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I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Shawn – New Hudson, MI

A: Water attracts all sorts of critters. From bugs, birds and deer to reptiles, raccoons and muskrat – and even an occasional coyote or bear – wildlife of all shapes and sizes frequent ponds and lakes. If you’re experiencing visitors near your pond, that’s great! You should be excited to have the animals use it as a natural resource!

To help you decipher what’s leaving behind those tracks, here’s a quick rundown of the most common critters we find near ponds and lakes:

Muskrats: Measuring about 2 feet long and covered in thick dark brown or black fur, these medium-size semiaquatic rodents are often found in wetlands and near the water’s edge. They have long, vertically flat tails covered with scales, which help them to swim. When looking at muskrat tracks, the hind feet will be larger than the front feet, and you’ll see a distinct mark from their tail that drags along the ground.

Raccoons: These little masked bandits, which will sometimes make a meal of your game fish, are very intelligent and have extremely dexterous front paws. They walk with their feet flat on the ground and can stand on their hind legs to examine objects with their front paws. When examining raccoon tracks, you’ll see the flat-footed footprints with claws on all the toes. Their front foot and opposite hind foot tracks will be side by side or close together.

Deer: Widely distributed across the country, deer—which are pretty good swimmers, by the way—prefer to live between forests (for cover) and grassy fields (for food), though you’ll find deer tracks anywhere around your pond. Unlike raccoons, deer walk on their hooves, or their toe tips that are strengthened by a thick horny covering. When looking at deer tracks, you’ll see the outline of their hooves, which will look like upside-down hearts.

Turtles: Terrestrial and amphibious turtles have short, round, sturdy feet to bear the weight of their heavy shells. They also have long claws that they use to help them clamber onto rocky shorelines and floating logs. You’ll most likely see turtle tracks near the water. The marks will look almost oval with toes or claw marks on one side of the oval. You may see a tail or shell drag mark, too.

In most cases, these critters will do little or no harm to your pond or lake. They do leave waste behind, but we can keep that in check with aeration and bacteria. So have fun identifying your little visitors!

Pond Talk: What’s the strangest animal track you’ve identified near your pond or lake?

Help Keep Pond Water Clear - Airmax(r) Aeration Systems

 

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I’m buying property with a half-acre pond. What do I need to know? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I’m buying property with a half-acre pond. What do I need to know?

Q: I’m buying property with a half-acre pond. What do I need to know?

Vernon – Tolono, IL

A: A pond is a great resource to have – and it’s even better when it’s filled with clean water and supporting a thriving ecosystem. To keep it functional and healthy, you’ll need to do a few clean-up and maintenance chores and do a little research. Here’s what we recommend.

Check Regulations

While you’re waiting for move-in day, contact your city, county and state government offices for information about chemical use and pond safety regulations. For instance, depending where you live, you may not be able to use some algaecides or herbicides, or you may need to install a fence around your pond for safety.

Install Safety Gear

Speaking of safety, you should also make sure safety gear, like a Life Ring, rope and first-aid kit, are installed in a conspicuous and accessible place near the pond in case of emergency. You never know when you’ll need it, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Assess Aeration

Does your new pond have an aeration system installed, does it work, and is it included in the sale of the property? An aeration system, which includes a diffuser, compressor and airline, is an important piece of equipment to have. It circulates the water column and delivers life-giving oxygen to your pond’s inhabitants. If the property includes an aerator, make sure it works; if not, consider investing in one. Measure the length, width and depth of your pond and call 866-POND-HELP to select the right system for your pond.

Power to the Pond

Your aeration system will need to be plugged in, so does your pond have electricity? What voltage is it set up for? If you plan on buying a new aeration system, Airmax® models come in both 115 volt and 220 volt.

Meet Your Neighbors

Before you apply any pond-care products to your pond, find out what kinds of critters live in it. Certain types of fish, including trout, carp and koi, will affect the way you use chemicals in your pond.

Manicure Weeds

If your pond hasn’t been tended in a while and the weeds have taken over, you’ll need to regain control by identifying the unwanted vegetation, killing and removing it. Start by using a Weed Control Guide or email a photo to weedid@thepondguy.com to help you identify the plants and select the right products for the job. Once the weeds are dead, mechanically remove them from the water with a Pond & Beach Rake so that they don’t become algae fertilizer next spring.

Start Maintenance Routine

Your last to-do item: Start a maintenance routine using a series of beneficial bacteria products like those found in the Pond Logic® ClearPAC® Plus seasonal care package. The microorganisms will break down pond muck buildup and keep the water clean and clear all year long.

Pond Talk: What advice can you share with this new pond owner?

Proactive Pond Management - Pond Logic® ClearPAC® Plus

 

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I have a lot of cattail growth. Should I spray it now or just wait until spring? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I have a lot of cattail growth. Should I spray it now or just wait until spring?

Q: I have a lot of cattail growth. Should I spray it now or just wait until spring?”

Thomas – Afton, MN

A: As long as those cattails are green and growing, you should spray them. Fall is actually an ideal time to treat pesky pond weeds because that’s when the matured plants soak up nutrients through their leaves to prepare for the coming winter. They’ll do the same thing with the herbicide—but it will cause their demise!

If you don’t spray the cattails, they won’t dry up and die. No, that would be too easy! When the weather gets cold, the leaves and stems will turn brown and dry up while the tuberous root systems in the soil below the surface lie dormant. Those tubers, having stored up energy all winter, will explode with new shoots and growth in the spring.

Plus, all that dead and dried up foliage will fall into your pond, adding decaying organics to the mix. That detritus—which is like fertilizer to pond weeds and algae—will cause an even bigger headache next year.

Spraying cattails now when they’re still green is your best bet. Here’s how we recommend you do it.

  1. Spray Growth: Using your tank sprayer, treat the cattails with Shoreline Defense® with Treatment Booster™ PLUS. Apply the herbicide, which has no usage restrictions, directly to all above-water foliage. The plant will draw it in through its leaves and die—roots and all.
  2. Spray Again: Wait about two weeks for the herbicide to kick in, and then repeat the process again to be sure you get that weed under control. This will be necessary in ponds with thick, abundant cattail growth.
  3. Remove Dead Foliage: As the cattails die, cut and rake out dead debris with your weed removal tools, like a weed cutter and pond rake. This will cut down on decomposing organics left in the pond, making it easier to get on top of any new growth in the spring.

Take some time during this late summer and fall to treat cattails. You’ll be glad you did!

Pond Talk: How do you manage cattails in your pond or lake?

Broad Spectrum Emergent Weed Killer - Shoreline Defense® & Treatment Booster™ PLUS

 

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I still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season?

Q: I still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season?

Jeff – Morris, WI

A: At the end of pond season, just about everyone has some leftover supplies. Half-full canisters of natural bacteria, bottles of dye, algaecides and more—what do you do with all of it? Do they have expiration dates? And how do I keep them until next year? Here’s what you need to know about the shelf life of your favorite pond products.

PondClear™
When stored in a dry and sealed container that’s kept above freezing, the beneficial bacteria found in PondClear™ packets will be good for five years, so hold on to those leftovers! As long as water temperatures are above 50°F, the waste and muck reducer will work to break down debris. After they fall below that mark, stash your PondClear™ and keep it on hand to start off next pond season.

Dry Treatments
Like PondClear™ packets, Pond Dye packets, EcoBoost™ bacteria enhancer, MuckAway™ muck reducer and other dry bacteria products also have a five-year shelf life when stored in a garage or basement in a sealed, waterproof container.

Liquid Treatments, Chemicals
Certain liquid bacteria and chemicals, including PondClear™ liquid formula, Algae Defense® and Shoreline Defense®, have a two-year shelf life. Nature’s Blue™ Pond Dye or The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Pond Dye, too, has a shorter, two-year shelf life. If you’re not sure, check the product label for specifics. Note: This does not apply to chemicals that have been mixed in sprayer. These should be used immediately or properly disposed.

Whenever you buy a pond product like these with an expiration date, take a clue from folks who preserve tomatoes each year: Take a moment to jot down the date (month/year) on the container with a Sharpie. That way, you won’t have to try to remember when you bought what and whether it’s past its prime.

By properly labeling, storing and shelving these pond products until next year, you’ll get a start on next year’s pond season—and save yourself some money.

Pond Talk: Do you save products from year to year, or do you buy all new supplies in the spring?

Protects All Year, No Mixing Required - The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Pond Dye

 

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We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan – Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

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I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Bernie – Muskegon, MI

A: Those little bloodsuckers sure steal the fun, don’t they?

Hitching a ride with waterfowl, amphibians, small mammals—even your muck boots—leeches love living in mucky debris at the bottom of your pond. They settle in and wait for worms, snails, insect larvae, small water-loving animals and even humans to cruise by. When something looks tasty, they’ll use their suction cup-like mouths and teeth to latch on and feed on their blood.

Leeches aren’t necessarily bad for your pond or lake—in fact, they’re an important part of the food web. But they can be a nuisance, particularly if you use it for swimming or water sports.

Death by Winter Frost

During the winter, leeches don’t die. They ball up and burrow in the mud just below the frost line, nice and cozy, where they hibernate through the cold temperatures. In the spring, they’ll return to their bloodsucking ways.

If temperatures fall below freezing where you live, one wintertime leech-control trick is to manipulate the water level in your pond. Drop the water level at least 4 feet after ice has started to form on the pond. This will freeze the leeches that were living in the shallow underwater mud. It’s an effective method, but it could also kill other aquatic life burrowed in the mud.

Controlling Leeches

Sure, they’re part of the ecosystem, but no one likes climbing onto the dock with their legs covered in leeches, right? There are several ways to trap and control those bloodsuckers.

  1. Capture them in tiny traps. Punch leech-size holes in a coffee or aluminum can with a lid, bait it with raw chicken or fish heads, and position it in a shallow area of your pond. When the leeches climb in for a meal, they can’t escape because their full bellies will prevent them from exiting. Remove the can once it’s full and repeat until the leeches are gone.
  2. Control them with leech-grubbing fish. Your finned friends will savor the protein-rich treats. Fall is the perfect time to add more fish to your pond—and leech control is a perfect excuse to boost your game fish population. Red-ear sunfish are particularly fond of leeches.
  3. Change the habitat. Because leeches live in the muck and detritus in the shallow areas of your pond or lake, keep up with weed maintenance so you’re not creating a hospitable habitat for them. Remove shoreline vegetation with weed removal tools, cut and rake out dead organic debris from the water and add aeration to help break down the muck.

Pond Talk: How do you control leeches in your lake?

Keep Your Pond Water Moving - Airmax(r) Aeration Systems

 

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I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out?

Q: I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out?

Jack – Fairport, NY

A: Big lake? Blowing leaves? No problem! Though it might seem like an impossible task to keep those drifting fall leaves from landing in your pond or lake, it is possible to manage them even without the use of pond netting. With a little bit of planning you can use this three-step solution. Here’s what we recommend.

Step 1: Continue to Aerate

No, your aerator won’t blow away debris like your leaf blower, but it will help to circulate oxygen throughout the water column. An Airmax® Aeration System will keep your pond or lake healthy by removing dangerous gases like ammonia while delivering O2 to your fish and muck-eating beneficial bacteria.

Step 2: Put Bacteria to Work

Continual use of some beneficial bacteria like those found in Pond Logic® MuckAway™ throughout the fall will help decompose the leaves that have landed in your lake or pond. The bacteria-packed pellets sink below the water’s surface and instantly begin to digest muck, gobbling through leaves and improving water clarity.

Step 3: Manually Remove Debris

Because a net won’t fit over your lake, you should plan to manually remove fallen leaves and debris in addition to aerating and adding bacteria. Doing so will lessen the workload—and give you some good stuff to add to your compost pile. Tools that will make the job easy include:

    • Pond Rake: Perfect for mechanical control of weeds, algae, muck and debris, this 3-foot-wide aluminum rake comes with an 11-foot two-piece rust-proof powder-coated aluminum handle, detachable polyethylene float and a 20 feet length of polypropylene rope.
    • Heavy Duty Pond Net Combo: This heavy-duty handheld net includes a fish net, sludge/utility net and aluminum neoprene-grip handle that extends to more than 9 feet. The quick-change design makes switching between nets fast and easy.
    • PondSkim™: Remove floating debris quickly by dragging this skimmer across the surface of the water. It measures 5 feet wide and is constructed with a tough collection screen, a buoyant float, a sturdy abrasion-resistant lower crossbar and a 24-foot pull line.

It can be a challenge to prevent leaves from settling in a large pond or lake, but with a little planning and hard work, it can be done. Good luck!

Pond Talk: If you have a large pond or lake, what do you do to prevent copious amounts of leaves from landing in it and turning into muck?

Remove Leaves, Debris & Weeds - The Pond Guy® Pond & Beach Rake

 

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