Your Pond’s Nitrogen Cycle

Being a pond owner is such a rewarding hobby to so many people, including myself.  Your pond, no matter how big or small, is its own ecosystem- meaning that all of the individual elements will work together to make it a self-sustaining entity.   Your pond’s nitrogen cycle is an important element in the balancing of this ecosystem.  Understanding this process will help make your pond a successful experience for you, as well as, your fish.

The Nitrogen Cycle

At the beginning of a new pond or even an aquarium, you will have this “breaking in” period of the water’s ecosystem.  This period, which can take up to 6 weeks or longer to complete, is a natural part of establishing your biological filtration, or bio-filter, for short.  The bio-filter naturally converts dangerous ammonia to nitrite, and then converts nitrite to nitrate.  This naturally occurring process of utilizing beneficial bacteria is nature’s way of cleaning and maintaining itself.



How it Works

In a pond, fish will release waste into the water.  In addition, decaying plant matter and uneaten fish food will break down.  All of these activities will create ammonia.  This buildup of ammonia is lethal to fish, especially at escalated pH levels.  As the ammonia levels increase, beneficial bacteria named Nitrosomonas will begin to consume and convert the ammonia to nitrite(NO2).

Nitrites, just like ammonia, are toxic to fish.  The next beneficial bacteria, named nitrobacter, will consume and convert the nitrites to nitrates (NO3).  This newly converted nitrate will then be consumed by plants and algae as source of nourishment.  Quite self-sustaining, right?

These beneficial bacteria, which need oxygen to thrive, can grow on many surfaces in the pond.  And some assistance from the pond owners can help encourage their growth includes: bio-filter media and inoculants in different forms that can be added to the pond to accelerate the growth of these bacteria.

Keep in mind, these bacteria can die during cold winter months and may be reintroduced manually as discussed above.  The chlorine, found in tap water, can also kill these bacteria.  Being aware of these situations will help the bacteria thrive.

February Garden Calendar

The Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service has tons of a great publications.  The particular one that I want to share a portion of with you today is Winter Garden Calendar (HO-90-W).  This article outlines some monthly winter activities that will help make our indoor and outdoor plants and lawns to be more ready for summer.  If you’re winter involves snow and ice like my winter does, you might think there isn’t any horticultural activities to work on currently.  But not true!

Indoor Plants and Activities

  • Maintain water levels on cut-flower vases, as well as, houseplants.
  • Repot houseplants as they outgrow their current pots.
  • Early blooms of spring-flowering bulbs can be forced into blooming early indoors.  Keep the plant in a bright, cool location or longer lasting blooms.  These forced-bloomed plants make poor garden flowers and it is recommended to discard them after the blooms fade.

Lawns, Woody Ornamentals, Landscape Plants and Tree Fruits

  • Check mulches, rodent shields and other winter plant protections to make sure they are still in place.
  • Prune landscape plants, except early spring bloomers, which should be pruned after flowers fade.
  • Birches, maples, dogwoods, and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer to avoid the sap flow, although bleeding is not harmful to the tree.
  • Prune fruit trees to control plant size and remove dead, damaged, or weak limbs.

Flowers, Vegetables and Small Fruits

  • Prepare or repair lawn and garden tools for the upcoming season.
  • Start seeds indoors for cool-season vegetables so they will be ready for transplanting to the garden early in the season.  Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds should be started five to seven weeks prior to transplanting.
  • Test leftover garden seed for germination.  Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling or cover with a thin layer of soil.  Keep seeds warm and moist.  If less than 6 seeds germinate, then fresh seed should be purchased.

More great articles can be viewed on Purdue University Extension’s website.

Adding Hours to Your Flowers

Cut flowers are a nice addition to bring a color into your home.  Whether they come from the garden or from the florist, maintaining their beauty is the same.

All flowers have three important characteristics that determine how long they will remain attractive and useful:

  • It’s need for internal water content.
  • It’s need for food to carry on life processes
  • It’s inability to handle toxic air and water substances

Ten Procedures for Longer Lasting Flowers

  1. Re-cut the flower stems using a sharp knife or shears. Remove at least one-half inch of the stem to expose a fresh surface.  A freshly cut stem absorbs water freely.  Cut at a slant to avoid crushing the stem.  Re-cut often to allow for water absorption.
  2. Use special methods to treat cut stems for certain plants.  Some flowers, such as poinsettia, heliotrope, hollyhock, euphorbia, and poppy may need this special attention. The milk fluid that flows from the stems plug easily and this won’t allow for proper fluid flow through the stems.  This can be avoided by placing about 1/2 inch of the stem in boiling water for 30 seconds or charring the end of the stem in a flame.  Protect the flower tops from the heat by wrapping in paper.
  3. Remove excess foliage.  Excess foliage exposed to the air increases water loss.  Also remove submerged leaves, which decay and encourage microbial growth.
  4. Use warm, uncontaminated water.  Place stems in 100-110° F water.  This warm water is more easily moved up the stem.  Contaminated water, or water high in fluorides or salts, will lead to early death.  If this is the case, consider using filtered or distilled water.
  5. Use a flower preservative in the water.  These preservatives provide food, as well as, inhibit bacteria and fungi.  They also promote water and nutrient uptake.
  6. Wrap the flowers until they are crisp.  After the flowers have been placed in warm water, wrap a piece of paper or plastic around them.  This helps to reduce water loss.  After about 2 hours (flowers are crisp), arrange as desired.
  7. Wash the container with soap and water.  Always wash containers after each use to remove bacteria.  Bacteria can multiply and clog the water conducting tubes of the flower stems, which cause wilting.
  8. Avoid excessive heat or moving air.  Do not place flowers in direct sunlight or over a heat source.  Heat reduces flower life.  In addition, drafty locations remove the water from the flowers faster than it can be absorbed.
  9. Keep flowers cold when not in use.  It is possible to double the life of your flowers by placing them in a cold room (above 35°F) or in the refrigerator at night, when not in use.  This practice is not recommended for orchids (not below 55°F).
  10. Do not mix fresh flowers with old or damaged flowers or with fruits or vegetables.  Damaged, aging flowers and many fresh fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas that shortens fresh flower life.  Carnations will close and snapdragons will drop florets prematurely when exposed to ethylene.

Source:  Department of Horticulture at Purdue University Publication HO-158-W

Becoming a Master Gardener

Do you enjoy gardening and other horticultural-related topics?  If so, you might enjoy becoming a Master Gardener.

The Master Gardener Certification program is performed throughout the United States.  The certification program involves horticultural training, as well as, a volunteer portion to help educate others in the local community in a variety of ways.

The American Horticultural Society has conveniently referenced each state’s Master Gardener program to help assist you with your location.

Honeysuckle Named Color of the Year

Pantone LLC, the world-renowned authority on color and provider of professional color standards, has announced PANTONE 18-2120 Honeysuckle is the color of the year for 2011.

While the color for 2010 was PANTONE 15-5519 Turquoise and served as an escape for many, this year’s new chosen color is seen to be as encouraging and uplifting by many.  “In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits.  Honeysuckle is captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®.  “Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.”

Honeysuckle-colored home and fashion products can be found at

National Garden Bureau Showcases New Varieties for 2011

The NGB, National Garden Bureau, ( features images and descriptions for more than 100 different new annuals, perennials and vegetables for 2011.  Each year representatives of the professional horticulture industry choose crops based on popularity, ease of growth, adaptability and versatility.

This site is a wealth of information.  It’s sure to get you excited for spring planting!