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gardening in clay soil

Gardening With Clay Soil

If you’re like me, then you just can’t wait to get out to the garden. Whether it’s aquatic plants or the surrounding landscape, it makes no difference it all adds beauty to what you see. One of the challenges we face as gardeners is dealing with the hand we are dealt. We are not hostages to the land we plant on, in other words just because you may have clay soil, or sandy soil or whatever the challenge, there is no reason you can’t have the garden of your dreams. The short video below gives a quick overview of what clay soil is, and some quick tips on how it can be improved.

Three Major Types of Soil

Sandy soil – This soil is made up of large granules, that allow for air and water to pass through them. Because of the larger spaces between the particles, water passes through much easier. This also leads to this type of soil drying out much faster than the other two. Sandy soil requires more watering as well. It has no ability to hold water and as a result many of the nutrients are flushed out. As a result, it requires constant lighter applications of fertilizer. This soil stays loose and crumbles easily.

Loam soil – This is the ideal soil for gardeners. It has a great balance of sand, clay, and organic matter. It has the ability to absorb water and contain it, and at the same time releases it freely. Most soil leans to one side or the other, such as sandy loam, or clay loam. It all depends on the predominant particles.

Clay soil – Now for the topic at hand.

One major problem when dealing with clay soil is that most plants don’t have the root strength to push through the tough clay soil to thrive. When bulbs are planted in clay soil they have a tendency to rot over the winter months because of the soil condition.

Believe it or not clay soil is actually more rich in nutrients than most other soil types. In clay soil the particles are negatively charged, which in turn attracts positively charged particles like magnesium, and potassium However, the cons far outweigh the pros. These properties of clay soil include:

  • Has a tendency to heave due to changing weather conditions
  • Warms up slowly in the spring
  • Poor drainage
  • Compacts easily making it difficult for roots to break through

The Good News

clay soilClay has some great benefits as well. Unlike sandy soil which allows water to pass through, clay can be used to dam water and keep it from escaping. This is due to the formation of the clay particles. They are much smaller than sand. Because of their shape, and size they align with each other and bind creating an almost water tight seal. Because of its characteristics, the “disadvantages” could be advantages. For instance, clay having poor drainage makes it the perfect material to create a pond base with. On a large scale the clay will hold the water from leeching out into the surrounding soil. This will not work as well for smaller ponds like the one in the DIY section, but if you are looking to put in a large scale pond with a natural bottom, clay is the first choice for the surrounding material.

Another way clay could be used to your advantage is clay is ideal for making dams, and directing the flow of water. It’s the perfect candidate to use to guide excess runoff water during the rainy season.

If you are digging in clay soil, be sure to allow it to dry out before you do. When digging you will only compact the clay together if it is wet.

What Does Clay Soil Mean to My Plants?

First off the pH of the soil is measured on a scale from 0 to 14. This makes 7 neutral, anything below 7 would be considered acidic, anything above 7 would be considered alkaline. So what does all this mean to the gardener? Well, the pH has a direct effect on how soluble certain minerals and nutrients are in the soil, which has a direct effect on how well certain plants will grow in that soil.

The more alkaline a soil is, the harder it is for minerals and nutrients to dissolve in that soil. In order for plants to get their minerals and nutrients they must first be absorbed into the soil, creating a solution the plants can use. One benefit of clay is because of its plasticity nature it is easily mixed.

The fact that clay is mostly inorganic doesn’t make it a good candidate for planting, however it can be improved dramatically by adding organic material to it.

Plants For Every Soil Condition

Here are some recommendations for what types of plants prefer which soil. This is a compressed list and a general overview. The soil types are based mainly on pH of the soil and what nutrients and fertilizer should be used for each type of plant

Acidic soil Loving Plants

Plants that prefer pH of approximately 5.5 which allows easy absorption of nutrients. The list of plants that prefer this type of soil is extensive. This is just a short list of plants that prefer this type of soil. If the soil you are trying to plant in is more alkaline, then it is recommended growing the following plant in either containers, or raised beds. Acid loving plants are most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, and the Eastern parts of the United States. Here is a short list of plants, shrubs and trees that flourish in acidic soil:


  • All types of ferns
  • Japanese iris
  • Begonia
  • Trillium


  • Azalea
  • Rhododendron
  • Blueberry


  • Japanese dogwood
  • Eastern white pine
  • Maples Weeping willow
  • Canadian hemlock

Plants that thrive in alkaline soil

These are plants that can tolerate a more alkaline or clay like soil.

PlantsMorning glory

  • Morning glory
  • Crocus
  • Geranium


  • Lilac
  • Forsythia
  • Juniper
  • Butterfly bush


  • Green ash
  • Maple
  • Douglas fir
  • Bur oak

Before You Start

Before adding any type of fertilizer to your soil it is recommended to get a soil test done to help guide you as to how to improve your soil quality depending on the plants you desire to grow. It is recommended to get your soil tested every three to four years. These tests generally run around $30 depending on where you have it done. Once you have the test results, determine how much of what kind of fertilizer to use based on the charts below. These charts are from Colorado State University.

soil test resultsJust Wing It

roll the diceHowever, if you choose not to get a soil test done, then it is recommended that you don’t over fertilize. Periodically add small amounts of nitrogen to the soil throughout the growing season (every 4 – 6 weeks) to promote healthy growth. Adding other nutrients my actually hurt your plants if there is an overabundance of one nutrient over another. For example, an overabundance of phosphorous will cause a reduction of the plants ability to absorb iron.

Most vegetables prefer neutral soil rich with organic material. There are three elements that fertilizers are typically measured in. They are labeled by number. The first number is nitrogen (N), the second number is phosphate (P), and the third represents the potassium (K). For instance, 10 -10 – 10 has equal amounts of all three nutrients. A common recommendation for planting vegetables is to fertilize with 1 pound of 10 – 10 –10 per 100-foot row.

There are special fertilizers for specific plants. If you are planning to fertilize your juniper bushes for instance, be sure to use a fertilizer for acid loving plants. This will help maintain the pH of the soil.

Final Thoughts

There is a little more to gardening than just digging a hole and placing a plant in it. If you follow the guidelines above, you should be successful at all your gardening endeavors. If you have any comments or advice, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Happy gardening!

flagstone path

Top 6 Cheap Garden Path Ideas

These top 6 cheap garden path ideas will certainly set your outdoor space off right.  Keep in mind that not all the listed garden paths listed will work for every environment. Obviously the garden that you enjoy in Southern California or Arizona will be much different from the one in New York. Keep this in mind as you decide on the materials you choose to create your garden path.

Garden Paths – Don’t Need to Be Paved with Gold

streets off gold If you’re like me and can’t wait for the last bit of snow to melt so you can get back outside, then, you’ll agree that it’s a big pain to deal with the rainy wet seasons of spring and fall. There is nothing worse than walking out to your favorite spot in the garden, but the only way to get there is to trek through the mud, or turn your once beautiful yard into a muddy path.

The path is also an important part of your garden. It helps to guide the garden visitors through a selected journey so certain things can be highlighted, and brought into view. Certain specimen plants that may have been passed by are brought to attention, to be fully appreciated.

The time it will take to create these paths depends on the materials used and the size of you path. Listed below are some great ideas to help get your wheels spinning. They start out simple and inexpensive, and get a little more complex as you go down the list.

My Top 6 Garden Path Ideas.

mulch path#1 Mulch Path

This can be done easily by getting some landscape fabric and laying it down where you want your path to be. For a border you can either use landscape timbers, or even some long thin logs to line either side of your path. Once you have the border set in place, cover the landscape fabric with mulch. This provides a soft foot path to your garden, without having to scrape the mud from your shoes when you get to your destination.

gravel walkway#2 Gravel Walkway

A gravel path can be an effective way to get from here to there. If you are going to make a gravel path, be sure to put landscape fabric down before you place your gravel down. This will help it from “absorbing” into the ground. This is a great path idea, especially for a long and winding path through the woods.

tree trunk path#3 Tree trunk path

If you have any fallen trees, or plan on trimming any large tree branches you can cut the logs into disks, about 2 inches thick. These make great paths that won’t hurt your feet if you walk on them barefoot. If you are worried about them rotting in the ground, you can always treat them with either deck stain, or water sealer. This is a very cost effective way to create the natural path to your destination. This type of path can either be dug into the ground to keep the surrounding grass intact, or simply surrounded by mulch.

board walk#4 Board Walk

This is a simple utilitarian path, that also looks natural. Simply place 2 x 6’s on the ground cut to the width you want your path to be. This will elevate you above the mud or water that exists during the wet season. This path will last for 5 to 10 years before it will need to be replaced. Using pressure treated wood will help with its longevity. These boards Should be dug into the ground to keep them from wobbling.

home made stepping stone#5 Concrete Stepping Stones

This is for the do it yourselfer with more of a creative flair. Concrete is great because you can make it into any shape you please. We did this when my kids were little years ago. Each child had their own stone they created for the garden. Be sure you and your “helpers” are wearing rubber gloves for this project. The Portland cement in the concrete mix will damage the skin on your hands. This is a great family project that everyone can take part in.

1. Line a 5-gallon bucket with a garbage bag. This enables you to reuse the bucket when you are done.

2. Mix up enough concrete mix to fill the bucket 2” – 3” with concrete.

3. Let the concrete set up for 20 minutes or so, then begin adding things to the top. Use polished glass, seashells, even bottle caps, anything you can think of to customize your stone. The kids love this, and I have to admit, so did I. At this point even a hand print would work great.

4. Let the stepping stone cure for a day or so, then pull the plastic bag out of the bucket, and viola, instant unique stepping stone. You can get 3 or 4 out of one bag of concrete depending on how thick you make them.

#6 Flagstone

flagstone walkflagstone in grassnatural flagstone

This is my favorite material to use for a garden path. Not only is it easy to work with, it also looks amazing when it’s finished. This is as natural as it gets. The flagstone walk can either be dug into the ground to keep the lawn surrounding it intact, or filled with pea gravel, sand, or even dirt so moss can grow depending on the climate and the location of your path.

flagstone and mortarAnother option is to lay the flagstone on a bed of mortar for a more formal look. If you choose to lay the flagstone in mortar, there are some extra steps you will need to take to make sure it holds up over time, and keep it looking its best.

1. Dig down 6” from your desired finished path height

2. Lay down landscape fabric

3. Fill the path with driveway stone

4. Compact the stone either with a hand tamper, or a powered one to reduce settling.

5. Mix up mortar and dump it over the gravel, be sure the mortar is mixed fairly stiff

6. Lay your flagstone on the wet mortar, using a level and a string line to keep everything moving in the right direction

7. Once the flagstone cures, mix up more mortar and fill in all the cracks between the flagstone. This gives the walk a very solid feel.


Keep in mind that the edging you use for your path is just as important as the path itself. Edging is important if the path you create has material that can mix with surrounding materials. Just for the sake of easy mowing edging treatments are important.

If you are using a free-form path such as the flagstone with grass between, or the concrete stepping stones, then an edge treatment isn’t necessary. However, if you are making a flagstone path with pea gravel between, or the mulch path, then an edge is essential. It will keep everything in its place and make your path last longer before you may need to spruce it up. Let’s be honest, that’s what we all want right, high value and low maintenance!

Final Thoughts

Stepping into the garden should be an inviting summoning. The path to your garden as well as through it doesn’t have to be expensive. As you can see cheap garden paths can be made from a variety of different materials. The important thing is your garden should call out to be enjoyed. By creating a garden path, you will be giving visitors, and yourself a way to navigate the beautiful landscape while keeping everything in its place. If you’re like me, the garden may have started out small, but little by little it has grown and taken on a life of its own. If you have any suggestions, or would like to share some of your ideas, please leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Outside Lights For The House

full moon

Creating the right atmosphere can easily be accomplished with the right outside lights for the house.  The right lighting choices can be one the best things you can do to your outdoor landscape. The lighting you choose has a direct effect on the feeling you get for being in the space. For instance, a spotlight on a very large tree may give a wow factor. While the soft light of a garden path gives a sense of “Follow Me”.

Outdoor lighting technology has come a long way. You can now turn your lights on and off change their color, or dim them right from an app on your phone. There are 3 major lighting categories. Each category having its own purpose. The three categories of lighting types are ambient, accent, and task.  Now let’s take a look at these three types of lighting and see how they can be used to bring your outdoor space to life.

Types of Lighting Around Your Home

outside ambient lighting for the houseAmbient lighting –

Ambient lighting is used for large or small areas to bring even lighting to the space.  Hanging fixtures, lamps and lamp posts, wall lighting, recessed lighting in structures, and spotlights are all examples of outside ambient lighting. Inside your home light reflects off the walls, therefore it is easier to create ambient light.

When in an outdoor situation creating ambient light may be a bit more challenging. One effective way to create ambient light outdoors is to shine light on a wall and “wash” it with light. By Illuminating the wall, It’s reflective quality will have a direct effect on the ambient light in the space.

Mounting a floodlight above the location so the light is cast down, Illuminating the entire area is a simple way to add ambient lighting outside.

Task lighting

Task lighting is exactly the way it sounds. This type of lighting should be without Shadows that can be cast on the task at hand. To light up an outdoor kitchen or grilling area for example. If light is placed directly behind the person cooking a shadow asked making it difficult see being done. To achieve this the light should be mounted above the subject and light up the entire work area.task lighting

Security lighting is another type of task lighting. Its job is to light up dark areas around the house and deter mischief in the shadows. Wall lanterns can be used on front porches to provide a welcoming feeling. At the same time, they add safety to correctly identify who is at the door.

accent lighting to bring the outside space to lifeAccent lighting

This is my favorite kind of lighting. This is the type of lighting that calls attention to certain features that you want to stand out.  It may be used to highlight a fountain or statue outside. This is also the type of lighting you would have along a winding path through the garden. The lights you see in the water of a pool, pond, or fountain are also accent lighting.

Automating Your Outdoor Lighting Systems

sunset skyThere are numerous ways to automate your lighting systems. First thing you need to do is decide what kind of control you want over your system. If you want things to just happen on their own, such as lights on your garden path turn on after it gets dark then you would set up your system using a photo cell. This will detect when it gets dark and automatically turn on your lights. It’s a set it and forget it type of set up.

timeAnother way to automate your system would be to simply plug everything in to a timer. This way you have the versatility to turn things on and off based on time and not on darkness.

Moving into The Future

For those of us that have moved to the 21st century, home automation is an intriguing curiosity. With devices like the Amazon Echo with Alexa, and Siri, voice activated lighting is the wave of the future. If you plan on going this route it is more of a commitment. The first thing to do is decide what you want your main control hub to be.

Amazon Echo Gen 2If you chose the echo, then third party brands of controllable devices will not require an extra command. For example, instead of simply saying “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights” you would have to say “Alexa, ask Phillips hue to turn on the bedroom lights “keeping the commands as simply as possible. Keeping things simple is key.

Automating Bulbs

The easiest way to automate a light, is to use a smart light bulb. These are relatively inexpensive, at just around $15.00 each. The Phillips Hue is the best seller on Amazon, and with a price like this I can see why. They boast up to a 20-year lifespan, using LED technology they use less energy than conventional light bulbs. These bulbs are also suitable for outdoor use. LED lights actually work better in cold climates, so winter is not a factor for these bulbs.

phillips hueWhen using the Phillips Hue bulb, the switch to the light must remain in the on position at all times, and the on and off function will be controlled by the bulb itself. It accomplishes this by way of your bridge and device, in this case the Amazon Echo.

There is another way to control your system, by installing smart switches. These allow you turn things on and off by voice command as well. With a smart switch you will have more power to control things other than just lights. You would be able to turn on devices like a ceiling fan for example.

Before deciding that the smart switch is the way to go, understand that it requires some rewiring. The switches that I have installed also require a neutral wire be connected to them. That is how they get their power to operate. Installing a smart switch is not always practical, and in some cases not possible. But in the past, (when I started to automate my home) it was the only option.

One way around the smart switch is to use a smart outlet. These are simple outlets that connect to the Wi-Fi in your home and can also be controlled by devices such as Alexa. They are simply plugged into an outlet and the power is turned on and off by way of the plug itself. This is a great option for setting up lights outside. It requires no rewiring, simply plug it in, have your device search for it and away you go!

The Basics

I wish someone would have told me the following information before I started on my quest for home automation. If you are going to get set up your home for a lighting system, it’s important to be sure all of your devices are compatible. To begin you need three basic things:

1. A control or main hub – This is the brain of the operation. It is connected directly to your router and sends out the signals to your devices.

2. Communication – This is achieved with either your echo device or the app you use on your phone. This communicates to your main control hub what you want to do. Example: turn off the lights, or make the lights blue.

3. Devices – These are the things you wish to control. Switches, bulbs, outlets etc… Not all the devices are compatible with all control hubs. You should have an idea of what your main purpose is and what you are trying to control before choosing a hub.

If you are going to be using the Echo second gen, Echo Dot, or any other Alexa devices, you will also need the Phillips bridge to control all the light bulbs, and smart outlets. However, the Echo Plus does not require a bridge to work with the Phillips smart bulbs, the bridge is built in. The advantage of using the Echo Plus is that its two devices in one.

The Price of the Future – Cost Breakdown

So to get started here is a breakdown of price for everything you should need to get off to a great start. You can always add more devices later if needed. This is also a great way to have home automation, even if you are renting. If wifi outletyou move, you can take it all with you.

So for a total of only $227.95 you could get set up quite nicely with home automation.

Final Thoughts

No matter how you go about it, there are simple and inexpensive ways to keep those outside lights for your house shining bright. Something as simple as adding a photocell to your outdoor garden path lighting can really make a difference in the enjoyment of the space. Moving forward at the pace we have been, the future is already here. Don’t be afraid to jump on board… it’s a lot of fun. If you have any first-hand experience or a preference with any of these home automation systems, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear what other people are up to and where the future is taking us.

clear water pond

Pond Maintenance Supplies

clear water pondPond Maintenance Products

My goal is to help you achieve a crystal clear pond with as little effort as possible, so you have more time to sit back and enjoy it. The pond you have created is beautiful yes, but unlike a natural pond, it lacks the introduction of fresh water. In nature a pond is fed by a stream or spring, constantly introducing a fresh water source. As a result of that, other water is flushed away, taking with it waste and other toxins. Your pond is a closed system and therefore needs a little help to keep the ecosystem balanced. Here are some products that will assist you in doing that:

pond sludgeSludge

This is a problem that can take over your pond. It can also cause unnecessary stress for your fish. This nasty stuff, made up of debris, fallen leaves and dead algae that winds up in every nook and cranny of your pond. It robs the water of oxygen while its decomposing.

API Pond Sludge Destroyer – Sludge Destroyer is safe for pets and wildlife. This product is a super concentrated blend of barley and bacteria that removes sludge build up. It breaks down fish waste, leaves, grass clippings, and dead algae. When used on a regular basis this product will cut down on maintenance so you will have more time to enjoy your water garden.

sludge destroyer

Oase Pondovac 4 Pond Vacuum – If you’ve tried the sludge remover and it just isn’t working fast enough, or you pond is extremely built up with sludge, then a pond vacuum may help you achieve that clean pond you dream of without draining the water, disrupting the ecosystem. This will remove pine needles, leaves, fish waste and excess dirt. Suck up waste and leave the discharge line in the lawn. This vacuum is safe to use on a pond with a liner, or a stone / rock bottom.

Oase Pondovac 4 Pond Vacuum Cleaner

Algae Prevention and Removal

Barley straw – This is a natural algae preventative. barley straw does not kill algae, it only prevents it from growing, Just add this to the water as a preventative measure. As the barley straw decays it releases chemicals that are known to stop algae from growing. This is a very cost effective way to control the algae in your pond. Each of these bales will treat 1000 gallons for up to 5 months.

Barley straw

UV Clarifier – If you already have and algae problem and want to clear the water without the use of chemicals, a UV clarifier is the way to go. The Ultraviolet light breaks the cell walls of the algae as it passes through the clarifier thus destroying it. Depending on the severity of the problem, the water should clear in 3 to 5 days, sometimes it can happen overnight. The model below is sized to sterilize 3,000 gallons. This is the size used for the pond in the DIY build a water garden article.

UV clarifier

Preventative Maintenance

Pond Master Test Kit – This kit has everything you need to keep your pond healthy. It measures pH levels, ammonia, phosphate and nitrate to help you provide optimum water conditions to keep your pond at its best. This kit has enough supplies to run 500 tests. Simply add the specific test solution to your sample and compare the color with the provided chart. This kit is essential to make sure your water is at its best. Even if you eliminate algae, you may still have problems you are unaware of.

API pondmaster test kit

5 in 1 pond test strips – For a quick glimpse into how healthy the water in your pond is, these strips are easy to use. Use these for weekly monitoring of your water.

API POND 5 IN 1 POND TEST STRIPS Pond Water Test Strips 25-Count

Chlorine Remover – This is a must have for any pond owner. Use it every time you add public water to your pond to keep everything safe from harm. Depending on the size of your pond 10 oz treats 1000 gallons. If you are going to do a water change, this is necessary for the safety of your pond. Be sure to use it before adding any beneficial bacteria. The chlorine in the public water will harm the bacteria you add.

Beneficial bacteria – This should be added on a regular basis throughout the season to keep your pond running smoothly. It will help with the breakdown of fish waste and boost your biological filter to help maintain balance in the ecosystem. The item below will treat one acre that’s 4 – 6 feet deep. Use once a week to give your pond that extra boost. One container will last an entire summer depending on the size of your pond.

beneficial pond bacteria

In Conclusion:

I hope this list of pond maintenance supplies has been helpful. The goal is to keep your pond looking its best with as little work as possible. With the use of these products you will spend more time enjoying your pond, and less time maintaining it. If you have any experience with pond maintenance and would like to share what products you use, I would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below and I will be happy to get back to you as soon as possible.

spring pond clean up

Natural Pond Maintenance – Easy Steps For Minimal Work

spring pond cleanup

Wouldn’t it be best if you used Natural Pond Maintenance to get your pond back looking its best for the upcoming season.  It’s almost time for spring cleaning.  A chance to go through all of your mechanical and electrical systems and make sure everything will be running smoothly in the days ahead. Get your pond looking as good as the day you first started your waterfall.

If your pond looks like an old cup of tea, caused by leaves and other debris that have accumulated over the winter months. Now is the time to hit the reset button and bring everything back to its original luster.

Spring Pond Clean Up – Made Easy

autumnWhen the last of the snow melts and you start to get the itch to get out of the house and start breathing in that fresh air, you know it’s a good time to bring your water garden back to life.

My biggest problem is the climate where I live. Winter comes in quickly. It’s usually snowing before all the trees have lost their leaves. Because of this I am not able to complete a fall cleaning. I place a net over the pond in the fall to reduce the amount of leaves and debris that fall in. This works fairly well, however for me the spring is when the majority of my cleaning is done.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about pond cleaning in the spring. The fact is the most aggressive cleaning should be done in the fall before winter sets in. The reason for this is that removing dead leaves and sludge from the bottom is essential for your fishes’ survival during the winter season. If the pond freezes over, it caps it off and the gasses that naturally escape and evaporate into the air are trapped in the water. This increases the level of nitrogen, and the amount of oxygen in the water decreases.

Don’t Take Advise From Just Anyone

frog and butterflySome major brands that manufacture pond supplies recommend draining your pond completely to clean it for the season. This should almost never be done. In fact, it should be a last case scenario. Your pond should never be fully drained.

Test your pond water to see how “dirty” it truly is. Reasons to test your pond water are as follows:

  • The pond water looks like a cup of tea from leaves and other debris
  • The water is black
  • The water is green
  • There is an overabundance of sticks leaves and other debris settled on the bottom

Keep in mind that a spring cleaning isn’t one hundred percent necessary every year. If the fall cleaning was performed properly, it may only require minimal effort. Some people do every two years or so. It all depends on your personal preference, and how “bad” your pond needs to be cleaned. If you have minimal debris in your pond that can be easily cleaned out with a net and your water is still fairly clear, then by all means, just do some minimal cleanup and be done.

Spring Cleaning DON’TS

Your pond is filled with millions of microorganisms all trying to break down the sludge and other material in your pond. When you “spring-clean” your pond, its imperative that you don’t drain it completely. Even though your water may “look” dirty, you will be doing your pond a disservice if you drain it, and refill it. Doing this, resets the nitrogen cycle and takes that much longer for the bacteria to reestablish itself and do its job, maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Do not drain your pondThe water in your pond should never be completely drained. Even draining half of the water will cause a reduction in the amount of beneficial bacteria, causing a reduction in the ability of your biological filter to work at its optimum potential. The ideal situation is natural pond maintenance taking place on its own.

If you have a pond that is heavily stocked with fish, frequent, smaller water changes may be your only option to maintain the water and to keep the harmful ammonia levels at bay. Fish produce considerable waste, mainly in the summer when their metabolism is at its peak. If your pond is over run with fish, small water changes are a necessary evil. The water used to refill the pond will most likely be from a public water facility which is loaded with chlorine. This will further eliminate the bacteria, and is harmful to fish. Just be sure to use a water conditioner that will remove the chlorine.

Spring Pond Clean Up – What to do

oase pondovac 4 pond vacuum cleanerUsing a net, remove as much debris as possible from the bottom of your pond. If you have considerable buildup of sludge on the bottom, you may need to use a pond vacuum like the Oase Pondavac to clean more thoroughly. This is a helpful tool and comes with various attachments to get into hard to reach places. This allows you to clean your pond with the water still in it. Once all the sludge and debris is removed, go ahead and check the water quality with a pond test kit. These are similar to the same kind of kits used for checking the quality of pool water, but instead they check for pH., ammonia, nitrate, and phosphate. Click here for products related to pond maintenance.

Make Pond Water Clear – And Keep It That Way

Pond skimmer boxThere are a few tools that will help keep your pond looking its best after you have completed your spring cleaning. The first is your skimmer box. This is your first line of defense against unwanted debris in your pond. It works continuously to remove material from the water’s surface before it gets a chance to settle to the bottom. Be mindful that the filter media in your skimmer box should rarely be cleaned. The beneficial bacteria that reside there, are doing their job and should be disturbed as little as possible. Cleaning out the net is necessary on a regular basis.

UV filterOne more consistent problem is the constant battle against algae blooms. To combat this, the use of a UV clarifier may be required. This is the safest way to eliminate algae, without using chemicals. The light from the UV filter breaks down the algae on a cellular level, destroying it as it passes through. This device can be placed in line with your water return line. All you need is a few PVC fittings to divert some of your water through the filter, and you are in business.

The other way to control algae blooms is through the use of other plantings. This is the most beautiful way to eliminate algae. By having your pond planted heavily, this will reduce the amount of free floating nutrients, starving the algae, thus leaving your water clear.

Final Thoughts:

well planted pondIf your goal is a low maintenance, beautiful pond full of healthy fish and thriving plants, then be sure not to drain your pond. Do not listen to what the majority of pond equipment manufacturers say. Remember, they are in the business of selling equipment, not pond life biology. The maintenance of your pond should actually be less intensive than caring for the grass that was there before it.  If you have any tips of your own, or have any first- hand experience with spring cleaning your pond, please leave a comment below. Even if you disagree with me, I would be happy to listen to another perspective. I encourage you to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

pink water lily bloom floating on a calm pond

Pond Plants

Pond Plants

water lillyPond plants, the vegetation found in and around a pond or water garden can be broken down into four categories. Bog, marginal, submerged and floating

The Biological Filter – Controlling Algae – The Natural Way

This type of filter works by creating an environment where beneficial bacteria can thrive. These beneficial bacteria in turn devour any excess nutrients available. This starves any algae or prevents it from growing in the first place.

To build this type of filter it you will need to create a man-made bog to house the plants that will act as your filter. Use a pond liner and create a reservoir where the pump return line enters the pond. This is typically located above the pond to create a waterfall. Your bog filter will take the place of your waterfall apparatus that comes with most pond kits. Nothing is more efficient than mother nature, that’s why a bog filter is such a great way to keep your pond clear.

bog filter example

The above diagram can be found at

The reservoir only needs to be 8 – 12 inches deep. This is where the bog plants will be housed. Their root system turns waste into plant food, detoxifying the water. It also uses up much of the excess nutrients to cut down on algae growth.

Patience Pays Off

It may take a season for your plants to get established, but once they do the benefit outweighs the cost. With much less maintenance, and a crystal clear pond. The maintenance will consist of trimming the plants back a couple times per year. Another benefit they create is the beautiful backdrop they provide for your pond.

Before selecting any plants for your water garden its important to know what region you live in so your new plants have a better chance of survival. Below is a region map of the United States. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. If a plant is zone 4 and you live in zone 3, just be sure to plant it in a place where it would be a little more protected from the elements. Here is a map of the United States. To get maps of other areas, click on the picture below.

USDA plant hardiness Zone

Bog Garden Plants

Bog plants are plants that thrive in wet soil or shallow water. They can be used to soften the border between land and water. These will be the plants to include in your bog filter. Below is my bog plants list.

blue wood sageBlue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) – Zones 5- 8, from New Jersey to northern Florida. Great for bordering ponds.

blue moneywartBlue Moneywort (Lindernia grandiflora) – Zones 7a – 10b, Blooms are under 1” and the plant height is 2 – 3 inches.

blue rushBlue Rush (Juncus effuses) – Zones 4a – 9b, plant height 12” – 18”

bog lillyBog Lilly (Andromeda polifolia)- Zones 2a – 6b a flowering shrub that grows 16” – 30”

Chinese water chestnutChinese Water Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) – Zones 4a – 8b

corkscrew rushCorkscrew Rush (Juncus effuses) – Zones 4a – 9b a low growing aquatic perennial reaching 8” tall.

Creeping JennyCreeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) – Zones 3a – 8b a groundcover perennial reaching 3” – 4” in height.

dwarf cattailsDwarf Cattail (Typha minima) – Zones 3a – 9b growing up to 18” high.

lizards tailLizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus) – Zones 5a – 11 an aquatic perennial reaching 2’ – 4’ in height. Does well in standing water.

Japanese irisJapanese Iris (Iris japonica) – Zones 7a – 10b plant as a bulb growing to a height of 10” – 12”

Louisisiana irisLouisiana Iris (Iris Louisiana hybrid) – Zones 6a – 9b A tall iris growing anywhere from 18” – 60”

red stem sagittariaRed Stemmed Sagittaria (Sagittaria australis) – Zones 6a – 11 beautiful foliage growing 1’ – 3’ high.

ribbon grassRibbon Grass (Aspidistra minutiflora) – Zones 8a – 10b perennial grass reaching a height of 24” – 32”

ruby creeperRuby Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) – Zones 6a – 9b This is a vine that reaches a height of 15’ – 20’ and expands to a width of 15’

Marginal Plants

These are plants would typically be seen growing on the outskirts of a water garden or pond. There is an abundance of these types of plants. Even some bog plants mentioned above would fall into this category. They add color and charm, and attract humming birds, and butterflies. They help to soften the edge and make your water feature feel more natural.

Submerged – Oxygenating Pond Plants

hornwortThis type of plant is necessary to keep your pond in good condition. These plants provide oxygen for fish and other living creatures within your pond. They also help with natural filtration. Another benefit is they also provide shelter and a place for fish to hide from predators.

Hornwort is a great example of a submerged plant that helps oxygenate the water. Throwing a few weighted bundles of these into your pond will help keep fish healthy and thriving. This plant is very common at any pond retailer, or can be purchased online.

Floating Plants

These plants are unusual for the fact that they don’t require soil. They simply leech nutrients directly from the water they are floating in. In general these plants spread rapidly and provide shade from the hot summer sun and protection from predators.

  • Water lettuce – A perennial in warm climates, however in colder climates it will need to be brought in during the winter. The roots dangle in the water, absorbing nutrients to help reduce algae growth, while at the same time providing oxygen.
  • Water lilies – This is what most people think of when they think of a pond. There are a multitude of varieties of these. The color of the blooms also varies depending on the type. Water lilies are not exactly a floating plant even though the foliage is above the surface.
  • Water hyacinthWater hyacinth – These plants have beautiful purple blooms, and dark green foliage. Another great thing about them is how fast they spread. If you live in a cooler climate they will not last through the winter, and will need to be brought inside if you want them to last.

floating pond plant containersOne issue with this type of plant is the fact that they are floating.  As a result they could easily get sucked into your skimmer box. To avoid this, use floating pond plant containers. These are nothing more than a floating ring that keeps the individual plants together and makes a large circle of plants. By keeping all the plants together it is too large to be pulled into the skimmer box.

In Conclusion

No matter how you decide to plant in and around your pond, it’s no wonder that pond plants are a necessary part of the landscape. Mother nature is unsurpassed in her ability to provide an efficient system to take care of itself. By providing the right mix of plants you can make your water garden pond virtually maintenance free. Please leave any questions or comments below, and I will get back to you. Thanks for reading, and happy gardening.

concrete countertop

Building Your Own Concrete Countertops

Building your own concrete countertops are easier than you think.  Have you ever wanted to have an amazing outdoor bar or grill island that will stand up to the elements and look impressive year after year?  This is a fantastic project that’s the icing on the cake of that awesome grill island you built in the previous post.  Perhaps you need a custom top for your outdoor bar.  There is nothing like a concrete countertop!

First Things First

This is its own project all together, but when it goes on your island it will be most impressive! We will start similar to the foundation, not with digging, but with a form.

Measure your island and be sure of the dimensions before you start. Because of the irregular shape of the stones on the sides I wanted a 2” overhang on all sides. This time instead of using 2 x 4’s for forms we are going to use melamine. The reason for this is it is much easier to remove, and the texture leaves the countertop with a relatively smooth surface.

Cut your pieces for the top of the countertop 1.5 inches wider, to accommodate for the installation of the side pieces. Cut strips for side pieces as thick as you want your countertop. Mine was about 2” thick.
Clamp the side pieces in place one at a time and predrill and countersink the screws. If you don’t countersink the screws, they will be in your way when it comes down to leveling off the concrete.

Keep It Clean

Once your form is all screwed together, remove any dirt or sawdust that is on the surface. This can be done with a lint free rag and rubbing alcohol. Compressed air also works well to remove sawdust, just be sure to wipe it down before you go to the next step.
Using clear or white silicone place a small bead ¼ inch or so, on all the seams and smooth them out with your finger. Be sure there is no excess, as that will leave a void in the finished product. Again, be sure the surface is clean and let the silicone set up for 24 hours before the next step.

Another Crossroads

There are two ways to go about making this countertop. One is to pour your concrete, let it cure, remove the form, flip it over, seal it and viola “instant” countertop! If this is the route you choose then you can skip down to the next section. If you want to stick with me, then read on. The other option is the same, except after you flip it over the top and sides get polished. This is the rout I chose. If you plan on polishing your project, it allows you to place objects and designs into your top!

DIY concrete countertop with designNow is the time to unleash your creative side! After all you ARE building your own concrete countertop, why not put your won “stamp” on it.

For my project I needed to create 2 forms. One for the main surface for grilling, and one for people to sit at and enjoy the food and conversation. For the latter, I decided to place some broken glass and a “K” representing my last name. Now you don’t have to do as I do… I’m just giving an idea of what is possible.

That Personal Touch

To create the “K” I took one of the rocks and sliced it into ½ inch thick pieces on my wet saw. Then I cut the slices into strips to form the letter.  I drew a circle on my form, and used white glue and covered the circle. I was thinking it would work the same way glitter works, on projects from preschool. I’m returning to my childhood here!
I placed my pieces of cut stone and pressed them into the center to form the letter. Then I took the broken red glass and sprinkled it all around within the circle. Allow the whole thing to dry overnight.

Not sure if regular white glue is the best thing to use to hold it all in place, but it worked OK for me.  On my next project I will try using rubber cement or something a little more durable than white school glue.

Mix It Up

It’s time to get our hands dirty once again. My choice in concrete was a high early strength concrete. There are other types of concrete on the market specifically for concrete countertops, but for price and convenience I choose a type that was readily available to me at my local home improvement store.

To determine how much concrete you will need refer to the concrete calculator.
Mix the concrete thoroughly into a peanut butter like consistency, then shovel, or bucket it into your form. I started in the corners first, and made sure to pack it tightly. If you are going to put a design on your top, be sure not to disturb it too much when you place the concrete on top of it. It works OK if you pack it straight down, but try not to move it side to side.
Fill the form completely, then use a straight 2 x 4, or other straight edge level off the top, by moving it back and forth in a sawing motion. The same way it was done for the foundation.

Time For a Shakedown

To remove any voids and air pockets the whole thing needs to be vibrated. This allows the air to rise to the surface. Remember, your countertop is upside down, so any air will leave a void in the top. I’ve seen people use a rubber mallet to accomplish this, but it seemed like a lot of work, especially on a large countertop. My solution was to use my reciprocating saw without a blade on it. I held it directly under the form, and on the sides, and vibrated it like crazy. It’s amazing how much air gets trapped in the concrete during the mixing and pouring process. Do this until minimal air bubbles rise to the surface… yes, it takes a while.

Take A Break

The key to curing concrete is to not let it cure too quickly. I kept my counter covered with plastic for a week, spraying it with a hose daily to keep it moist. This helps to slow down the curing process, and to keep it from cracking. I poured my concrete into the form that I had resting right on the grill island. It took approximately 4 and ½, 80 lbs. bags weighing 360 lbs. total. That’s 163.3 kilograms for my friends outside the United States. This thing is too heavy for one man to move!
After it was cured for a minimum of one L O N G week it was time to remove the form and reveal my creation. Take care in removing the form. The concrete can still chip off the edges. Use a pry-bar against a piece of wood for the stubborn pieces, never use your pry-bar directly on the concrete.

Breaks Over

This next part took some engineering for sure. The task was to flip this monster and then place it exactly where it had to be. This is where we go back to that famous nation… DETERMI-NATION. There were 5 people to help and a determined mind, so using leverage, the top was maneuvered onto a few 2 x 4’s and my picnic table. We then slid the top, with the form still under it and the sides removed onto the 2 x 4’s.
installing a concrete countertop
With the counter off the island I mixed up a batch of mortar and placed a bed all around the perimeter of the grill island. Then using all our might, we flipped the monstrosity over. Slowly and carefully we put it in position and laid it to rest. If you do this, remember communication is key when working with other people. The whole process is no way to lose a finger, or worse, just be careful!

I repeated this step again for the upper countertop. That’s the one with the broken glass in it. Being much smaller and lighter, it was easier to maneuver, and required fewer of my tired friends. In the next segment you can see the entire project completed.

In Conclusion:

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to build your own concrete countertops, and get a professional looking result. If all you were after is a solid place to slice, dice, and roll out your pizza dough, mission accomplished. Just seal the concrete and enjoy. If you are like me and just HAVE to go that extra step further, go to the next post to see how the finishing touches can make all the difference.

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Healthy Ways to Find Inner Peace

Eliminating Stress – Finding Inner Peace

There are plenty of healthy ways to find inner peace.  Are you feeling stressed? Would you like to eliminate, or reduce that stress without any pills or chemicals? Then an at home get away is the solution you have been looking for. The ultimate goal is to create a peaceful, relaxing environment, that allows you to step away from the fast paced world we live in. The following are some dangerous results from stress.

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

Sources: Department of Health and Human Services: “Stress and Your Health.” American Institute of Stress: “Effects of Stress.” “Understanding Stress.” © 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Do you find inner peace on a daily basis? This is vital to your overall health and well-being. What better way to eliminate stress, and finding inner peace than, enjoying something you have created? Therapy in your own backyard!

Something that requires little maintenance, unless that is what is desired. Something that gives personal joy. For me, the joy is in the maintenance. Adding a new type of plant or some new fish. Watching all my plantings grow and flourish. An environment to ground myself and forget about all the worries of the day.

If you think you can never have a backyard water garden without spending a small fortune, you’re wrong. There are unlimited backyard retreat ideas. There is a pond or water garden for any budget. Even if you desire an extravagant one, you could do it a little at a time until you reach your desired result. Just to put it in perspective, the water garden featured in the build a water garden post was two years in the making. It is still not complete.

My First Water garden

This was nothing more than a couple flower pots placed one on top of the other with tubing running through the middle. The tranquil sound of water dripping 3 or 4 inches on to river rock. Although it was small, it was still effective as a soothing sound out on my back deck. Here is a list of materials I used. The cost was under $50.00.

  • Two flower pots, one larger than the other
  • Tube of silicone
  • ¾ plastic tubing
  • Bag of river rock
  • Small garden pond pump

A water garden like this is virtually maintenance free. Just be sure there is enough water in it, plug it in and enjoy

Easiest Path to Peace

Depending on your drive and how much effort you want to put into it, it’s important to understand a few things before you begin.

Keep in mind that a small garden pond will be harder to maintain than that of a larger pond. It is easier to keep equilibrium in a larger body of water than a smaller one. Small changes will affect the smaller pond quicker and harsher than a larger one. For example: it takes longer to boil a big pot of water rather than a small one using the same amount of heat. Don’t be intimidated by a larger pond. If you go bigger, you won’t be disappointed. I never hear people say … “I wish I went smaller” it’s always the other way around.

backyard waterfallThere are countless options depending on the size and sound you want, and space you have available. If you only want a water feature in your garden, then perhaps a pond-less waterfall is your desire. It’s almost the same setup as that with a pond, but instead a reservoir is created to house your pump. This is a more maintenance free approach.

Pond-less waterfalls are beautiful and provide the same soothing sounds that you would achieve with a traditional setup, without the worry of algae build up, or feeding the fish. Not that feeding the fish is a chore. In fact, for me there is nothing better than after a long day at work, to come home, relax and enjoy feeding my fish.

More Than Just Moving Water

If you are going to keep Koi, remember that they grow quite large. It is misinformation that they only grow to the size of the pond. Koi will keep growing until they reach their full size. They could reach up to 36” in length given the proper conditions. Koi also need a pond that is deep enough for them to swim up and down. This gives their fins proper exercise. If you are going to keep Koi be sure your pond is at least 36 inches deep. Don’t keep koi if your pond is less than 1,000 gallons.

If you have a water garden that is less than 1,000 gallons, koi are not the only type of fish to keep. There are many species of goldfish that do quite well in a small pond. When I say goldfish, I’m not talking about the kind you win at the fair.

Shubunkin goldfish are a calico color, similar to koi. Average size is about 5 inches, but they have been known to grow as large as 18 inches, with a life expectancy of 10 – 15 years. These colorful fish would be a wonderful addition to any size pond.

To Sum Up – Don’t Wait

Your health and sanity depend on how well you can manage the events in your life. Your path to inner peace is right in your own backyard.  If you found this post helpful, please leave a comment below.  If there are any other topics that are relevant that you would like discussed, please let me know and I will include them in future posts.  As always, thanks for stopping by, and best of luck on all your future projects!

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