How do I know how many fish I can have in my pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How do I know how many fish I can have in my pond?

Lynn – Leitchfield, KY

A: Fish are like potato chips: It’s hard to have just one. When you visit your local pet retailer or water garden center and see those goldfish and koi staring up at you through the water, how can you not take them home!

Too many fish in a pond, however, can create an unhealthy environment for your fish and a breeding ground for algae. The more fish you have, the more waste they produce – and that waste can turn into algae fertilizer unless you have the filtration power to pump it out.

Before you start buying bucket-loads of finned friends, figure out how many you can comfortably keep in your pond. Here’s how in five simple steps.

1. Calculate Pond Size

First, determine the square footage of your pond’s surface area by measuring its length and its width, and multiplying the two numbers. We recommend no more than 1 inch of fish for every square foot of surface area, so if your pond is 250 square feet, that’s a maximum of 250 inches of adult, fully grown fish. If you need help with the math, use our online calculator. You’ll just need to know your pond’s length, width and average depth.

2. Allow Room to Grow

If you’re starting with young or adolescent fish, don’t max out your fish volume right from the start. Remember that those little guys will grow – a 2 inch fry will turn into a 10 inch adult in no time – and they’ll produce more waste as they develop. Skip the guessing game of growing fish by stocking adults, such as those included in our koi packages. You’ll enjoy instant gratification and a pond full of colorful fish!

Whether you’re starting with young fish or adults, add just a handful at a time. Your pond will need time to “season,” or build up its biological filtration system (a.k.a. beneficial bacteria), to handle the new influx of fish waste. Introduce a few fish, and then wait several weeks before adding more. While you’re waiting, give your biological filter a boost with DefensePAC® Pond Care Package. It contains Nature’s Defense®, Clarity Defense® and Muck Defense® – all of which promote the growth of those beneficial microorganisms.

4. Keep Up with Routine Maintenance

Once your fish have moved in, help them feel right at home. Use natural bacteria to break down fish waste, uneaten food and other debris. Provide shade, habitat and safety with floating and submerged aquatic plants. Feed them a healthy diet, like The Pond Guy® Staple Fish Food, which has the right amount of protein to keep them healthy without producing a lot of excess waste. Provide a healthy ecosystem and tasty food, and you’ll have a pond full of happy fish!

A external pressurized filter like the AllClear™ PLUS can handle excess waste, thanks to its powerful combination of biological, mechanical and ultraviolet filters. Its backflush option makes it easy to clean, and it’s easy to install in an existing pond because the plumbing doesn’t need to be run through the liner.

Or if you want to upgrade your entire water feature, check out one of our all-inclusive Pond Kits. Available in several different sizes, they contain a pump, pressurized filter or waterfall filter, pond liner, underlayment, plumbing, foam, hardware and beneficial bacteria to jump-start your biological filtration. All you’ll need to add is fish!

Pond Talk: What’s your most memorable experience with a fish overpopulation problem?

My friend talks about her fish coming up to eat from her hand. How can I get my fish to do the same? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My friend talks about her fish coming up to eat from her hand. How can I get my fish to do the same?

Donna – Chesterfield, MO

A: Talk about a cool party trick! Feeding by hand is not only a fun way to show your friends how well-trained your fish are, but it also gives you an opportunity to bond with your finned pals.

Teaching your fish how to eat from your hand starts with understanding the temperament of the fish themselves. Are your fish friendly? Do they swim up and say “Glub, glub, hi!” when you visit your pond? Or do they scatter when you approach and your shadow falls on the water?

Friendly fish are easier to train. They already associate you as an approachable face that brings them tasty food every day. Sketchy fish, however, can be more of a challenge. They might be newbies that don’t recognize you or your feeding routine, or they might be spooked from predators visiting your pond.

If you’ve ruled out the possibility of predators (or put up some predator-control measures), follow these steps to help teach your fish to eat from the palm of your hand:

1. Set a Routine: Fish are creatures of habit. They’re more likely to respond to something that happens the same way every day (or frequently, at least). To set a mealtime routine, visit your pond at the same location, at the same time of day, on a regular basis. They’ll get to know your patterns and learn to recognize you – and feeding time.
2. Make Them Work: Throwing a handful of Growth & Vibrance Fish Food into the water and walking away teaches your fish an easy snatch-and-run feeding style. Instead, toss them a few pellets at a time and wait for the fish to eat them. They’ll rush to get the food first! Even the shy koi will get in on the action. This toss-and-wait style reminds them that you are hanging out and something exciting is happening.
3. Get Brave – and Get Wet: Once your fish are used to your feeding routine and race to the pond’s edge to greet you, take the plunge! Hold a few pellets loosely in your hand just at the water surface without making any sudden or quick movements. It takes only one fish to act bravely and let the others know it’ll be OK. Before you know it, they’ll be racing to your hand to be fed!

Once your fish are trained to eat from your hand, you’ll be tempted to keep offering them food. Prevent overfeeding them by measuring out a predetermined amount of food – and stop when it’s all gone. If you can’t help yourself (or you’re sharing this cool new party trick with your friends), at least be sure to have some natural bacteria, like Nature’s Defense®, on hand to help clean up the leftovers after dinner.

Pond Talk: Have you trained your fish to eat from your hand? What tips can you share with this fish keeper?

Should I always add pond salt to my pond, or just when my fish are sick? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Should I always add pond salt to my pond, or just when my fish are sick?

Ron – Whitefish Bay, WI

A: To salt or not to salt? It’s a question hotly debated by koi hobbyists. When used in low doses, salt has many health benefits for your fish – but when used in too-high doses, it can do more harm than good. Here’s what you need to know about adding salt to your pond.

Benefits Aplenty

Salt isn’t just for helping to heal sick fish. Constant exposure to low salt levels can improve your fishes’ overall health. It can improve gill function and oxygen uptake, reduce stress, and build a stout slime coat that’ll help them ward off parasites, bacteria and disease. Salt also adds beneficial electrolytes to the water.

The Right Type

You can’t, however, just dump a scoop of common salt, like tasty table salt or ice-melting rock salt, into the water. Fish friendly Pond Logic® Pond Salt is made from pure evaporated sea salt – and that’s it. It contains no iodine, chloride or other harsh chemicals that could harm your fish.

If you’re adding low doses of salt to your pond and have no aquatic plants, use 2½ cups of salt per 100 gallons of water and disperse the pond salt evenly around the shoreline. Salt will not evaporate or get filtered out, so the only time you need to add more salt is when you do water changes.

Mind the Plants

If you have lilies and other aquatic plants living with the fish in your water garden, use 1¼ cups of salt per 100 gallons of water. Scatter it around the shoreline, being careful to avoid direct contact with your greenery.

Salt Therapy

Fish with parasites or bacterial infections can benefit from a salt bath. Prepare an isolation tank with 5 cups of salt per 100 gallons of pond water (not tap water) and add some vigorous aeration. Place the patient in the tank for 5 to 10 minutes, and then return it to the pond.

Try adding some salt to your pond today. Your fish will thank you for the spa treatment!

Pond Talk: Have you had success treating your fishes’ disease with salt baths?

What does it mean when you say a pond must “cycle” before adding fish? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What does it mean when you say a pond must “cycle” before adding fish?

Sherry – Raleigh, NC

A: The term “cycle” refers to the nitrogen cycle – and it’s an important process to understand if you plan to keep fish in your pond. The nitrogen cycle provides the biological filtration in the water, which keeps the water free from toxic compounds created by decaying organic matter. The process is a complicated one, so here are the basics.

Nitrogen Cycle 101

Before we discuss cycling a new pond, let’s dive into how the nitrogen cycle looks in an established, mature pond. As organic material – like uneaten food, dead plant matter and fish waste – decay, the bacteria that break it down release ammonia, which is toxic to living organisms. One particular microorganism called nitrosomonas, however, loves ammonia. It feeds on ammonia and oxygen, and releases a chemical called nitrite.

Nitrites are also dangerous to fish and aquatic critters, and so another group of microorganisms – nitrobacter – enters the nitrogen cycle picture. These bacteria transform nitrites into relatively harmless nitrates, which are then absorbed by algae and plants or reduced by water changes.

New Pond, New Bacteria

A new pond doesn’t have healthy populations of nitrosomonas and nitrobacter yet, and so the pond must be “cycled.” This refers to establishing and maturing your pond’s biological filtration system so that it’s able to turn ammonia into nitrates. To do so, you need to start the process with an ammonia source (a few hardy fish) and seed the pond with these beneficial bacteria, which can be found in Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® and in Microbe-Lift® PL Gel.

Nurturing Nitrosomonas

In the early spring when established ponds are waking up after a long winter, a similar cycling process will take place. Some nitrosomonas and nitrobacter will survive in your filtration media and gravel and begin to colonize, but it’s a good idea to give them a boost. Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® is formulated for use in cooler temperatures – making it perfect for early spring applications. Since those microorganisms live in your filtration media, avoid washing it when you’re doing your spring cleaning.

The cycling process can take four to six weeks, though in the warmer spring and summer this time may be reduced. Keep an eye on your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels with a test kit, like our API® Pond Master Test Kit. Once it indicates that nitrates are present, your pond is considered cycled. Add only a few fish at a time to prevent ammonia levels from spiking again.

Keep in mind that this ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle is always occurring, so test your pond regularly to ensure the health and wellbeing of your finned friends.

Pond Talk: What has been your experience in “cycling” a pond?

I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I just saw my favorite koi. He used to have black spots – but where did they go?

George – Price, UT

A: Koi aficionados call their fish “living jewels” for a reason. With their rich red, brilliant white, velvety black and shimmering metallic scales, these swimming beauties resemble vibrant precious stones that glisten and glimmer as they glide through the water.

Colorful, Dynamic

Thanks to generations of careful breeding practices, koi hobbyists have developed more than 20 varieties of nishikigoi (brocaded carp) that differ by their scale color and pattern. Some of the stand-out types include:

• Kohaku: White body topped with large red markings.
• Sanke (Taisho Sanke): Similar to the Kohaku but with the addition of small black markings called sumi.
• Showa (Showa Sanke): Black body topped with red (hi) and white (shiroji) markings.
• Ogon: Metallic scales in one solid color, usually orange, white, silver or gold.

A koi’s color pattern is dynamic through its entire life; the colors and markings change as the fish grows in size and loses and regrows its scales. For instance, a black spot on your Sanke’s back may seem to shrink or disappear beneath its red markings – only to return a year later in a morphed size or shape.

Bring Out the Brilliance

Though it’s part of a koi’s DNA to change its spots, environmental factors can cause modifications as well. Poor water quality, parasites and fungal infections, for example, may fade scale color. Insufficient sun exposure during the winter months, too, may cause colors to wane. But once the water quality is back up to par and sunless sky gives way to bright sunshine, those brilliant colors will return.

On the flip side, some external factors can actually enhance a koi’s color. Fresh vegetables and citrus fruits, like green peas, oranges and grapefruit, can bring out the vibrant red and orange tones, brighten the whites and deepen the blacks. You can also find commercial diets that are packed with ingredients, like vitamin C and spirulina, formulated to boost color.

Summer Color

As warmer weather approaches and your fish start to get hungry again, start them off with an easy-to-digest wheat germ diet, like The Pond Guy Spring & Fall Fish Food, followed by a higher protein, color-enhancing diet, like The Pond Guy Growth & Vibrance Fish Food. Also test your water quality and do what’s necessary to make sure it’s the best it can be. In time, you’ll likely see your koi’s black markings return – or change into something completely different!

Pond Talk: What changes have you seen in your koi’s color and markings?

How can I tell if I have male or female koi? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How can I tell if I have male or female koi?

Ann Marie – Casselberry, FL

A: If only koi were as easy to sex as a pair of peacocks! Like those fanciful birds, koi are sexually dimorphic – meaning the males and females look and behave differently – but it’s not an easy distinction to discern. They grow to roughly the same size and they both have colorful scales, yet there are subtle differences if you know where to look. With these clues, you’ll know whether to name your finned friends Fred or Frieda.

Clue #1: Age

Koi are easier to tell apart when they’re mature, and so your first clue will be age – which is related to their length. They’re considered mature (3 years old) when they’re about 10 inches long. If they’re between 3 and 10 inches, they’re still juveniles and may be difficult to sex.

Clue #2: Body Shape

Immobilize your koi by capturing it in your Collapsible Fish Net and take a look at it from above. A mature male koi will have a slender looking body, while a female koi will have a rounded body, particularly when it’s spawning season and she’s carrying a nest full of eggs!

Clue #3: Fin Shape

Next, examine your koi’s fins. A male koi’s pectoral fins, the ones near his head, will appear pointed and solid in color. In addition, the first ray of his pectoral fin may be more substantial when compared to his female counterpart, which will display rounder fins.

Clue #4: Tubercles

During breeding season, you may see little white growths, called tubercles, on male koi’s heads and pectoral fins. They’re perfectly natural and will disappear once the fish have finished getting frisky. Females don’t develop these protrusions.

Clue #5: Behavior

One final – and obvious! – clue: amorous behavior. When they’re not mating, they behave very similarly, but during mating season, the male koi will chase the female, encouraging her (sometimes enthusiastically) to release her eggs so he can fertilize them. After all that frolicking, the happy pair will benefit from some Pond Logic® Stress Reducer Plus, which will help heal any damaged tissue.

It’s not easy to distinguish the male and female koi, but with these tips and clues, you’ll know your Freds from your Friedas in no time!

Pond Talk: Have you ever tried to determine the sex of your koi?

When do koi go dormant? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: When do koi go dormant?

Helen – Minneapolis, MN

A: With winter officially starting in just one week, the cold weather is settling in across the country. Since your fish don’t have miniature submerged Koi calendars to check, what is it that tells your fish it is time to hibernate?

Koi are cold-blooded creatures, which means their body temperatures and activity levels are directly correlated with the ambient temperature. Koi are active and alert when their environment is warm and will start to slow down as the water temperature decreases. Once the water temperatures start to dip below 46°F your fish tend to stop eating and will retreat to the bottom of the pond. Your fish use the decrease in temperature along with the shortening day lengths as a trigger to prepare for winter.

As the water begins to cool, your fish will become less active as their bodily functions slow down. Less activity means a slower digestive process, less demand for food. It is this decrease in food digestion that warrants the use of wheat germ based foods like Pond Logic® Spring & Fall Fish Food. These types of food are easier to digest that regular food reducing the risk of leaving undigested food to rot inside a dormant fish, which can potentially be fatal.

As the temperatures continue to decline towards 40°F, the blood flow and respiratory rate of the fish will drop to an extremely low rate where their body is hardly functioning. You may hear people say that your Koi are sleeping in the winter and while fish do sleep this goes way beyond the standard drop in bodily functions associated with some much needed shut-eye. This extreme internal slow down ensure survival with even the most limited resources with cases of dormant fish lasting 150 days without food.

The whole over-wintering scenario sounds a little extreme to us but it is truly a natural and normal process for your fish. They do not require much attention in the winter but there are a few things you can do to ensure their winter break is a success. When a layer of ice begins to form over the pond, maintain an opening for gas exchange using an aeration kit or pond de-icer, like the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo.