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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 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?

Keep Pond Water Safe for Fish - API® Pond Master Test Kit

I’m tired of fighting algae. Will a UV take care of all the algae growth? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’m tired of fighting algae. Will a UV take care of all the algae growth?

Q: I’m tired of fighting algae. Will a UV take care of all the algae growth?

Cherice – Everett, GA

A: Who isn’t tired of battling algae!

Caused by excess fish waste and dead organics from leaves or previous algae blooms combined with excessive sunlight, all that garish green growth looks horrible, ruins your water quality, and creates a headache for you and your fish.

Is an ultraviolet clarifier the answer? It depends on the type of algae you’re trying to destroy.

Know Your Algae

The algae that forms in your pond comes in two basic flavors: planktonic and filamentous.

  • Planktonic algae, the source of pea soup algae blooms, are floating, microscopic plants that color pond water shades of green, blue-green, brown or variations in between. In controlled amounts, this type of algae can actually be beneficial. It’s considered the start of the pond food chain as the tiny plants feed fish inhabitants, and it can also shade the pond’s bottom, preventing subsurface nuisance plants from growing. In uncontrolled amounts, however, planktonic algae can cause oxygen depletions and fish kill.
  • Filamentous (string) algae are single-celled plants that form long, visible chain, threads or filaments. These threads, which start growing along the bottom of the pond in shallow water or on rocks or other aquatic plants, intertwine and form mats that resemble wet wool. When these mats rise to the surface, they’re commonly referred to as pond scum. These mats make great homes for micro- and macro-invertebrates, like bugs and worms, but they’re also unsightly.

UV clarifiers work by destroying the ultrafine planktonic algae – but, unfortunately, they do nothing to combat the filamentous algae. You’ll need a different strategy for the stringy stuff.

Battling Planktonic Algae

So how does ultraviolet light fight planktonic algae? When the algae cells are exposed to the bulb’s ultraviolet rays, radiation destroys the plants’ cellular walls. As a result, the tiny particles of dead algae clump together, and those clumps are then removed by your mechanical filtration system.

For the UV clarifier to work properly, however, follow these guidelines:

  • Replace bulbs yearly. Worn-out bulbs – even if they still light up – may not be as effective at controlling green water.
  • Watch your flow rate. Pushing water past the UV too fast can damage the unit and not allow enough contact time with the UV bulb for it to be effective.
  • Don’t flow too slow. Running a UV at too slow of a flow will act as a sterilizer and may also have a negative affect on natural bacteria meant to help decompose dead organics and fish waste.

Finding Balance

If you have an algae problem, be it planktonic or filamentous, it indicates your pond is out of balance. An ultraviolet clarifier should actually be one of your last tactics! Add some beneficial bacteria from the Pond Logic® DefensePAC® Pond Care Package to help reduce the amount of organics in your pond. Start aerating the water. Consider using pond dye. If you have a thriving fish population, think about finding a new home for them (but don’t release them into the wild!). Manage the nutrients, sunlight and oxygen levels, and your algae proliferation should naturally level out on its own.

Pond Talk: How dependent are you on your ultraviolet clarifier?

Quickly Clear Discolored Water - The Pond Guy® PowerUV™

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?

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 The Pond Guy® 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.

Just Add Salt

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?

Improve Gill Function & Reduce Stress - The Pond Guy® Pond Salt

I’m starting my pond up for spring. Do I need to leave my aerator running? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’m starting my pond up for spring. Do I need to leave my aerator running?

Q: I’m starting my pond up for spring. Do I need to leave my aerator running?

Nikki – Glen Forney, PA

A:  As winter gives way to the sunny days of spring and summer, you should absolutely plan to leave your aerator running. That water-churning system that benefits your pond over the cold months will also benefit your pond during the summer—and then some.

Winter Bubbles
As most pond owners know, an aerator, like The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit, used during the winter serves two purposes: to aid de-icers in creating and keeping a hole in the ice, and to circulate water to vent gases when filtration systems are shut down for the season. The circulation also encourages contact between the water and the environment, which will increase the dissolved oxygen level in your pond.

Summer Aeration
In the summer, aeration provides some extra benefits. Besides moving the water and boosting the oxygen level in the water molecules, aeration does these things:

  • Circulates the water in areas where filtration may not reach, preventing stagnation and low-oxygen pockets in your pond. Filtration systems only move the top of the water column, not the bottom. But an aerator works from the bottom up, circulating the water and increasing dissolved oxygen levels throughout the pond.
  • Keeps oxygen distributed throughout the water column much more efficiently than a water feature, like a waterfall, spitter or stream.
  • Provides bubbly camouflage in which fish can hide.
  • Stirs up debris on the pond bottom, allowing it to be filtered out or broken down by beneficial bacteria. If that debris is allowed to collect, muck will build up and release harmful gases as the organic materials decompose.
  • Helps beneficial bacteria thrive and flourish, thanks to the circulation and oxygen. Higher oxygen levels stimulate and increase the number of natural aerobic bacteria living in your pond. More bacteria means more efficient filtration.

As you’re prepping your pond for spring, jump start the season with DefensePAC® Pond Care Package. It contains Oxy-Lift™ Defense®, Nature’s Defense®, Clarity Defense®, Muck Defense® and Seasonal Defense® — everything you’ll need for spring cleaning, bacteria boosting and water clarifying.

Aeration definitely has its benefits, no matter what the season. If you want a balanced ecosystem with healthier fish and plants, keep your aerator running.

Pond Talk: Have you started up your pond yet? What’s on your spring to-do list?

Enhance Oxygen Levels All Year - The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit

Do you have any tips for adding plants to my pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Do you have any tips for adding plants to my pond?

Q: Do you have any tips for adding plants to my pond?

Patricia – Charlestown, WV

A: Water lilies and lotus … blue flag iris … hyacinth … so many aquatic plants, so little time. A pond full of these colorful beauties – along with the hardworking, submerged oxygenators – adds splendor and life to your waterscape. Not only that, but birds will visit, bugs will buzz through and aquatic critters will stop by, attracted by the blooms and foliage.

Like your terrestrial garden, a water garden needs some planning and forethought; without it, you could end up with an aquatic jungle. Here’s what we recommend for adding plants to your pond.

Choose Wisely
Before you get your feet wet (and your hands dirty!), first consider what types of plants you want in your water feature and how many you’ll need.

Aquatic plants are typically categorized by their function in a pond. They include floating plants, like water hyacinth and water lettuce, that have roots that reach down from the water’s surface; submerged plants, like vallisneria and hornwort, that live on the pond’s bottom and release oxygen into the water; bog plants, like cattails and iris, that ring the perimeter of the pond; and water lilies and lotus, which provide dramatic surface color and underwater shade.

When browsing for plants, select a mixture of floating, submerged, bog and lilies/lotus, with the goal of covering about 60 percent of your water’s surface. A sample plant shopping list for a 50-square-foot pond looks something like this:

  • 6 to 12 floating plants
  • Several submerged plants
  • 2 bog plants
  • 1 water lily

Don’t forget to add aquatic plant media, fertilizer and containers, like pots, plant bags, planting baskets and floating planters , to your list. You’ll need them when you transplant and care for the new greenery. Speaking of which …

Planting How-To
Once you’ve planned out and purchased your plants, it’s time to move them in to your water garden. The different types of aquatic plants need to be handled differently:

  • Floating Plants: Simply place these easy-care plants in the water. They will float freely and take up nutrients through their root systems.
  • Submerged Plants: Grow these underwater plants in plant bags or other planters. Fill your container with planting material, plant several bunches of them together and submerge into the desired section of your pond. Another option: Tie a bunch to a weight and drop it into the pond, using one bunch for every 2 square feet of surface area. Their roots will take up nutrients from the water.
  • Bog Plants: Best grown in containers filled with aquatic plant media, bog plants like their roots wet. Position them around the edges of your pond in 6-inch-deep water, or inside your pond with a floating island planter.
  • Water Lilies and Lotuses: These beauties thrive in pots, like those found in our Water Lily and Water Lotus Planting Kits. To transplant, fill your tub with clay and a clay/soil mix, and add some aquatic planting media on top. Position the tuber inside the soil with growing tip pointed up. Submerge the pot so the plant’s tip is 3 to 6 inches deep. Once the plant starts to grow and its leaves reach the water’s surface, place the pot in a deeper area of your pond.

Feed for Healthy Growth
Your newly planted plants will need nutrients for beautiful blooms, so don’t forget the fertilizer! Aquatic plant fertilizers come in two forms: spikes and tabs.

Fertilizer spikes, like Laguna Plant Grow Fertilizer Spikes, slowly release plant food over a 12-month period. The balanced nutrients encourage foliage growth, root growth and flower production, while their low phosphorous and no-copper formula ensures no adverse effects to fish, plants or water quality. Spikes are easy to use: Push them into the soil (one for every 1 to 2 gallons of planting container space) and forget about them until next year.

Tabs, like CrystalClear® Thrive™, feed aquatic plants throughout their growing season. As with the spikes, the balanced nutrients in tabs encourage greenery and bloom production, but they need to be added to the soil every 2-4 weeks for best results. Use one tablet to two tablets per gallon of potted soil, and push it deep into the media 3 inches from the crown of the plant. Pack the hole with dirt to prevent the fertilizer from being released into the water, and you’re good until next month.

Pond Talk: How do you choose what plants to add to your water garden?

Essential Nutrients for Your Plants - CrystalClear® Thrive™ Plant Fertilizer

Is it time to start feeding the fish? They look hungry. | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Is it time to start feeding the fish? They look hungry.

Q: Is it time to start feeding the fish? They look hungry.

Ruth – Altoona, PA

A: Talk about feeling hungry! If your fish are actively (or anxiously!) swimming around your water garden, nibbling and tasting your budding plants, and gazing at you forlornly as you eat your peanut butter sandwich pondside, it sounds like your finned pals are ready for some grub after their long winter fast.

Signs like these are telling, but to make sure your fish are ready to start eating regular food again, here are some guidelines to follow.

Take Your Pond’s Temperature

Last fall when water temperatures fell below 40 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer, your fishes’ metabolisms slowed way down. For the next few months, they rested in a hibernation-type state when they fasted and lived off the fat stores in their body. They needed no food from you – in fact, feeding them when they’re hibernating can make them very sick.

Now that spring has finally arrived and the sun has warmed your pond’s water to 40 to 50 degrees F, your fishes’ metabolism has kicked back into gear. They’re swimming around and searching for food to fuel their increased activity levels. Begin feeding your fish up to 3 times per week, and only what can be consumed in a 5 minute period. They will need a wheat germ food that’s easy to digest, like The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food. Packed with plant-based nutrients, the diet will satiate their hunger, and stimulate growth and fertility.

Pump Up the Protein

Late spring and summer bring even warmer 50 degree-plus water temperatures, and that’s when you can switch your fishes’ diet to one that will help them develop and build some serious bulk. If growing big koi and goldfish is your goal, feed your scaled friends a high-protein diet, like The Pond Guy® Growth & Vibrance Fish Food. It contains 38 percent protein for maximum growth and includes ingredients that will make their colors pop.

If you want to simply maintain their size while supporting their health, offer them The Pond Guy® Staple Fish Food. Perfect for all pond fish, the summer staple diet contains a balanced diet of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It’s easily digestible and designed for everyday feeding. Plus, it floats – so it makes mealtime fun for you and your fish!

Check the Forecast

Mother Nature has fun with weather – particularly with temperature fluctuations in the spring – so be sure to check the long-term forecast before you start feeding your fish on a regular schedule. Ideally, the weather should be consistently keeping the water a warm 40 to 50 degrees F. At that point, feed slowly to make sure they’re consuming the food at a steady pace and increase the amount as they’re ready.

Happy feeding!

Pond Talk: What are your fishes’ favorite mealtime treats?

Perfect For Cool Weather Feeding - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food

I know you aren’t supposed to wash your filter, but how can I stop it from getting plugged? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I know you aren’t supposed to wash your filter, but how can I stop it from getting plugged?

Q: I know you aren’t supposed to wash your filter, but how can I stop it from getting plugged?

Jeannie – Omaha, NE

A:  Your pond filter is home to countless natural, beneficial bacteria that break down toxins in the water. It’s also home to globs of slimy gunk and debris that clog your filtration system. So how do you clean house without evicting those valuable microorganisms? We have a seven-step solution.

1. Clean Your Skimmer
First, keep an eye on your mechanical skimmer filter and clean it out as often as needed. This part of your filter is not intended to remove tiny particulates, so use lower-density filter media that will keep large debris out of your pump. Too-dense media will plug more easily and slow the flow.

2. Empty Debris Baskets
When your mechanical skimmer filter’s debris baskets and nets fill up with leaves and other material, clean them out. If they’re full, the water is forced around the debris dam and potentially carrying larger pieces that could create more plugs elsewhere in your filtration system.

3. Vary Media Densities
Use a variety of filter media densities, like those offered by Matala®, and stack them so that the water flows from lowest to highest densities. By mixing them, you have plenty of surface area for bacteria growth but better water flow with less frequent plugging.

4. Layer Media Wisely
Speaking of media densities, don’t go crazy with too many layers. If you have more than two or three layers of filter mat in addition to BioBalls™ or other media, you may be slowing the flow and leaving lots of places for debris to get stuck. A couple of layers is all you really need.

5. Seed with Bacteria
After you’ve hosed down your filter’s media pads, help the remaining bacteria boost their population levels by seeding the pads with bacteria found in Microbe-Lift® PL Gel. They’ll start reproducing right away and quickly help to better decompose debris.

6. Keep Pond Sludge-Free
Sludge is the enemy, so do what you can to keep it from building up in your pond. Use a pond vacuum to suck up large debris and DefensePAC® to break down fine debris; doing so will help with water quality and remove material that would otherwise need to be handled by your filter.

7. Balance Your Pond
Finally, take a look at your pond’s fish-to-plant ratio. More fish means more waste (and a clogged filter), while more plants means better-filtered water. Don’t overwork your filter by keeping an unbalanced pond. Let plants help do the work – naturally! – and keep your fish load to a minimum.

Pond Talk: What tricks do you have for preventing a plugged filter?

Four Densities for Every Filtration Need - Matala® Filter Media Pads