Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Some thoughts on constructing and maintaining a natural pool

Nymphaea nouchali
Please take note this is only a brief list of the most important aspects to consider and is not by any means comprehensive 

For a professional fee I will design, give advice and supervise the construction of a natural pool for you.

This is a subject that has fascinated me for much of my life having had my first encounters with fish ponds at my grandparents’ home as far back as I can remember. I used to sit for hours at my grandmother fairly large fish pond fascinated by the wildlife that it attracted in particular the whistling frogs, Hyperolius marmoratus or Painted feed frog, as I now know them. I was also extremely fascinated by the dragon flies, back swimmers and pond skaters that grandmother fishpond attracted. I was not particularly interested in the bright orange gold fish that she kept in it. As a result of this interest I first started constructing small ponds as a school boy. While in Germany way back in time I got to know about the company re-natur in Germany that specialises in the construction and supply of materials for natural pools
Faszination Gartenteich written by Wolfram Franke.

Crinum paludosum
Design and functionality
Most of those who give into the temptation to construct of have a natural pond constructed for them are going to want a pond that is a peasant blend of good design and high functionality, in short it must look good at the same time serving its purpose of attracting the largest variety of wildlife into the garden as possible. This is easy to do if the designer knows his or her subject well and follows a few basic rules
There are things that are desirable to have and some that are necessary, what is desirable is not always necessary. If the pool looks like a dogs breakfast it will probably work but not as well as if it is well planned with open patches of water and all the plants in their own preferred places and it will certainly look a lot better if it is well planned

Size of pool
For a number of reasons the larger the pool the better, however ponds the size of an average bucket can work which can and will attract the odd insect of small frog. Generally the larger the pool the more stable it is the more wildlife it will attract and the easier it is to keep in ecological balance.

 Painted Reed FrogHyperolius marmoratus
Depth of the pool
To be most successful the pool must have both shallow and deep sections, most of the plants will only grow in relatively shallow water leaving the deeper sections to remain free of vegetation which is a desirable and necessary design factor
Shallow areas must be created for the planting of most of the aquatics that are desirable for planting in a natural pool

Movement of the water
It is desirable that there is some movement of the water but this is not necessary for the pond to be successful.
The provision of a small low volume pump that pumps daily during the hours of daylight is a most desirable addition to any pond, the pump could be powered by a solar panel. Directing the flow of water over a pebble or gravel stream or over a waterfall will introduce a considerable of extra oxygen into the water which is of particular benefit on hot humid days with little air movement.

Free access into and out of the pool
The design must allow creatures that fall into the pool in error to have a way to escape without being doomed to drowning

Safety of young children
The pool must be designed in a manner that it is not easy for small children to fall into it and drown. Where this is not possible or for additional safety a suitable fence that allows the unrestricted passage of desirable creatures to reach the pool must be erected

Nymphoides thunbergiana
Construction materials
I am not going to go into any detail on this aspect other than to mention a few materials that can be used.
Where the ground water level is high enough all that is required is to dig out a hole which will soon fill with water.
Natural clay can be used to create a natural pond liner
Various grades of plastic can be used
Bricks and mortar
Fibre glass
These are the materials that are most often used to create ponds and pools

Construction methods
Again I will not go into detail on this aspect of pool construction as there are many methods depending on a number of factors.

Containers can be converted to small ponds
Just about any container that holds water can be made into a micro pond which attract wildlife such as frogs and dragon flies
If anyone needs more information please contact me.

A newly emerged dragonfly busy pumping up its wings
Water supply
Water to keep the pool filled can be obtained from the following sources
Mains water
Rain water capture from roofs
Water capture from air conditioners

Pumps and Filters
Neither pumps nor filters are essential however both can improve the conditions within the pool for a number of creatures.
The running times of pumps will be determined by both the design as well as the preference of the owner of the pool. Solar panels can be used to provide power for the pumps.
Bio filters planted with plants can be constructed that provide both filtration as well as desirable features to add interest to the design.
When using a filter do not forget to use a leaf trap.
Use only energy efficient pumps, most designed for use in Koi ponds are far more efficient than the majority of equivalent capacity pumps supplied for swimming pool use

Snoring Puddle
Phrynobatrachus natalensis 
Décor such as waterfalls, streams, rocks, branches can be added
Plant either directly into the soil provided or into planting containers.
Plastic crates lined with shade cloth hessian or even newspaper is ideal to plant aquatic plants into

Planting medium
Use low nutrient clay, sand or small natural river stones.

Nutrition is very important but be very, very careful not to over nitrify the water apply a little at a time and wait for results. Apply at the point of use if at all possible.

Agricultural grade fertiliser rolled up in a piece of news paper,
Agricultural grade slow release fertiliser rolled up in a piece of news paper,
Grow sticks

are the most suitable sources of nutrients for your natural pond.
One can add liquid fertiliser to the water but be extremely careful.

Running Frog
Kassina senegalensis
Control of duck weed Lemna species is most important because if left it can very rapidly get out of control. Control all fast growing species and those that move out of their allocated zone before they get out of hand and take over the pond.
Sludge may need to be removed from time to time. Bio filters will need cleaning from time to time, plants growing in bio-filters will need cutting back from time to time to remove nutrients from the system.

Control of Mosquitos
Mosquitos could become a temporary problem in a newly constructed natural pool but there is no need to panic whatsoever the problem will resolve it’s self as the pond matures and is colonised by insects that eat mosquito such as Dragonfly larvae, back swimmers of the family Notonectidae and pond skaters of the family Gerridae
Mosquitos can also be controlled by the introduction of suitable small carnivorous indigenous fish such as Barbus viviparus (bowstripe barb). If the mosquitos become a problem they can easily be controlled with Mosquito wise, which is a biopesticide containing the Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis

Selection of plants
Beware of fast growing fast multiplying plants in particular grasses and sedges because most become dominant taking over the entire pond in time making it a dogs breakfast.

Kniphofia pauciflora below is most worthwhile to plant in your pool because it is very attractive and is almost extinct in the wild

Kniphofia pauciflora
Chlorophytum bowkeri
Crinum paludosum
Cristella dentata
Cyperus dives
Cyperus sexangularis
Cyperus textilis
Eulophia angolensis
Gunnera perpensa
Ipomoea ficifolia
Kniphofia pauciflora
Kniphofia rooperi
Ludwigia stolonifera
Nesaea radicans
Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea
Nymphoides thunbergiana
Persicaria attenuata
Persicaria serrulata
Phragmites australis
Potamogeton pusilis
Potamogeton schweinfurthii
Ranunculus multifidus
Schoenoplectus scirpoides
Typha capensis
Xyris capensis
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Dragon flies
A variety of colourful dragon flies will quickly make your new natural pool their home

The fresh water shrimp Caridina nilotica is a useful addition to the natural pool because it is a scavenger and algae eater which does very well and multiplies very rapidly in a pool that is free of large fish.

Afrixalus fornasinii                            Greater Leaf-folding frog
Hyperolius marmoratus                      Painted Reed Frog
Hyperolius argus Argus                      Argus Reed Frog
Schismaderma carens                         Red Toad
Phrynobatrachus natalensis                Snoring Puddle Frog
Kassina senegalensis                          Running Frog

Greater leaf folding frog
Afrixalus fornasinnii 
Be extremely careful when deciding to introduce fish into your pond in particular if it is a very small pond as fish can do a lot of damage to the aquatic ecosystem in particular eating plants and or eating desirable insects such as dragonflies, water boatmen and pond skaters.
The introduction of suitable small carnivorous indigenous fish such as Barbus viviparus bowstripe barb

Bowstripe Barb
Barbus viviparus 

.For a professional fee I will design, give advice on and supervise the construction of a natural pool for you

Links to further information

Mosquito wise is a biopesticide containing the Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis

Indigenous Frogs
Afrixalus fornasinii Greater Leaf-folding Frog

Hyperolius marmoratus Painted Reed Frog

Phrynobatrachus natalensis Snoring Puddle Frog

Water boatmen  Notonectidae

Pond skaters of the family Gerridae


re-natur Germany

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist

Tel: +27 82 061 2593


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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Bringing butterflies into your garden

The larger the variety of suitable butterfly larval food plants and plants to provide the adult butterflies with nectar that are introduced into the garden, as well as the more natural it is laid out the bigger the variety of butterflies that will be attracted into it. 
Mother of Pearly Butterfly Protogoniomorpha parhassus aethiops
My own interest in butterflies started as a young child but was really awakened after I was told about the “Garten der Schmetterlinge”  the butterfly garden which had been established in the historical glasshouse of Otto von Bismarck at Friedrichsruh just outside of Hamburg in Germany by Geoff Nichols.  On my next trip to Germany in July 1989 with a wife heavily pregnant with our first child we ventured off from Wilhelmshaven to go and visit the “Garten der Schmetterlinge”. All I can say is that our visit to the “Garten der Schmetterlinge” was a life changing experience which changed my view towards butterflies considerably. Since then my interest in butterflies was really awakened, I started noticing butterflies where I had not noticed them before, I started to note what plants that they laid their eggs on, I started to collect the plants they use as larval host plants and to breed butterflies for release. Now everywhere I go I see butterflies that I never saw before, since then I have gone out of my way to provide conditions in my own garden to attract butterflies.

Below are a few photos of some the most common butterflies that are very easy to attract into any garden in the Durban Area including some of their larval food plants.

The African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius
In my garden this spectacular butterfly is probably the most numerous and is seen for most of the year nearly always feeding on or fluttering around the African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus which is its chief host plant. I have also seen it lay its eggs on and have seen caterpillars on two other species of plants within the family Apocynaceae being Stapelia gigantean growing on my roof garden as well as Xysmalobium undulatum 

African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius

Xysmalobium undulatum on of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
Stapilia gigantea another of the larval food plant for the african monarch butterfly
African Monarch Butterfly Danaus chrysippus aegyptius pupa with the butterfly just about ready to emerge
African Milkweed Gomphocarpus physocarpus larval food plant for the African Monarch Butterfly
The Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria belonging to the family Nymphalidae 
The larvae of the Dusky Acraea Acraea esebria esebria 
Blue Pansy Butterfly Junonia oenone oenone
Brown Pansy Butterfly Junonia natalica natalica                    
Asystasia gangetica is the larval host plant for both the Blue and the Brown Pansy Butterfly

There are also some very beautiful moths both day flying as well as nocturnal as well as their caterpillars that can be attracted into your garden by supplying the right larval host plants such as the ones in the photos below.

Heady maiden Moth Amata cerbera is a day flying moth
Peach Moth Egybolis vaillantia caterpillar also a day flying specie
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi
Wahlberg's Emperor Nudaurelia wahlbergi catepillar feeding on Tree Fuschia Halleria lucida
My own garden is home and a stop over refuge to a huge variety and number of butterflies as a result of the plants that I have introduced.

From my own observations I believe that grasses play and important role on attracting a number of butterfly species into the garden. I have observed how butterflies are attracted in particular to the tall growing grasses in particular grasses of the genus Hyparrhenia (Thatching grasses) often spending hours just flying around them or perched on them. Therefore I recommend that some suitable grasses be incorporated into ever garden designed to attract butterflies.

For those who are interested in attracting butterflies to their gardens below are a few colourful plants that can be grown in a garden designed to attract butterflies I have added the colourful Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii which adds such a dramatic splash of colour in the autumn. Many other bright colourful flowering plants can be added that are not necessarily attractive to butterflies but which will add interest colour and be an attraction for other species of wildlife.

For those who need a litle help in making their garden attactive to butterflies I can design and establish a garden for you that will attract butterflies and other wildlife.

Plumbago auriculata an attractive butterfly larval food plant used by the Common Blue Cyclyrius pirithous
Natal Red Grass Melinis nerviglumis, grasses play a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
In particular this grass Hyparrhenia hirta plays a signifivcant role in attracting butterflies to the garden
The flowers of Vernonia natalensis are very attractive to butterflies
The flowers of Delospermun linearumattract butterflies and many other insects
This Red Hot Poker Kniphofia tysonii may not attract any butterflies but will atract bees and sunbirds and will certainly brighten up the Garden in the autumn
Ruellia cordata is one of the larval food plants used by the Yellow Pansy butterfly
The spectacular African Dog Rose Xylotheca kraussiana is the larval host plant of the bright red and black Acraea petraea
No garden is complete without a gardener. Here my gardener Mbuzi smelling the inflourescence of the grass Melica racemosa

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist

Tel: +27 82 061 2593


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Saturday, 2 April 2016

Brachiaria brizantha Common Signal Grass

Brachiaria brizantha
Common Signal Grass, Bread Grass, Palisade Grass

German:  Palisadengras

Urochloa brizantha
Panicum brizanthum

Common Signal Grass Brachiaria brizantha

Brachiaria brizantha is native to Africa being found growing naturally in Sub-Saharan Africa from S 25º to N 12º, from the coast–7000 feet above sea level. in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya,  Zaire, Zambia, Ghana, Guinea, Côte D'Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cameroon , Ethiopia .
Brachiaria brizantha is widely naturalised throughout the humid and sub-humid tropics.

Morphological description
Brachiaria brizantha is a loosely tufted perennial with short rhizomes and erect or slightly decumbent stems 60–150 cm high (occasionally to 200 cm).  Leaves are flat, bright green up to 20 mm wide and up to 100 cm long. Brachiaria brizantha may be hairless or hairy.  Inflorescence is a racemose panicle consisting of 2–16 racemes, 4–20 cm long and elliptical spikelets 4–6 mm long, with no hairs or a few hairs at the tip.  Spikelets are normally a single row, with a purple, crescent-shaped rachis 1 mm wide.  Glumes and lower lemma are cartilaginous in texture.

Agricultural uses
Brachiaria brizantha has been planted as permanent pasture for grazing and cutting for fresh feed in many countries.  It is also planted as a pasture under plantation crops and as a ground cover for erosion control. An estimated 60 million hectares is under cultivation in Brazil for beef production.

Soil requirements
Brachiaria brizantha grows on a wide range of free-draining soils with pH 4–8, textures ranging from light to heavy and fertility from high to low, including acidic soils with high soluble Aluminium concentrations.  Tolerance to Magnesium varies among accessions.  Brachiaria brizantha shows a minor response to lime on acid soils. 
Brachiaria brizantha generally needs medium to high soil fertility to be productive. 

Brachiaria brizantha is best adapted to the humid and sub-humid tropics with 1,500–3,500 mm average annual rainfall, but will also grow in the more arid regions of the tropics with rainfall somewhat below 1,000 mm.  Brachiaria brizantha can withstand dry seasons of 3–6 months during which the leaf may remain green while other tropical species have browned off.  Brachiaria brizantha is not well adapted to wet poorly drained soils.

Brachiaria brizantha is a warm-season grass for the lowlands, altitudes to 2,000 m in the tropics but only to 1,000 m in higher latitudes.  Leaf is frost-sensitive, but the plant survives light frost.

Brachiaria brizantha is moderately shade tolerant compared with other tropical grasses.

Brachiaria brizantha can tolerate frequent heavy defoliation due to grazing or cutting. 

Brachiaria brizantha does recover after fire but annual burning is detrimental .

Establishment and management of sown pastures.
When establishing large areas with Brachiaria brizantha the only viable option is by means of seed.  Fresh seed of Brachiaria brizantha will not germinate due to physiological dormancy and must be stored for 6–9 months or acid-scarified before sowing.  Seed should be broadcast at 2–4 kg/ha onto a well-prepared seedbed and then lightly harrowed and rolled to incorporate.
In Brazil smallholders establish Brachiaria brizantha vegetatively from rooted tillers.

Brachiaria brizantha is very responsive to the application of nitrogen rich fertilisers.

Brachiaria brizantha shows a degree of allelopathy which helps prevent the invasion of weeds into planted pastures and often cause it to form pure stands in natural grassland. In trials shoots of Brachiaria brizantha which were incorporated into the soil were found to inhibit the growth of several plant species.

Environmental value
Brachiaria brizantha is favoured by grazing animals and the seed is sought after by birds, bees are attracted to the inflorescence for the pollen.

Landscape Value
Brachiaria brizantha is an attractive grass that could very well have use in landscape design

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist


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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Rottboellia cochinchinensis

Rottboellia cochinchinensis itchgrass, pricklegrass, guinea fowl grass

Here is a real nasty emerging weed which I have noticed popping up all along the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. Watch out for it eradicate as soon as it is discovered before it gets out of hand.

A quick search on the internet turned up the following information about Rottboellia cochinchinensis

Rottboellia cochinchinensis

A native of Indo-China, which has naturalised throughout the tropics of Asia, in north-eastern Australia and the savannah zones of Africa including South Africa.
Rottboellia cochinchinensis has been introduced throughout the Caribbean, Tropical America and the southeastern and central United States. Although it may occur under a variety of moisture, light and soil conditions, at a wide range of altitudes, Rottboellia cochinchinensis is most commonly found on sunny, disturbed sites with high rainfall or irrigation in subtropical and tropical climates.

Distinguishing Characteristics
Rottboellia cochinchinensis is an erect, annual grass that can grow to 3m high. Stilt roots often develop at the base of the stem. Plants produce abundant side shoots and grow into large clumps. The leaf sheath and the lower portion of the leaf blade are usually covered with stiff hairs that have a small swelling (tubercle) at the base. 

These hairs break off on contact, penetrating and irritating the skin. The leaf blades, which measure 150mm to 500mm inches long and up to 25mm wide, typically have broad white midribs and scabrous (rough to the touch) margins.

The ligule is a membranous, ciliate flap, to 3mm long. The slender, cylindrical, unbranched inflorescence is segmented. Each heteromorphic segment consists of two types of spikelets:  a sessile (stalkless), fertile spikelet that is embedded in the axis of the inflorescence and a pedicellate (stalked), often sterile spikelet with the pedicel fused to the internode of the inflorescence axis. The spikelets are awnless, narrowly ovate to triangular in shape, and somewhat flattened. 

At maturity, the seedhead breaks into segments, with the paired spikelets attached. A small, cylindrical gland-like projection, known as an elaiosome, is located at the base of each segment. Rich in lipids and proteins, the elaiosome attracts ants that help to disperse the seed.

Environmental  and Economic impact
Rottboellia cochinchinensis is an invasive aggressive weed under various ecological conditions, in at least 18 crops in 44 countries. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million ha of cropping lands are infested with Rottboellia cochinchinensis in Central America and the Caribbean
Rottboellia cochinchinensisis a serious weed of cotton in Zambia and Zimbabwe and a moderate weed of cotton in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda and Venezuela; a serious weed which effects on crop yield,
It competes for soil nutrients, water and light, resulting in reduced crop yields, and also hosts insect pests and diseases that affect graminaceous crops.
Under optimal conditions, Rottboellia cochinchinensis plants may begin producing seed six to seven weeks from emergence and continue to produce seed throughout the growing season. A single plant can yield between 2,000 and 16,000 seeds.
Recent research (Meksawat and Pornprom 2010) has shown that Rottboellia cochinchinensis is allelopathic releasing contains chemicals that inhibit the germination and growth of nearby plants.
The irritating hairs on the leaf sheaths discourage foraging by livestock and wild herbivores.

Rottboellia cochinchinensisis a problem to labourers, as the needle-like hairs on the leaf sheaths break off in the skin and can cause painful infections.

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist


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