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A Flashier, Splashier Yard

A pond is easy and affordable--as long as the residents are low-maintenance goldfish.

September 07, 2000|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

Question: I really enjoyed the article on Robert Marien Hernaiz's pond (Aug. 3). Made me want to build my own. Do you have any information on low-cost (really low-cost!) ponds with maybe a carp or two in it?

--N.R., Los Angeles

Answer: If you forget about the koi or carp and are willing to settle for goldfish, a pond is a snap to build and care for. It is the koi that require the filtration and water treatment, which is why Marien's pond is so sophisticated and expensive.

I've never even changed the water in my 4-by-11-foot pond full of goldfish and waterlilies. There are no pumps, filters or devices of any kind--all I do is add water as it evaporates, and even that is not very often, since the surface is protected by lily pads.

Goldfish are not fussy about their water, requiring only some depth so it does not get too hot. The little guppy-like mosquito fish don't even require that, living in very shallow water. (I once saw hundreds in water that was only an inch deep!)

We made our pond 18 inches deep because any body of water deeper than that is considered a swimming pool by the city of Los Angeles and requires fencing. Our pond is raised and built of concrete blocks covered with a waterproofing, cement-base coating (Thoroseal) that you just paint on. But you can simply dig a hole and put in a tough rubber pond liner. Tetra and others make such liners, which are available at some nurseries and pet stores. A pond for goldfish and aquatic plants can be that simple and inexpensive.

If you really want to get into the more involved world of koi and big ponds, there are many books. A good one is "Water Gardening Basics," by William Uber (Dragonflyer; $29), and there are several recent books by water gardening authority Helen Nash.

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Q: I purchased some tulip bulbs with a residue of powder on them and stored them in the refrigerator in their open mesh bag. Will this residue affect other produce? Is it harmful?

--B.S., Huntington Beach

A: Because they are handled so much, bulbs are never treated with anything once they are harvested, "period, end of story," according to Dan Davids of grower Davids & Royston Bulb Co., headquartered in Gardena. Supermarket potatoes and apples have more on them than bulbs destined only for the garden.

But the weather in the Netherlands--the source of almost all tulip bulbs--was wet and miserable at harvest time, so it is not surprising to find some surface mold on the bulb skins. Mold is most often found on bulbs that have been packaged in the Netherlands and--curiously--most often on red tulips. Davids says that if the refrigerated shipping containers were kept cool enough for the long boat ride, there should be no mold. But if there is, wash and dry the bulbs before putting them in the vegetable crisper. The mold will not harm the bulbs, the produce or you.

The growers' nontreatment policy is also true for bulbs of edible plants such as onions, said Davids. "If you wanted, you could cook with the onion bulbs meant for planting."

If anyone is wondering what the bulbs are doing in the fridge, tulips and a few other bulbs need six weeks of cooling before they are planted or they will not bloom well. The vegetable crisper is the place to keep them. You can leave them loose, in their mesh or ventilated plastic bags, or keep them in paper bags.

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Q: I have a peach tree that I grew about 20 years ago from a supermarket peach pit. How can I find out what variety it is? It produces delicious fruit.

--N.W., Altadena

A: For something to be a cultivated variety, it must be grown vegetatively--from cuttings, buds or grafts--it cannot be grown from a seed. Since yours is seed-grown, it has no name or identity. Every plant grown from a seed is distinct and unique, even if it varies in only small ways from its parents or siblings.

You're actually lucky your peach produces tasty fruit, since it could just as easily have been a poor producer of insipid or tiny fruit. Growing something from seed is like rolling the dice and hoping for the best--they could come up a winner or craps. One frequently hears of avocados grown from pits that produce really small fruit or very few.

Plants propagated vegetatively, however, are exactly alike every time. In the world of horticulture, cultivated varieties that are identical are designated "cultivars," and their names appear inside single quotes, such as apples named 'Anna,' or a bougainvillea named 'California Gold.'

If your peach is a winner, you could start propagating it vegetatively. Graft or bud your variety onto a young tree this winter. You can even give yours a name, like 'Altadena Beauty'! Grafting is not hard to learn, but many professional gardeners can do it for you.

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Write to Robert Smaus, SoCal Living, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012; fax to (213) 237-4712; or e-mail robert.smaus@latimes.com.

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