Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Garden Trivia

We’ve made a few changes to the garden trivia quiz. We will post the question one week. You can e-mail (leslieross@sbcglobal.net) us with your answer and we will send you a coupon to use at the store. (You are lucky you get the coupon. I think the staff just gets mini-chocolate chip muffins, which is a whole ‘nother story.) We will then post the answers the following week. Some of the questions will be easy, but some will require a little research. You can even come in and quiz our professional gardening staff, if you like. It’s all in good fun and hopefully we will all (including me) learn a few things. So, this week’s question:

What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? Good luck!

Garden Patrol–The Case of the Messy Pond

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was a dame– a dame with a pond problem.. "I’ll be right over, as soon as it quits raining and the sun comes up. Dames, it’s always about them."

Observant readers of Countryside ads might recognize this pond. It was a winner in our garden photo contest a few years ago and has appeared in some of our advertisements. Mrs. Fueger and her family designed and built it themselves. She can see the pond from her kitchen window and from her screened porch and it has provided many hours of enjoyment. The pond was built to attract wildlife, and the day I was there the frogs and toads were calling to each other and a dove landed several feet from us to take a drink. Mrs. Fueger has many wildlife stories (I’m sure none of us will soon forget the time the giant bullfrog ate the sparrow.) Since it was built it has undergone a few changes. The plants have matured and fish have been added (and some subtracted by the local heron.)

After observing the pond with my keen eye, I sum it up in a nutshell. "Mrs. Fueger, your pond is in need of a thorough cleaning. I can’t believe you let it go like this. And you, president of your garden club!" We got straight to work. First, we removed all of the leaves, stems and large debris that had accumulated in the pond over the winter. Using a net over the pond in the fall keeps much of this debris out of the pond in the first place. Next, we assembled the Oase (http://www.oase.com)/) pond vacuum and vacuumed out the silt and dirt. I don’t like to entirely drain a pond, since doing so also removes the beneficial bacteria that help the pond’s ecosystem. Removing 20 to 25% of the water at a time is the most you want to remove. The vacuuming took several sessions as we had to let the disturbed silt settle several times. Remember, the pond is not a pool but you should be able to see to the bottom. Some amount of inorganic dirt at the bottom will not hurt the pond. It does provide a medium for beneficial bacteria growth. On the down side, it can also be a breeding ground for parasites that are harmful to fish.
This is also a good time to clean and examine the filter material in the bio-falls or filter. Rinse it with pond water and then use the rinse water to water your flower beds. To jump start the bacterial process that aids in the filtering process, add Eco-Fix or Microb-Lift-PL (http://www.microbelift.com/ (for use in colder temperatures, you could use Microb Lift Autumn/Winter Prep). Using these products will help keep down the nitrogen levels in the pond and reduce algae blooms. Invariably these algae blooms will happen as the pond get itself in balance. As your plants come out of dormancy and begin to absorb the excess nitrogen and the beneficial bacteria colonize, this will correct itself.

If you do have fish, make sure they haven’t reproduced to a level that is incompatible with your pond size. The rule of thumb is one inch of fish per one square foot of surface area. If you feed your fish, you can feed a high carbohydrate food when the water temperature reaches 50. When the water temperature reaches 70, you can switch to a high protein food. Feeding your fish will teach them to come to the surface when you come out by the pond. Do not allow uneaten food to remain in the pond as this will add to the nitrogen level in the pond and worsen what algae problem you might have.

Ponds may seem like a lot of work, but they really aren’t. They attract wildlife, and the sound of the water is very relaxing. I love sitting out by my pond after work in the evening. I also like being able to grow plants that I can’t grow elsewhere in the garden. If you have a spot in your garden for one come in and talk with our aquatic specialists about installing one. Be sure to tune in again for another thrilling episode of "Garden Patrol!"

Plant Profiles for the Water Garden

I love tropical and tropical-looking plants. I have cannas and lotus in my pond. The cannas overwinter in the house and the lotus is hardy. I have grown tropical lilies and this year I am planning on adding a papyrus.

Tropical Lily

If you have ever seen a tropical lily in bloom, you will wonder why you ever bothered to grow a hardy one. The flower heads are much larger and more intensely colored than hardy lilies. Blue flowered lilies are available and the flowers of all tropical lilies are much more fragrant than hardy lilies. The flowers are held well above the water making for a very dramatic display.
For those of us who work during the day, there also are night blooming tropical lilies. These only come in three colors, white, pink and red, but how delightful to come home and see them open rather than closed, as day bloomers and hardy lilies would be at that time of day.
It is possible to over winter tropical lilies, though I have never been successful in doing so. As with all lilies, they are heavy feeders, requiring fertilization twice a month. Yes, they are a bit pricey, but as a former co-worker once told me, it isn’t any more than you’d spend on a geranium tub or hanging basket that also will last only one season . So, take the plunge and add one to your garden pond this summer.


The Cyperus family features grass-like plants, including the umbrella palm and papyrus, that add some height to the water garden and have unique, umbrella- like foliage atop their stems. Their stiff stems can grow up to ten feet tall and they do take some shade. It is a tropical plant but easily overwinters in the house. If the taller varieties are too tall, dwarf varieties are also available. All varieties provide excellent natural filtration.
My other favorite plant for the water garden is the Black Magic colocasia, or taro. It will also over winter indoors, though apparently it does like it a bit warmer than I usually keep my house (I am such a scrooge with the thermostat.)
Mrs. Fueger’s pond is planted with mostly hardy plants, but she also has a papyrus. Some of her favorites are: anacharis, sweet flag and hardy lilies. The anacharis is anchored to the pond bottom with weights and helps to add oxygen to the water.

Good luck with the gardening trivia question....And Happy Gardening.

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