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The pH level in my pond always reads high. What can I do to reduce it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: The pH level in my pond always reads high. What can I do to reduce it?

Q: The pH level in my pond always reads high. What can I do to reduce it?

Mike – Forest Hills, NY

A: Your pond’s pH – or potential hydrogen – level is an important measurement to understand because it affects the health of those things swimming around in the water. If your pH level is too high or too low, it could affect your fishes’ ability to reproduce, fight disease and metabolize food. It can also impact the well-being of other living things in your pond, like plants, amphibians and other aquatic critters.

A pH test, like the one found in the API® Pond Master Test Kit, can reveal a lot about your pond. But what does a high or low pH reading mean, and how can you adjust its level – or should you just leave it alone? Read on to learn more about understanding your pH level and how to change it.

Potential Hydrogen Defined

In super simple terms, pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a water body is on a scale from 0 to 14. Pure water is neutral. It has a pH close to 7.0 at 77 degrees F. Blood is also close to neutral. Ammonia’s pH is ~11, which is high on the alkaline charts, while stomach acid’s pH is ~1, which acidic enough to burn through your chewed-up chow.

Adjusting to a Proper pH

You don’t have to keep your pond at a perfect 7.0 pH all the time. In fact, an acceptable pH reading for a pond is 6.5 – 8.5, so if your score falls in this range you need not make any changes at all. If it’s outside those levels, however, you will need to make some adjustments. Here are some ways to reduce your pH:

  1. Partial Water Change: Replacing some of your pond water with fresh water is one way to reduce your pH. Remember to treat with water with a conditioner, like The Pond Guy® Stress Reducer PLUS, to remove impurities and heavy metals that could be harmful to your fish.
  2. Use pH Reducer: If you need to adjust your pH using a pH stabilizer like pH Lift or pH Drop, apply enough treatment to shift the levels 0.5 at a time, wait several hours before re-treating, and test the waters often with your API® Pond Master Test Kit.
  3. Test Your Water: Try testing your tap water, especially if you’re on a well. If the pH is high from your well, then your pond will stay at about that level and you won’t be able to do much to treat it.
  4. Try Clarity Defense®: A water clarifier like Clarity Defense® can help to add trace minerals while buffering pH to promote stable levels and prevent swings. Plus, it clears cloudy water by locking up excess nutrients and allowing your filter to remove them.

Try these tricks to reduce the pH levels in your pond – but remember to do so very gradually. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How often do you test the pH levels in your pond?

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I started off with 4-inch koi and now they’re 8 inches. How big will they get before they stop growing? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I started off with 4-inch koi and now they’re 8 inches. How big will they get before they stop growing?

Q: I started off with 4-inch koi and now they’re 8 inches. How big will they get before they stop growing?

Lauren – Lincoln, NE

A: In an ideal environment—a supersize space with pristine water conditions at a stable 75 degrees Fahrenheit—an adult koi can reach a whopping 3 feet long. A yard! Nearly a full meter! Yep, that’s a really big fish.

Don’t worry: Chances are slim that your finned pal will grow to that immense length, but you can help it reach its full potential. Koi will keep growing and growing throughout their lives, sometimes faster than others. How fast and large they grow depend on several factors, including:

  • Water quality. Clean water pumped full of oxygen will promote a fish’s health and growth, while poor water quality can stunt its growth. Koi will tolerate a dirty, cloudy environment, but their development and vitality will suffer. Make sure you have an aeration kit in place and are using beneficial bacteria from the DefensePAC® to keep the water crystal clear.
  • Water temperature. A steady 75° F will keep koi in a more active growth state where they’re building muscle and body mass like crazy. Cooler or fluctuating water temperatures trigger a slower growth rate as they slow down their metabolism and activity level. If you live anywhere other than in the tropics, expect to see slower growth in the winter months.
  • Nutrition. Food—and how much of it they eat—matters. Fish food that’s packed with protein and vitamins is formulated to help koi grow and develop. Some also contain ingredients that boost your fish’s vibrant colors.
  • Genetics. Genes play a huge role in how large a koi could grow in the right conditions. Colossal parents often produce colossal offspring, and if those fry live in a spacious pond with clean, aerated water and good food, who knows how big they’ll get!
  • Age. Like most living things, koi develop faster when they’re young and slower as they age. Your 4-inch koi quickly doubled in size because they’re still adolescents; as they get older, their growth rate will slow down.

If you have big plans for your koi, give them an ideal ecosystem and good grub. Your colorful friends may not reach that 3- or 4-foot mark—but you never know!

Pond Talk: What’s the largest koi you’ve ever had—or seen in person?

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My fish’s fins are starting to look red. Do they have fin rot? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My fish’s fins are starting to look red. Do they have fin rot?

Q: My fish’s fins are starting to look red. Do they have fin rot?

Rita – Caney, KS

A: Inflamed, red patched on its fins … faded color on its fin tips … frayed, decaying tissue around its mouth or fins … yep, it sounds like your fish pals are fighting fin rot.

One of the most common and preventable diseases in pond and aquarium fish, fish rot typically starts around the edges of the fins and gradually destroys more tissue until it reaches the fin base. It also can make a fish lethargic, lose its appetite and, depending on the disease’s severity, spread to other areas of its body.

If caught early, however, fin rot can be cured. Here’s what you need to know about its cause, treatment and prevention.

Causes of Fin Rot

Fin rot is caused by several different types of bacteria, including Aeromonas, Psudomonas and Vibrio, that eat the delicate membranes of the fish’s fin, leaving behind the fin rays. The frayed, damaged tissue is then susceptible to secondary fungal infections, which exacerbate the sickness.

The root cause of fin rot can most often be traced to its environment. Poor water quality, low oxygen levels and overcrowding set up a perfect situation for bacterial overgrowth and disease proliferation. Fish with compromised immune systems living in that type of environment are particularly vulnerable to fin rot.

Treating Sick Fish

To treat the sick fish, start by moving it into a separate holding tank. Give it an anti-bacterial treatment, such as CrystalClear® WipeOut™, that’s formulated to prevent and control fin rot. Be sure to add plenty of aeration and circulation to the water, as well as some Stress Reducer PLUS or Pond Salt (1 teaspoon per 5 gallons of water) to soothe its stress and help it recover faster.

Eliminate the bacterial threat from your pond by improving water quality. First, test your water for ammonia, high nitrates and high nitrites, and check the pH level, and correct as necessary. Then clean out any decaying plant matter from the pond with net or vacuum, check and clean your filter and skimmer, and do a 20 to 50 percent water change. Make sure your aeration system is working properly and, if possible, crank it up.

Once water conditions have improved, you should begin to see your fish’s fins regenerate. Depending on the degree of fin rot, it can take several weeks to several months for the fins to look normal again, however some scarring or discoloration may occur.

Preventing Fin Rot

With a few preventive measures, you can keep your pond fin-rot free. We recommend this three-step approach:

  1. Evaluate Your Pond: Take an honest look at your setup. Do you have sufficient filtration and aeration? Are there too many fish in your pond? Do you (or family members) feed them too often, causing poor water quality? Improve equipment where needed. Find new homes for aggressive or overabundant fish. And try to limit mealtime to once a day.
  2. Maintain Water Quality with Natural Bacteria: The microscopic beneficial bacteria found in DefensePAC® Pond Care Packages will help break down excess waste, uneaten food and decomposing organics. When used as directed, you’ll see improved water quality and clarity – and healthier fish.
  3. Aerate and Circulate: Air pumped through an aerator boosts oxygen levels in your pond and improves the health of your fish. If you have a waterfall, consider adding a small aerator, like our Water Garden Aeration Kit, at the other end of your pond.

Though your fish are showing signs of fin rot, you can help them recover with quarantine, treatment and regular pond maintenance. Good luck!

Pond Talk: Have your fish survived a bout of fin rot? How did you treat them?

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Isn’t the waterfall enough aeration for my pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Isn’t the waterfall enough aeration for my pond?

Q: Isn’t the waterfall enough aeration for my pond?

Staci – Bethel, VT

A: As your waterfall gurgles and churns gallons of water, it would certainly appear that your pond is getting plenty of aeration. All that action does, in fact, help with gas exchange and infuse oxygen into the water. But it isn’t always enough, especially if you run your waterfall pump for a short time during the day.

If a pond isn’t aerated enough, expect to see these telltale signs:

  • Algae Battles: Algae thrive in calm water that’s devoid of – and in need of – oxygen and beneficial bacteria. If you regularly fight algae blooms, that means your pond is out of balance and could use some additional oxygen and movement throughout the entire water column.
  • Oxygen-Starved Fish: Fish that need more oxygen will hang out beneath your waterfall, where oxygen supplies are the densest. They may also be coming to the water surface, gulping and gasping for breaths of air because there’s not enough in their environment.
  • Too Many Fish: The general rule for a fish population in a pond is to allow 1 inch of fish per square foot of surface area. If you have too many fish, or your existing population has outgrown their space, aeration is critical to their health and well being.
  • Stagnant Water, Mosquito Boom: Is the water stagnant in certain areas of your pond? Are you suffering through a mosquito boom in your backyard? These little pests prefer to lay their eggs and raise their young in still water – so you might have created a perfect mosquito habitat!
  • Muck Accumulation: Decomposing plant matter and fish waste build up when the water is still and your biological filtration system can’t keep up. That muck feeds the algae blooms, which create more muck.

Do any of these ring true? If so, your waterfall or stream is not providing enough aeration for your pond. An aeration system can help. The Airmax® PondAir™ Water Garden Aeration Kit is designed for smaller water gardens up to 2,000 gallons and The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit is designed for water gardens and koi ponds that are up to 4,000 gallons. Both whisper-quiet systems can be run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing your finned pals and beneficial bacteria plenty of oxygen and water movement.

Pond Talk: Have you noticed any of these issues in your water garden?

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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?

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!

3. Add More Slowly

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!

5. Share – or Upgrade!

If your pond is overpopulated already, you have two options: Share some of your fish with a friend (or two!), or do some upgrades in either your filtration system or your pond itself.

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 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?

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My pond was a mess, so I drained and refilled it. Now I have algae. What do I do? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My pond was a mess, so I drained and refilled it. Now I have algae. What do I do?

Q: My pond was a mess, so I drained and refilled it. Now I have algae. What do I do?

Beth – Benton, AR

A: Sometimes it’s just easier to start from scratch – particularly if you have a disaster in your pond.

A complete water change rids your water feature of excess organic waste, clears up murky water (briefly, as you’ve discovered) and gives you a chance to start over with a clean slate. Those are some worthy benefits!

The urge to purge, however, has its drawbacks. If you’ve completely drained the water from your pond and scrubbed everything clean, you’ve also stripped a lot of the beneficial bacteria that was working to help clean the pond in the first place! The algae that’s growing now is most likely due to fish waste and a lack of mature filtration.

To return your pond to its crystal-clear state, here’s what we recommend.

  1. Decide how bad it really is: Believe it or not, some algae in your pond is natural and beneficial as it helps filter the water. Make sure your expectations are in line with the reality of having a pond, and then let the pond take its natural course with a little help from you. But be patient! The Nitrogen Cycle will eventually help clear things up naturally – but it takes time. If your water quality begins to suffer a few weeks in, think about doing a partial water change and/or following these additional suggestions.
  2. Treat if necessary: If the algae is becoming excessive, treat the algae growth with an algaecide in the morning or evening when water temperatures are cooler. In addition, make sure you have adequate aeration to ensure oxygen levels stay high for your finned friends.
  3. Seed Your Filter Media: To kick-start the regrowth and reproduction of beneficial bacteria in your pond, add some DefensePAC® to your pond and filter. The package contains Nature’s Defense®, which instantly begins breaking down dead organics in the pond; Clarity Defense®, which helps clear debris suspended in the water column; and Muck Defense®, which attacks buildup on the liner, rocks and gravel.
  4. Condition the water: When you refill your pond with water, be sure to use Stress Reducer PLUS to condition the water and reduce fish stress. It helps your fish form a beneficial slime coat that’s lost from stress or handling, and it also makes tap water safe by working to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals.
  5. Learn from the situation: Instead of letting your pond fall into its “mess” state again, figure out why it wound up in that situation in the first place. Are there too many fish living in your pond? Is your filter too small for your pond’s volume and fish load? Do you need more plants growing in and filtering the water? Does your pond receive too much sun or rain runoff? Dig down to the root cause of the problem and correct it!

In the future, if you find your pond’s water quality waning, consider doing a partial water change instead of a complete water change. A little fresh water will go far to clear things up without having to start completely over!

Pond Talk: Have you ever had to restart your pond from scratch?

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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?

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