Pond Maintenance

Although a properly designed water feature is low-maintenance and works with Mother Nature, on occasion it needs a little nurturing. Just like anything else you find in nature, a pond has different needs at various times of the year. We break it down and make it simple for you to understand so that your pond is truly low-maintenance year-round.

Spring Maintenance

The most important spring maintenance task is cleaning your pond. A pond cleanout should be performed annually, in the spring before the water temperatures climb above 55°.

summer maintenance

During the hot summer months, the biggest priority for pond owners is keeping the algae under control! This can be achieved by preventative maintenance and natural algaecides.

Fall maintenance

Leaves will fall into your pond during the Autumn months and can settle onto the pond floor, leading to debris buildup which can cause algae and unsightly water conditions.

Winter maintenance

Your pond goes into dormancy during the winter months, and your fish will go into hibernation. Make sure you keep a hole in the pond for gasses to escape and for aeration.

Spring Pond Maintenance

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The snow is melting, the birds are chirping, and the sun that you've been missing has finally decided to show its face. In order to keep your pond functioning properly, you may want to give your pond a fresh start by giving it a spring clean-out.

Spring algae blooms occur because of excess nutrients and deficient amounts of beneficial bacteria. In a clean-out, the stale pond water is replaced with fresh, clean water that is ready for bacterial colonization. Spring clean-outs replenish the water in a pond and allow it to begin a fresh, new season. Since a balanced ecosystem keeps the pond healthy the rest of the year, an annual clean-out gets it off to the right start.

Ideally, you would start your spring clean-out early in the spring before the water temperature creeps up above 50°F. At this temperature, your pond hasn't begun it's annual balance, and the fish are not as active so the clean-out won't be so stressful to them.

Every pond is different, and some ponds do not require an annual clean-out. Spring clean-outs are recommended annually for most Northern ponds because of the debris that can build up over the winter. If your pond is larger than 2,000 square feet, it might only need a clean-out every few years. And larger ponds may never need a complete clean-out because any impurities present are minimal compared to the volume of water in the pond. The larger the pond, the easier it is to maintain (just like a fish tank).

The best way to tell whether your pond needs to be cleaned out? If the water looks the same in the early spring as it did the previous summer, it's probably okay to skip the clean-out.

Now it's time to roll up your sleeves, put your waders on, and get ready to clean out your pond!

Spring pond clean-outs

Checklist of Materials for Your Pond Clean-out

If you're planning to get your hands dirty with a spring clean-out, here is a list of materials that may be helpful when you're in the trenches. Being prepared ahead of time will prevent the need to run to the store in the middle of your clean-out project. Here's a handy list of things you may need before strapping on you hip boots and wading in:

  • Kiddie pool (or similar, large container to hold fish and frogs)
  • Net to cover fish container to prevent them from jumping out
  • Fish net to catch the fish before the clean-out
  • Lily tabs - might as well fertilize those lilies while you're in there!
  • Two-five gallon buckets for collecting leaves and debris
  • Wading boots or old clothes you don't mind getting dirty
  • Rubber gloves
  • 25 feet of 1.5 to 2-inch discharge piping
  • A high-pressure nozzle for your garden hose or a power washer
  • Garden shears for trimming plants
  • Bacteria
  • Dechlorinator if you're filling your pond with city water
  • Extra rocks/pebbles to cover exposed liner
  • Expanding foam to fill in any necessarily spots
  • New filter mats, if needed

Now that you know why you should do a clean-out, your next step is to learn how to do a clean-out. Now don't worry - it's really not as complicated - just a little dirty. If you follow a few easy steps, your clean-out can be done quickly and easily. Check out these easy-to-follow steps.

10 Steps to a Successful Spring Clean-out

  1. Start Draining the Pond - We rent out a professional Clean-out Pump for those who are tackling their own clean-outs. Call us at (253) 863-3499 for rates and availability. Be sure you use some of the pond water to fill a container with pond water for the fish. 
  2. Disconnect the Circulation System - This will allow the water in the plumbing to drain out.
  3. Catch the Fish - Drain the pond down to the lowest shelf in order to catch fish easily and safely.
  4. Remove Debris - Once the pond is drained, remove the large debris like leaves and twigs.
  5. Wash the Pond - A 1,500 psi pressure washer or a high-pressure nozzle on a garden hose is recommended for pond cleaning.
  6. Rinse the Pond - Rinse the pond from top to bottom with a garden hose without the high-pressure nozzle. This will help wash any remaining pond debris from under the rocks. As the dirty water accumulates on the bottom, continuing to pump it out.
  7. Clean the Filters - Spray the filtration media until relatively clean and rinse down the inside of the filter units.
  8. Refill the Pond - Pull the clean-out pump out and begin re-filling the pond.
  9. De-chlorinate the Water - Most city water contains chlorine and chloramines and should be treated with a de-chlorinator before fish are introduced.
  10. Acclimate the Fish - A spring clean-out can be stressful to fish, so proper acclimation is suggested to decrease stress and avoid future health problems. In order to properly acclimate your fish, you'll want to slowly introduce it to the water by floating them in the pond fish and adding pond water little by little before letting them in.

Now your pond is officially ready for spring!

Summer Pond Maintenance

Summer is here and you've earned some quality time with your pond, and when better than summertime - perhaps the most beautiful time of the year for most ponds. Summer is your chance to truly enjoy the pond.

And with your clean-out completed in the early spring, the majority of your pond maintenance is behind you. There are some summer maintenance items that still need to be addressed in order to have a season of clean, clear water to enjoy. By keeping up on these tasks, you should have a healthy pond all season long.

Keep Your Pond "Topped off" - Make sure the water level stays where it should be. This will ensure that the pump and/or skimmer are able to operate properly and will help keep your pond free of debris, while providing plenty of oxygenated water for your fish. The summer heat can be tough on oxygen levels.

Add More Plants - The more the merrier! If at all possible, try to cover at least a third of the pond's surface area with water lilies. Also, make sure you have plenty of marginal and floating plants around the pond to blend the pond's edge with your landscape.

Trim Those Plants - You've added the plants, now keep them looking good. Routine maintenance, including removal of spent blooms, yellowing leaves, and excess growth will get rid of nutrients in the pond, reducing the possibility of algae blooms. If you devote just a few enjoyable minutes each day to this task, it never becomes "the big chore" that encourages procrastination.

Feed Your Fish - In the extreme heat of the summer, over feeding can lead to oxygen depletion and possible algae blooms. A good rule of thumb is not to feed your fish more than they can eat in a period of two to three minutes at a time.

Don't Clean the Filter Pads - If you have a biological filtration system, cleaning off the filter pads will destroy the algae-fighting bacteria that live there, resulting in excess algae growth.

Fertilize Lotus and Lily Plants - To encourage more prolific blooming during the summer months, use lily fertilizer tabs near the base of the plants throughout the growing season. It's not really necessary to fertilize marginal plants if they're planted right in the pond gravel - they will easily pull the nutrients they need right from the pond.

Add Bacteria - Follow the dosage instructions on the label and add bacteria regularly to compete with the algae for excess nutrients in the water, helping reduce the growth of algae.

Control Runoff - Avoid using fertilizer in areas that may drain into your pond. Fertilizer will cause a surge of excess nutrients in your pond and actually encourage algae blooms.

Remember, your water garden is there for you to ENJOY! Take time to appreciate all that it has to offer you. There is no better reward after mowing the (remaining) lawn than to have a seat in the cooling waters of the pond. Also, plant some tropical water lilies - either day or night blooming. Their beautiful fragrance will cover the whole pond area and they are visually stunning.

Fall Pond Maintenance

When fall rolls around, the change of seasons is apparent by the beautiful, multi-colored leaves and the cool change in temperatures. It may be your favorite time of year, but how will the cooler temperature and falling leaves affect your aquatic paradise? Can ponds and trees live together peacefully in the fall? With a couple precautions and a little maintenance, they can!

Debris cleanup from the fall may be inevitable in any part of the county, but you'll need to pay special attention if you're in a cold region and your pond has heavy tree cover. A skimmer filter may not be able to keep up with catching all the leaves before they drop to the pond's bottom and decompose. Removing leaves and sticks with a net will make for an easier spring clean-out next year. Debris left to rot in the pond will eventually decompose, producing gases that may be harmful to your fish.

In this case, using a large net stretched over the pond can be helpful because it will catch the leaves before they even hit the water. Plus, you can use a leaf blower to clear the area, meaning less work for you!

Regardless of whether you have a lot of trees or a minimal amount leaves falling, autumn is still a time when you'll need to empty the debris net or bag of your skimmer more often than you were in the summer - usually on a daily basis. It's also a great time to tend to your plants. It's sad to see them go, but you definitely don't want their debris falling to the pond bottom.

Hardy bog and marginal plants should have all the dead leaves and foliage trimmed down to 2" above the water level, and hardy lily leaves and stems should be cut back, leaving approximately 2 to 3" at the base of the plant. This is also the time when tropical plants can be brought inside for winter, or simply treated as annuals and replaced each season.

In late fall, when your leaves have stopped dropping, it is also time when your winter preparation should be starting. Properly winterizing a pond at this time of year will make it easier for your spring clean-out. For information on how to winterize your pond, check out the winter shut-down link on this site.

Winter Pond Maintenance

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Pacific Northwest winters are generally mild enough to keep your pond running all year with no additional maintenance steps, however, when the cold snap does arrive, it's good to know how to take care of your pond and your koi.

Maintenance is usually the determining factor in whether or not a pond owner keeps their pump running in the winter. The primary maintenance responsibility at this time is to make sure there is enough water for the pump(s) to operate properly.

Pump size is also an important consideration when determining a waterfall's ability to operate during the winter. A pump that provides at least 2,000 gph can be operated throughout the winter without a problem, as long as it runs continuously. The moving water will usually keep a hole open in the ice around the waterfalls and in front of the skimmer.

There is nothing more breathtaking than a waterfall covered with ice formations and snow during the winter. You must, however, be careful with ponds that have long or slow-moving streams. In such cases, ice dams can form and divert water over the liner.

And then there are your fish friends. What will become of them over the winter months? Do they hibernate like a bear and wake up in the spring when you're there to greet them for a clean-out? Can they survive in only two feet of water? Won't they freeze solid into little precious fish-cicles?

The fact is that ornamental fish will do just fine in two feet of water, as long as some form of oxygenation is provided, and a hole is kept in the ice to allow the escape of harmful gases. It's recommended to place a waterfall pump in a basket, bucket, or pump sock and surround the intake of the pump with stones to prevent clogging. Place the pump on the second or third shelf of the pond so the surface water is broken by the aeration. The agitation from the pump will prevent freezing and provide oxygen.

Another option is to use a floating heater/de-icer in combination with a small submersible pump (at least 150 gph). You can place the small re-circulating pump on the first shelf of the pond, bubbling at least one inch above the surface. Floating heaters are the most common method of keeping a hole open in the ice. Unfortunately they won't provide oxygen for the fish, and some can be expensive to operate.

Do not confuse a floating pond de-icer with a water heater. A pond de-icer won't heat the water; it will simply keep a small hole open in the ice. Be sure to place it away from re-circulating water to avoid moving the heated water. Just remember that although they seem like they're sleeping down there, they still need oxygen in order to keep going and to meet you when the ice melts!

If you feel that you can tackle the responsibilities of keeping your pond running during the winter, then go for it, because there's nothing quite like the breathtaking view of the winter pond in all its glory!