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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 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

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

How do I divide my pond plants? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How do I divide my pond plants?

Q: How do I divide my pond plants?

Karen – Fort Worth, TX

A: It’s that time of year, isn’t it? After a long winter’s nap, your aquatic plants are a great place to start flexing that green thumb of yours. Potted water lilies and bog plants will need to be divided, but how you do so will depend on the type of plants you have. In general, bog plants will need to be divided every one to two years, and water lilies will need to be divided every two to three years.

Here are simplified, step-by-step instructions for how to divide your aquatic plants. Pull out your waders, pruning tools, extra plant baskets, planting media and garden hose – and let’s get to work!

Divide 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:

  1. Lift the pot or container out of the pond and gently remove the root mass.
  2. Use your garden hose to wash the soil off of the root mass and trim any dead leaves and foliage.
  3. Divide the root mass depending on the type of root system.
    • Clumping Roots – Like corkscrew rush, separate the roots into sections, leave some roots intact with each section.
    • Runner Roots – Like dwarf cattails, cut the runner root and leave the root base with each section of the plant.
    • Rhizomes – Like irises, simply divide them into sections.
  4. Replant each section of plant in its own container and dispose of any plant overgrowth.

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

  1. Lift the pot or container out of the pond, locate the tuber and gently remove it.
  2. Rinse off the soil, and trim away root growth and old foliage.
  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.
  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.
  5. Place your repotted lilies in a shallow area of your pond where only a few inches of water cover the plants.
  6. Once new growth appears, move the lilies to the deeper areas of your pond.

Fertilize and Tend
After you divide and replant 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. 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

What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring?

Q: What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring?

Jake – Grand Junction, CO

A: There’s nothing like spring cleaning – especially when it gives you a chance to remove some of that icky, slimy scum and debris that’s been growing on your waterfall, rocks and gravel all year-long. With the water drained from your pond (after your fish are safe in a temporary tub), you have easy access to those hard-to-clean spots. Here’s our two-step solution to scrub everything clean.

Step 1: Power Wash
Without a doubt, power washing with a pressure washer or high-pressure nozzle is the quickest way to blast debris off larger rocks and features. Once your pond is drained, and you’ve removed large debris and trimmed away dead plant material, start power washing from the top and work your way down, being careful to avoid growing plants and curious frogs. Some of that debris contains viable beneficial bacteria, so it’s OK to leave a little behind.

Because all that stuck-on debris is easier to remove when it’s wet, start power washing as soon as possible after your pond is drained. Believe us: It’s harder to clean off that debris once it’s dried out and crusty!

Step 2: Oxy-Lift
Next, use Oxy-Lift™ Defense® to lift and remove tough debris on larger rocks, waterfalls and streams by pouring it directly on the trouble spots. While you’re at it, sprinkle some on the smaller rocks and hard-to-power-wash gravel, too. You will instantly see it start to foam and remove stuck-on scum. After about 10 minutes or so, hose everything down, drain the dirty water and debris, and repeat as necessary; it might take a few cycles for a thorough clean-out.

After your pond is spick and span, your rocks and gravel are in place, and your plants are repositioned, fill it back up with water and add a chlorine remover or Stress Reducer PLUS to condition the water and make the freshly cleaned aquatic environment safe for your fish. While your filters and pond are being reestablished with beneficial bacteria, keep your finned pals on a light spring diet.

For more tips on how to perform a spring cleanout, check out our video that details what you need to do to prepare your pond for the warmer months.

Pond Talk: When your pond is drained while you’re spring cleaning, what other maintenance chores do you do?

Lift Debris Away from Rocks in Seconds - Pond Logic® Oxy-Lift™ Defense®

Why do koi have barbels? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Janice – Clear Creek, KY

A:  Koi have been growing trendy whiskers way before the hipsters made it cool! Those whiskers—or barbels—are a defining characteristic of the fish. Here’s what they are, what they do, and why the popular pond fish has them.

Super-Sensing Organ
Barbels are sensory organs not unlike whiskers in mammals. Rather than being used for tactile sensing, however, a fish’s barbels are used for taste. Koi, along with catfish, goatfish, hagfish, sturgeon, zebrafish, some species of shark and other carp, have barbels. They use these taste bud-covered organs to search for food in murky water.

Tasting Without Ingesting
Koi and other carp have four barbels, with two on each side of the koi’s mouth (termed “maxillary barbels”). The top two appear shorter than the lower two, but they all serve the same purpose: taste debris without actually ingesting it. Being omnivorous scavengers that forage along murky pond and river bottoms, it’s a good survival skill to have.

Weird Appendages
As spring approaches and you start feeding your finned pals some Spring and Fall Fish Food, take a closer look at these weird appendages. Most koi (except those with mutations) have barbels—even koi fry have them! So go grab a pond net, catch a koi or fingerling, and look closely to see them.

As with hipsters and their whiskers, they probably won’t like you playing with their barbels. But they’re still fun to look at!

Pond Talk: Are some of your koi’s barbels bigger than others?

Easy to Digest in Cooler Water - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food