live a distance away.

Contracting Cool Ponds

We ask for half the total estimate up front. We will collect the last half once the job is 100% complete.

You'll be added to our work schedule on a first-come-first-serve basis. We're not going to put another job ahead of you because it's bigger or quicker or for any other reason. The only thing that will push your job completion back is weather, and that's if it's pretty bad weather by the way. We will work in
the rain or the cold or the heat. Just as long as we can get a shovel in the ground and our machines through your yard without making a muddy, soupy mess.

Throughout the process, we will maintain clear communication with you. If you have any questions, all you need to do is call our store or email us and we'll give you a quick, complete answer. If rough weather does push our schedule back, you'll be the first to know.

Completing the Installation 

So far in this you should have noticed some big differences in how we do business compared to the rest of the contracting world. But this is where you'll note the biggest difference.

Our entire crew will be at your house from the day we start, and we will stay at your house exclusively until the project is finished. There's no jumping from job site to job site or having half the crew somewhere and the other half somewhere else.

This makes our completion time very timely. Our Celebration pond (around 1000 gallons, 8' wide by 12' long) will take a day and a half. Our Journey pond (3500 gallons, 15' wide, 19' long) will take three days.

Our crew is entirely professional, and they love their jobs. You're welcome to ask every single one of them questions. They'd love to chat with you! They're artists, and they work extremely hard.

We are a tobacco free company so you'll never find a stray cigarette butt from us.

We treat your yard with respect. This is your home, after all.

The End Result 

When we've finished installing your water feature, swept all the sand off your new patio, set your chairs at just the right distance from your fire pit, we'll do a final walk through with you. Our crew foreman will walk you through your entire installation. Where the pump is, how to turn on the new underwater lights, what steps you will take to keep your water crystal clear, etc.

You'll be given a welcome packet with answers to every question you never knew you should ask. But our assistance does not stop there. Our store hosts free classes every year, and we encourage you to come to as many as you'd like. Every one of us is here to help your water feature become an intimate part of your life for many, many years.

Your Cool Ponds experience will be unlike any you've ever had with another company. If you have any interest at all in our services, visit our store. You can tour our gardens, sit by our ponds. Our retail staff is on hand to answer all of your questions-- not to pressure you at all.

Water features are beautiful, relaxing, and life-transforming. We believe every step of the process should reflect that. 


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