Water Gardening Maintenance
This is my site Written by Geoff on August 1, 2001 – 5:54 pm

While last month we briefly covered most of the basics of water gardening, this month we are going to focus on the maintenance aspects of water gardening. We will assume you are managing or interested in a small to medium size pond with both animal and plant life in Zone 5. Since we are in the midst of summer, we will begin there: 

Summer Maintenance 

Summer is the season our ponds are at its peak glory with vibrant and showy plants. Plant growth is at its maximum along with feeding demand. This increase activity increases the stress put on your pond’s biological system so more intense attention must be given to it. 

The first part and probably the most important part of your pond’s biological system is the filtration system no matter how simple it may be. For the simple pond without animal life but with mechanical water movement, you will need to keep the sponge filter to the pump clean along with any other filter systems you may have added to enhance the filtration (i.e. mechanical filtration media, chemical filtration media, biological filtration media). The best way to measure the success of your filtration system is to measure the amount of ammonia and nitrites dissolved in the water. Too high of each indicates a problem with your pond’s biological system which can be fixed with additional and improved filtration, improved feeding, and/or decreased fish stock. (Note: Newly established ponds must mature for approximately a month before the natural nitrogen cycle, Ammonia – Nitrite – Nitrate, establishes itself. As the nitrogen cycle establishes itself, you will see spikes in each in progression.). 

The second part of your pond’s biological system is the plant life. Plant pest activity is at its most vigorous during the summer months. Make sure to watch for pest activity and take action promptly since these problems can spread at an alarming rate. Remove all dead and damaged leaves and blooms on a regular basis to prevent increased biological load on your filtration system from the rotting plant matter. Healthy plants should be thinned out as appropriate along with dead leaves and blooms. 

It is probably obvious that evaporation is a significant problem during the summer especially with fountains, cascades, waterfalls, little surface cover from plants, and high air temperature. Topping with water on a small and frequent basis will not generally require dechlorination treatment for people using municipal water sources and will replace the water lost during the hot summer months. 

The last part of your pond’s biological system to watch is the amount of dissolved oxygen since these amounts may drop significantly during hot and humid nights. Aeration from a fountain or venturi attachment should be left running at all times. If you do not have these available, spraying the surface with a mist of water from a garden hose in late evening will help. 

Autumn Maintenance 

Autumn is the season we start seeing the reduction of biological activity in our ponds. As long as you keep your pond and its surroundings from deteriorating to the point where conditions will adversely affect the health of the fish and other aquatic life, the maintenance needs are much less. 

The major objective in maintaining your pond in autumn is to prepare your plants and fish for the transition into winter making sure to protect the tender species and varieties from the cold. Bring the needy ones indoors into the warmer environment and move the more hardy varieties into deeper water. 

Another daunting part of maintaining your autumn pond’s biological system is keeping the autumn leaves out of your pond. Any leaves that drop onto the pond must be removed regularly to stop them from sinking to the bottom and rotting. Covering the pond with netting may look unsightly, but it is the most effective way of keeping leaves off the water and is only needed for a few weeks in autumn. 

Before the really cold weather sets in, the last part of your autumn maintenance, cleaning and repairing your pond equipment, should be preformed. You should preferably clean the equipment with plain water especially with no harsh chemicals. 

Winter Maintenance 

The pond’s maintenance needs during the winter as you would expect is at its lowest. Your primary concern will be keeping the equipment from freezing and keeping an opening in the surface of the water to allow toxic carbon dioxide to escape from under the ice if you overwinter your fish (Pond must have depth greater than 18 inches for success). This can be accomplished by keeping your fountain running with the addition of a floating pond heater placed near the fountain. Once the water temperature falls below 4-6 degrees C (39-43 degrees F), stop feeding your fish since they will go into hibernation in the deeper water. 

Spring Maintenance 

Spring is an exciting time for the pond’s biological system as well as the garden. This time of year is a gradual process with distinct changes from one week to another. Activity keeps increasing from the emergence of the frogs, the increased energy needs of your fish, to the emerging plant life. Focus is placed on getting your pond ready for the rapidly changing environment. 

Start measuring ammonia and nitrites making sure to perform a partial water change if either amount is above normal. Add a dechlorinator if you are using a municipal water source and do NOT change more than 10 – 15 percent of the total water volume. 

With the increasing amount and intensity of sunlight, there may be an algae bloom resulting in free-floating algae (“green water”) and/or clumps of filamentous algae (blanket weed). The free-floating algae blooms can be kept under control with the use of an ultra-violet sterilizer. The filamentous algae will require regular removal. An alternative method for controlling string algae is to stuff a few ounces of barley straw per 30 square feet into an old stocking, sink to bottom of pond, and replace every six months. Once pond plants become established, these blooms should reduce. 

Disease is often encountered in the spring with overwintered fish from the stresses encountered from hibernation to the changing spring environment. It is often called “Spring Sickness” but is actually several problems (bacterium to excessive body slime). Keeping the manageable stresses (ammonia and nitrite levels) to a minimum after successful winter management will help the fishes immune system combat these problems. 

While the seasonal changes brings new and challenging maintenance needs for your pond’s biological system, it brings you excitement from the changes it goes through. Every year I am amazed with my pond and the challenges it brings. I hope to one day successfully raise fish in my pond but have to wait until I remove my old faithful walnut tree which is twenty yards away (juglone toxicity keeps killing my fish).

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Modified: March 7, 2009 at 5:55 pm UTC

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