A healthy pond is a beautiful pond, and keeping your pond ecosystem healthy doesn’t have to be a ton of work. In the decades that I’ve been building and maintaining ponds, I’ve found that clients and friends will pretty much put in as much time and energy as they’re going to put in, and harping on them to do more rarely helps at all. These days I try to get them to work smarter, not harder.
To this end, I’ve tried hard to come up with things that people can do for their ponds that get them the most bang for their buck, simple tasks that can be done in just a few minutes of spare time or, at most, less than a full afternoon, with big yields in terms of overall pond health. Here are some of the very best things you can do for your pond that are simple, easy, inexpensive, and will have a fantastic impact on your pond’s health and beauty.
Remove excess organic debris
One of the simplest tools you can have to maintain a great-looking pond is the humble skimmer net. Get those leaves, sticks, and acorns (Oh, the acorns) out of your pond before they start to rot, and you’ll have a much happier pond.
We use the term “organic debris” to refer to anything that was formerly living and is now in your pond. Plant detritus is the most common thing you’ll find in your pond (including dead parts of pond plants), but this can really mean anything that was once alive and can decompose, right down to single-celled algae and bacteria. Organic debris breaks down in your pond as it is eaten by bacteria (either aerobically in the water or, worse, anaerobically in the sludge layer), releasing a variety of chemicals and pollutants that can directly harm your fish in large amounts, cause your water to change colors or smell foul, and certainly lead to algae bloom problems.
Just a few minutes with the skimmer net or pond vacuum can get the bulk of this problematic debris out of your water before it causes problems, and your pond will look better uncluttered to boot. For bonus points, periodically trim dead sections of your pond plants off and remove them from the pond.
An important corollary task to getting dead things out of your pond is preventing them from going in there in the first place. This can mean taking a bit more care when mowing near the lawn or blowing leaves. It also means getting the right pond net for your pond and getting it up before the leaves start to fall. Getting your net into place, unless you have the wrong net or an unusually large pond, shouldn’t really take more than a half an hour or so.
A good aerator does so, so many things for your pond, and it’s a relatively low-cost, very low-maintenance way to keep your pond beautiful. Modern bubble aerators are more energy efficient than ever, using only a tiny amount of electricity to keep your water circulating well and consistently oxygenated. They also facilitate the gas exchange with the air around the pond that is so important for the health of your ecosystem, and can even keep your pond from icing over in colder climates. A good aerator really is one of the best investments you can get for your pond, and it’s something that I recommend over and over to clients and friends. I basically never shut up about aeration.
Don’t overfeed your fish
If it takes more than five minutes or so for your fish to eat what you’ve put in the pond for them, then you’ve likely given them too much. The goal is to put in the right amount of food so that none of it goes uneaten by your fish and sinks to the bottom or gets sucked into your skimmer. Uneaten fish food is just more added organic debris to throw off your pond’s ecosystem. It’s particularly bad, as it’s dense with the nutrients that free-floating algae, bad bacteria, and the anaerobic sludge layer feed off of. It breaks down quickly, causing spikes in free nutrient levels, and sinks quickly once it’s water-logged, right down to join that sludge at the bottom.
Keep in mind, too, that your fish will eat less when the water is colder, so keep an eye out especially not to overfeed in cooler months, and switch to cold-water food or stop feeding entirely when the temperature is right.
Partial water changes
Aside from aeration, partial water changes are probably the task that I spend the most time bugging pond owners about doing. The benefits are absolutely massive, and it truly doesn’t have to be very much work at all if you’re smart about it. I take a lot of the water for my water changes out in buckets that I use to water my plants (the potentially toxic buildup of pollutants in your water from decomposition can be very good for plants, as it is basically fertilizer). The rest comes out when I use my pond vacuum to remove organic debris and sludge from the bottom (multitasking!). I shoot for five to ten percent of the water in my pond replaced every week or two in the warm months, less when it’s colder. The water that you add will need to be normalized to your pond water. That is to say, it needs to be about the same temperature as the water in your pond to avoid shocking it, and it needs to be dechlorinated. The easiest way to do this is to fill a large container with water and leave it to sit in a shady area, though dechlorination chemicals may be needed, especially if your local water system uses chloramine, which doesn’t offgas easily and builds up in the pond. Once the water is normalized, just add it to the pond (I go in through the skimmer). I haven’t ever actually timed it, but I suspect that I rarely spend more than ten or fifteen minutes of active work on a partial water change.
So, there you have it. Four simple, easy things that you can do to keep your pond more beautiful than ever.