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How often are you really supposed to wash out your filter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How often are you really supposed to wash out your filter?

Q: How often are you really supposed to wash out your filter?

Al – Greenville, RI

A: The filtration system in your pond is made up of two parts: the mechanical filter and the biological filter. They both clean and clarify the water, but they do so in very different ways and require very different cleaning regimens to keep them optimally operating.

The Mechanical Filter

The skimmer or pump sock make up your mechanical filter. Able to function at all temperatures (as long as the water is liquid), their main purpose is to catch larger debris, like chunks of algae, leaves, foliage and other things that blow into your pond and settle on the water surface. These items are collected in a mat or debris net/basket as the water passes through the mechanical filter, which then protects the pump from clogging.

Cleaning the mechanical filter is easy. You simply remove the mat or debris net/basket, dump out the debris and rinse it with a garden hose. This can be done as often as you like or as needed when you see the water flow slow down. In fact, checking it often is a good idea, particularly in spring and fall when debris tends to collect in a pond.

The Biological Filter

Your waterfall box, pressurized filter and in-pond filter filled with beneficial bacteria-covered filter media make up your biological filter. Their main purpose is to break down tiny, suspended debris, resulting in crystal clear water.

Here’s how it works: Unlike a mechanical filter that physically removes debris, a biological filter works at a microscopic level. Aerobic beneficial bacteria colonize and flourish on the surface area of filter media – like BioBalls™, mats and the like. As the water passes through the filter media, the bacteria feed on the debris and remove it from the water. Because the beneficial bacteria are living microorganisms, they function best when water temperatures are near or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit when they’re alive and kicking.

You don’t really “clean” a biological filter at all because you want to retain as much of the beneficial bacteria as possible. In the early spring, perform a cleanout and seed with natural bacteria like Microbe-Lift® PL Gel or Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® to give your filter a fresh start. Throughout the season, do a mild rinse in a bucket of pond water only when the water flow begins to decline. Each time to clean or rinse your filter media, add a dose of Microbe-lift® PL Gel or bacteria from the Pond Logic® DefensePAC® to re-seed the bacteria and replenish any bacteria loss.

Though it may be tempting, don’t power wash or swap out filter media mats. This strips the beneficial bacteria, which may take weeks to replenish! In the meantime, algae will feed on the unfiltered nutrients in the pond water, and you’ll see your water quality diminish as fish waste accumulates – which is something you don’t want!

Pond Talk: What’s your mechanical and biological filter cleaning routine?

Promote Healthy Filters - Pond Logic® DefensePAC®

Do I need to divide my aquatic plants every year? If so, how do I do it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Do I need to divide my aquatic plants every year? If so, how do I do it?

Q: Do I need to divide my aquatic plants every year? If so, how do I do it?

Ellen – Kirkwood, SC

A: After a long, cold winter, you’re probably ready to put your green thumb to work in your pond – and digging into your aquatic plants is a great place to start. Your potted bog plants and water lilies will need to be divided, but how you do so will depend on the type of plants you’re dealing with. In general, your bog plants will need to be divided every one to two years, and your water lilies will need to be divided every two to three years.

Below, we’ve included some simplified step-by-step instructions for how to do it. So pull out your waders, pruning tools, extra plant baskets, planting media and garden hose – and let’s get to work!

Dividing Bog Plants
Bog plants include species like corkscrew rush, dwarf cattails and irises. Some have clumping roots, some have runners and some have rhizomes. Regardless of the type of root mass, here’s what to do with them:

  • Step 1: First, lift the pot or container out of the pond and gently remove the root mass.
  • Step 2: Using your garden hose, wash the soil off of the mass and trim away any dead leaves and foliage.
  • Step 3: Divide the root mass depending on the type of root system. For plants with clumping roots like corkscrew rush, separate the roots into sections, leaving some roots intact with each section. For plants that divide by runners like dwarf cattails, cut the runner root and leave the root base with each section of the plant. And for plants that are rhizomes like irises, simply divide them into sections.
  • Step 4: Replant each section of plant in its own container and dispose of any plant overgrowth.

Dividing Water Lilies
Water lilies – both tropical and the hardy variety sold in our Grower’s Choice collection – are also relatively easy to divide. You’ll know it’s time to separate them when you notice fewer pads, reduced blooms or splitting pots.

  • Step 1: First, lift the pot or container out of the pond, locate the tuber and gently remove it.
  • Step 2: Rinse off the soil, and trim away root growth and old foliage.
  • Step 3: Identify the crowns, or the little buds where a new lily pad group will sprout, and cut between them with a sharp knife. Keep the pieces 3 to 4 inches in length. Each one of these will become a new water lily plant.
  • Step 4: Using aquatic planting media, plant each section separately at a 45-degree angle so that the growing tip is still exposed above the soil.
  • Step 5: Place your repotted lilies in a shallow area of your pond where only a few inches of water cover the plants.
  • Step 6: Once new growth appears, move the lilies to the deeper areas of your pond.

Fertilize and Tend
Once you’ve divided and replanted your aquatic plants, don’t forget to give them regular doses of fertilizer to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need to thrive and produce vigorous blooms. And keep your colorful beauties looking good by keeping them trimmed and regularly removing dead foliage throughout the growing season.

Pond Talk: When you divide your aquatic plants, what do you do with your extra cuttings?

Add Beauty To Your Pond - Grower's Choice Hardy Water Lilies

If I can’t do a big spring cleanout on my pond, what is the best way to get the debris out of the pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: If I can’t do a big spring cleanout on my pond, what is the best way to get the debris out of the pond?

Q: If I can’t do a big spring cleanout on my pond, what is the best way to get the debris out of the pond?

Maggie – Amherst, OH

A: An annual spring cleanout is an important chore when you own a backyard pond. It’s when you remove all the decaying organics that collected over the winter, trim back dead foliage, kick on your filtration and aeration systems, and generally spruce things up around your water garden wonderland.

But what if your pond was well-sheltered and protected from leaves and debris, or you live in a temperate climate where a total pond shutdown was unnecessary? Or what if you simply don’t have time to dedicate to all that cleaning and maintenance?

Well we have some shortcuts for you. Though it may be better in the long run to do a thorough cleanout at the start of the season, these five tips will cut down the time it takes to do your spring chores.

  1. Do a Partial Water Change: To help remove some floating and suspended debris, do a partial water change. Let 10 to 20 percent of your water drain from the pond, and add fresh water along with some Pond Logic® Stress Reducer PLUS to remove heavy metals and prevent your fish from getting too stressed.
  2. Add Some Shine: Oxy-Lift™ Defense® will quickly shine up your waterfalls and shoreline rocks. It’s simple to use: As you’re doing your partial water change, sprinkle Oxy-Lift™ Defense® on scum-covered rocks, streams and liner before you refill your pond. In just 24 hours, you’ll see the gunk break free with no scrubbing at all!
  3. Vacuum Debris: Use your ClearVac™ Pond Vacuum to easily suck up gunk, sludge and decaying organics on the pond bottom. It has four different attachments – gravel, string algae, narrow and wide – along with extension tubes, so you can vacuum almost any surface. For debris larger than 3/8 inch, simply pull out your Collapsible Skimmer and Fish Net and scoop it out.
  4. Add Seasonal Defense®: To break down debris that your pond vacuum missed, add some Seasonal Defense® beneficial bacteria to the water. The microorganisms, which are designed to work in cooler temperatures, will break down leaves and sediment that have collected over the winter. It also kick-starts your pond’s biological filtration system, priming it for summer.
  5. Rinse Your Filter Media: Finally, remove your filter media and give it quick rinse with your garden hose to break up and wash away any accumulated gunk. No need to scrub it too thoroughly; the bacteria living in the pads or BioBalls™ will come back to life once temperatures rise.

Of course, for a truly healthy pond, we still recommend a complete cleanout. We’ll describe those chores in depth over the coming weeks. But for now, this quick fix will get the debris out of your pond, giving it a facelift for spring soirees.

Pond Talk: What shortcuts do you use to skirt spring chores?

Reduce Timely Pond Maintenance - The Pond Guy® ClearVac™ Pond Vacuum

Some of my rocks and stream shifted over the winter, and I think I may have a leak. What is the easiest way to fix it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Some of my rocks and stream shifted over the winter, and I think I may have a leak. What is the easiest way to fix it?

Q: Some of my rocks and stream shifted over the winter, and I think I may have a leak. What is the easiest way to fix it?

Pat – Cumberland, MD

A: Ice and snow can certainly do a number on a landscape – if you’ve ever seen how a glacier can carve through the earth, you know what we’re talking about! Around your pond, the same type of thing can occur, albeit on a smaller scale. Ice, snow and even heavy bouts of rain can shift rocks and soil, cause erosion and move or puncture your liner, resulting in leaks.

So what can be done? You’ll need to do some investigating to determine where the problem is and then get busy making repairs. Here’s what we suggest.

1. Rock Steady

Because the rocks shifted over the winter, the first thing to do is return them to their original position them and lock them into place. As you move the rocks back, check to see if they tore the liner or shifted it out of place. If so, patch the hole and tuck the liner back in. Use PondBuilder™ PondBuild ‘N Foam to fill in gaps between the rocks, support them and prevent them from moving again next winter.

2. Rule Out Evaporation

During the heat of summer, you can expect some evaporation – and it can cause your pond to lose up to an inch of water a day. If you have a long stream bed with a lot of surface area or a large pond with few floating plants, even more water could transform from liquid to vapor. To rule out evaporation, fill the pond back up and keep an eye on the water level. Any more than an inch or so of water loss could indicate a leak.

3. Check for Damp Spots

If more than an inch or so of water is disappearing daily, one clear clue that could lead to your leak is a damp area around the pond’s perimeter. That water has to go somewhere, and a low-lying patch of wet ground is a great place to start looking for its source. Walk around the pond and carefully inspect the soil for signs of unexplained moisture.

4. Rule Out the Liner

If you’ve ruled out evaporation and found no damp areas, there are two more possible leak culprits: your waterfall or your liner. Shut down waterfall pump and wait for several hours. If the pond’s water level stays the same, then you’ll know the leak is not in the liner itself. It’s likely in the waterfall or plumbing. Check your waterfall box and skimmer for cracks or if the liner isn’t attached, and inspect your plumbing for loose connections.

5. Track, Repair Liner Leak

At this point, the bad news is that you probably have a hole in your liner, and finding it won’t be easy. But the good news is that it is possible to track it down and repair it.

To find it, use Pond Logic® Pond Shade or some milk to visually track the leak. Simply add a few drops on the side and watch it as it finds its way to the leak. This will take some time, a few attempts — and patience. You can also let the water slowly go down. (Depending how low it goes, you may need to temporarily relocate your fish.) The water level should stabilize, which will allow you to visually inspect the first few inches of liner above the water surface for the hole.

Once you’ve found the hole, patch it up with an EPDM Liner Patch Kit or use some Gold Label Pond Sealer. The 6-inch liner patch is easy to use on small punctures: Just peel off the protective film and press onto the liner. The sealer can be used in wet or dry conditions and will seal completely in 48 hours.

Good luck tracking down that leak and repairing it!

Pond Talk: Tell us about your most mysterious pond leak. How did you find it and repair it?

Quickly Repair Winter Damage - Tite Seal™ EPDM Pond Liner Patch Kit

I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Q: I’ve used lava rock in my filter for years. Are bioballs really that much better?

Dana – Altadena, CA

A: The media you use in your filtration system matters. Just think about its purpose: To house billions of beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that keep your pond alive, crystal clear and algae-free. Thanks to their ample surface area, both lava rock and bioballs will work, but bioballs have some benefits over the rock. Read on to learn more.

Lava Rock’s Limitations

Lava rock – that igneous rock that’s formed as an erupting volcano’s molten lava cools and hardens – is very porous. When chunks of it live in your filtration system, you’re providing a lot of surface area for those beneficial bacteria to colonize and grow. That’s what makes it such a great filter media.

It does, however, have its drawbacks.

  • Clogged Holes: Over time, the porous rock can become easily clogged with muck and debris. Once the holes and pockets are clogged, they can become very difficult to clean out – which ultimately creates less overall surface area.
  • Hard Water: Lava rock naturally contains a variety of minerals, including iron and magnesium, that could affect your water’s pH, making it harder. Hard water could make it more difficult to treat algae that forms.
  • It’s Heavy!: They may be porous chunks of rock, but hefting bags of it takes some strength – particularly when its wet and full of gunk.

Benefits of BioBalls

Bioballs, like The Pond Guy® BioBalls™ filter media, are plastic spheres made up of dozens of thin rods that provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria to thrive. Two hundred of the bioballs in a mesh bag will filter about 1,000 gallons of water in a pond with minimal fish.

Compared to lava rock, bioballs have some definite benefits.

  • Easy to Clean: Bioballs can also become clogged, by they’re easy to clean. Just rinse them off with water from your pond and you’ll be good to go.
  • Indefinite Lifetime: Because they’re made from long-lasting material, bioballs will not degrade and will function equally well year after year.
  • Shape Shifters: The bioballs’ round shape allows them to more easily conform to any filter, no matter its shape.
  • Lightweight, Easy to Handle: Each one of these tiny, 1 1/2-inch plastic spheres weighs a scant 0.3 ounces; 200 of them weigh a whopping 3 1/2 pounds. They’re easy to deposit and remove from your filter thanks to a mesh filter bag.

Consider making the switch from lava rock to bioballs. You’ll see better results and you’ll need to do less maintenance. What’s better than that?

Pond Talk: Why do you prefer bioballs over lava rock?

Lightweight & Easy to Clean - The Pond Guy® BioBalls™

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?

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.

Cycled and Ready for Fish

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 PondCare® Master Liquid 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?

Keep Pond Water Safe for Fish - PondCare® Master Liquid Test Kit

Why are water changes important? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why are water changes important?

Q: Why are water changes important?

Shirley – Warr Acres, OK

A: It’s nice to open a window on a warm spring day and let the fresh air flow through your house, right? Well, a partial or complete water change in your koi pond or water garden is the same thing: It freshens your finned pals’ environment, making them happy and healthy.

Here are five reasons why water changes are so important to your fish, plants and other aquatic life:

  1. Nutrient Removal: Muck and debris buildup happens in just about every water feature. A water change manually removes any excess nutrients and chemicals like nitrates, phosphates and ammonia that can be harmful to fish and other underwater critters.
  2. Healthy Fish: Fresh, clean water means improved water quality, which ultimately promotes your fishes’ health. Just as you need oxygen to thrive, your fish need clean water to thrive. Their well being is directly related to the liquid environment in which they live.
  3. Algae Control: Pea soup and string algae feed on all that decomposing waste, which they use as fertilizer. By removing those excess nutrients in the water column with a water change, you can discourage the growth of algae.
  4. Fights Foam: Foam forms when excess organic material has accumulated in your water garden. When this nutrient-laden water pours down your waterfall, the air and water collide, causing the proteins and other organics to be trapped inside bubbles rather than turning into ammonia and nitrites. A water change will quickly reduce that foamy buildup.
  5. Clears Water, Stabilizes pH: A water change will also improve the appearance of cloudy water and maintain pH levels, resulting in a pristine pond filled with healthy fish, lush greenery and clean water.

To keep stress levels down among your fish, we recommend doing partial water changes as soon as water temperatures reach 50° F. In addition, be sure to add some Stress Reducer PLUS and LiquidClear™ to your water. The Stress Reducer PLUS forms a beneficial slime coat on your fish and makes tap water safe for them. The LiquidClear’s™ beneficial bacteria helps to digest dead organics in the water, making it crystal clear.

Pond Talk: How often do you do water changes in your koi pond or water garden?

Builds Protective Slime Coating - Pond Logic (r) Stress Reducer PLUS

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