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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™

My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Richard – Avon, IN

A:  A UV bulb is one of your best weapons in the battle against discolored water. When those ultra-fine particles are exposed to the bulb’s ultraviolet rays the tiny particles clump together, and those clumps are then removed by your mechanical filtration system.

What’s left behind is clean, clear water – as long as the bulb is working efficiently.

For your UV clarifier to work its best, it will need a new ultraviolet bulb every year. Even though the bulb still illuminates and appears to be working, its effectiveness decreases over time. Your best bet is to replace it when you do your annual spring cleanout, and plan to do so again year after year.

Spring Cleaning

In addition to switching out the bulb, take some time to check the quartz sleeve or glass tube that’s housing the bulb. Does it need a good cleaning? Debris can build up on the glass, preventing those powerful UV rays from penetrating the water as it passes through the filter. Use as soft cloth and a descaler (if needed) to scrub off the buildup.

Filter Check

While you’re at it, check your biological filter media and mechanical filter components, like the skimmer, pump sock and prefilters. Do they need to be cleaned or replaced? Even though your ultraviolet clarifier is tackling most of the discolored water, your filtration system is still responsible for removing the debris. Make sure they’re in good working order before the algae blooms in the spring.

Maintain a Balanced Pond

UV clarifiers do a great job at clearing water, but an even better solution is to maintain a balanced pond the first place. Reduce excessive nutrients by reducing the number of fish in your pond, minimizing the amount of food you feed them and cleaning up the waste they produce, as well as regularly removing the built-up detritus.

Pond Talk: How often do you replace your UV bulb?

Eliminate Discolored Water - The Pond Guy® PowerUV™

I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it?

Q: I have a small pondless fountain that’s cloudy and slimy. What can I use to clean it?

Stephanie – Covington, GA

A:  Pondless, fishless water features are known for being low maintenance – but even they get slimy and scummy and in need of some attention. Dust and debris blow into the water, leaves and twigs somehow find their way into the basin, and algae starts to grow on the surfaces. As all that stuff builds up and breaks down, you’re left with a mess.

Good thing it’s an easy problem to manage. Because you have no pond and no resident fish to consider, there’s no need to worry about de-chlorinators, test kits, filtration systems and all that nonsense (although adding a filter always helps, even in a fishless feature). Here’s what you’ll need to do to keep your fountain clean and clear:

  1. Give It a Good Scrub-Down: First, give your feature a thorough cleaning. Shut down the pump, empty the water basin and use a cleaner like Oxy-Lift™ Defense® to break down debris and speed cleaning. Once you’re done scrubbing and rinsing, refill the reservoir with fresh water.
  2. Move It Out of the Sun: Full sunlight will encourage the growth of gunk so, if possible, move your feature to a sun-free spot or shade it from the UV rays with an umbrella or covering. Doing so will keep the fountain cleaner for a longer span of time. Which leads us to No. 3 …
  3. Keep It Clean: Finally, once it’s scrubbed and moved to a protected spot, keep it clean! We recommend our FeatureFix™ & FeatureClear™ Combo. It includes FeatureClear™, which contains concentrated beneficial bacteria that digest organic debris; and FeatureFix™, which eliminates discolored water with a fast-acting formula designed for pondless features. It’s easy to use: Simply remove excess debris from the feature, shake the FeatureFix™ or FeatureClear™ well, and pour into the water. FeatureClear™ works best when temperatures are above 50°F, but FeatureFix™ works no matter the temperature.

Easy-to-maintain pondless water features, birdbaths and fountains allow you to enjoy the aesthetics of flowing water with minimal work, but these simple steps will ensure your water stays clear and your fountain remains slime-free.

Pond Talk: Do you keep your pondless water feature running all year long?

Keep Water Features Crystal Clear - FeatureClear™ & FeatureFix™ Combo

My water is brown. Should I use carbon and, if so, what is the best way to apply it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My water is brown. Should I use carbon and, if so, what is the best way to apply it?

Q: My water is brown. Should I use carbon and, if so, what is the best way to apply it?

Lisa – Gresham, OR

A:  Brown water can destroy a beautiful landscape.

That tea-colored water is typically caused by one of two things: tannins being released by dead leaves, similar to what happens when you steep your chamomile tea; or an optical illusion caused by reflected decomposing pond debris. The two causes have two different solutions. Here’s what we recommend.

Inspect Water

First, take a closer look at the water. Dip a clear glass in the water and hold it up to the light. If the water looks discolored, you’ve got tannin tea; if it’s clear, you’re dealing with a mucky pond.

Clearing Tannin Tea

Carbon is your solution for clearing brown water. Pond Logic® Activated Carbon comes with a fine-mesh bag, which holds the carbon pellets when they’re submerged. It’s easy to use:

  1. Pour the recommended amount of pellets into the bag. A 500-gallon pond, for example, requires 2 to 3 pounds while a 1,000-gallon pond requires 4 to 6 pounds.
  2. Place the bag in a high water-flow area, like your skimmer or waterfall, so as much water as possible flows through the carbon.
  3. Wait for the carbon to do its job! Once the discoloration has disappeared, you can remove the carbon and discard it.

Cleaning Up the Muck

If you have a mucky pond, natural beneficial bacteria and some elbow grease will make your water sparkle again.

  1. Pond Logic® Season Defense®, which works well in cooler fall weather, contains microorganisms that help break down the muck and accumulated debris at the bottom of your pond.
  2. Giving your pond a good old-fashioned cleaning can help, too. Removing the muck and decomposing organics with a pond vacuum or net will give those bacteria a chance to focus on breaking down the small stuff.

Pond Talk: How have you removed brown water from your pond?

Safely Clear Tea Colored Water - Pond Logic® Activated Carbon

I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick?

Q: I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick?

April – Colorado Springs, CO

A:  Prevention really is the best medicine—and that’s true for humans as well as fish. Keeping your pond clean, filtered and well aerated is a great start at preventing disease, but there’s more you can do to ensure your finned friends stay happy and healthy. Here’s what we prescribe:

  • Vacuum Debris: Decomposing organic matter gathered at the bottom of your pond can be home to all sorts of parasites, fungus and bacteria. It’ll affect water quality and fish health, so use a ClearVac™ pond vacuum as needed to suck up all that sludge, debris and algae.
  • Add Natural Bacteria: In addition to vacuuming up debris, use the all-natural beneficial bacteria found in the DefensePAC® to help clear the water column, and break down and remove muck and organic waste.
  • Don’t Stress: When you do water changes in your pond, be sure to add some Stress Reducer PLUS to the pond to keep your fish stress-free. The water conditioner detoxifies heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines, and it promotes a healthy slime coat—which will keep your fish’s immune system functioning swimmingly.
  • Toss Them Some Salt: Pond salt, at low concentrations, will help soothe your fish, build their slime coats and improve their gill function. Here’s how to determine how much pond salt to add to your pond.
  • Add Aeration: Fish need fresh oxygen just like humans, and the best way to do that is with an aeration kit. It pumps O2 into the water and keeps the water moving—two things that ensure a healthy environment for your fish.
  • Quarantine Newbies: Before you add new fish to your pond, keep them in a quarantine tank for two to four weeks to be sure they have no infectious (or contagious!) diseases.
  • Knock It Out: Fish fungus, parasites and ick can be treated with KnockOut™ PLUS as a 7 day treatment or as a preventative measure.

If your fish are showing signs of illness, chances are good that it’s due to stress or water quality. Unless you see visible signs of a disease, test your water quality with a test kit and then do a partial water change (25 percent or so) to help relieve your fish’s stress.

If you do see visible signs of disease, like red patches, sores, white spots, odd behavior or anything else out of the ordinary, identify the problem using our Common Fish Diseases and Treatments chart and treat accordingly.

After you’ve identified any disease and begun treatment, take some time to reevaluate your pond routine. Did something change that caused (or led to) the illness? Sick fish are no fun. Do what you can to keep them healthy—but know what to do when they’re under the weather.

Pond Talk: Have you ever nursed a sick fish back to health?

Prevent Infection & Heal Tissue - Pond Logic® Stress Reducer PLUS

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?

Energy Efficient Design For 24-7 Use - The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit

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 Pond Logic® 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?

Prevent pH Swings & Keep Fish Safe - Pond Logic® Clarity Defense®