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/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

 Opening Your Pond:

10 Tips for a Spectacular Start to the Season


By Bob Fenner

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Folks in cooler climates have to be especially careful in "putting their pond to sleep" in autumn, as well as doing what needs be done to assure their successful resumption when weather improves in the spring. After the cold metabolic slow-down of winter, fishes, plants, and invertebrates are at their weakest and need to be slowly acclimated back into greater activity. Not to be neglected, mechanical aspects of your water features need to be checked, vented, primed, and possibly cleaned before being put back into use.

Pumps & Filters

A very common mistake bade by pond keepers is neglecting to flush their plumbing lines, pump volutes, and filter media after all have been turned off a while (even just a few hours). You want to avoid rinsing anaerobic material in with your livestock and having negative results.

The easiest way to effect flushing is to prime the intake lines with a pressurized water source (hose and fitting), assure the lines are primed, and turn on the pump(s), and vent the circulating new water to waste. Many wet shirts and frustrating experiences later,, allow me to proffer some advice here: Do look into expandable pressure "hot-dogs" (availability at plumbing and hardware outlets) that will swell to fit the intake line(s), greatly facilitating this priming action.

Filters of all sorts are particularly needful of a good rinsing after being out of commission. The accumulation of even just a little organic material can resulting toxicity that may put your fish (and non-fish livestock) at risk, so make sure your filter is well-rinsed before the water is re-directed to circulation. Gravel, fibrous cartridge, and sock-type filter media all likely need to be removed, thoroughly rinsed, and possibly even air-dried before being re-fitted and put in use.

Basins & Gunk

Accumulated mulm, leaves, etc., should be carefully removed in the process of returning your mechanicals back to operation after winter. Once your water temperature is consistently more than 55 F., it's a good idea to start netting out a bit of "trash" with a leaf net or vacuum. If you're in doubt as to whether the temperature will swing back to cooler, take care to not do too much too quickly here. Your livestock I greatly impugned by having been chilled over winter and too much change too son can do more damage than good here.

Venting "bad water" along with soil and leaves from the bottom is a good idea when first getting your mechanicals going again. However, take care to not overdo it. No more than 10 percent of the water should be dumped at this time (or in any given week), and new water should be carefully/slowly replaced.

Water Chemistry &Physics

Checking one's water quality is always a good idea, particularly should something appear away or perhaps more importantly, if you intend to modify it. As the saying goes, "How are you going to know what you're going if you don't know where you've been?" (Or where you are in this case).

Rapid or large changes in water makeup should be avoided. Avoid changes in pH if you can by changing small volumes slowly as noted above. Of more import and impact, too much or vacillating temperature is dangerous. Your single best assay tool is observation, but secondly, an inexpensive, dedicated thermometer and notebook for recording temperatures is requisite for conscientious pond-keepers.

Other than possibly adding water conditioner along with your new water additions, leave off with adding anything chemical during the early warming season. Algicides, water clarifiers and such are more problematic than useful at this time, and too often result in toxifying the system rather than helping. When in doubt, add nothing.

Are you a high-technology ponder? If you use ultraviolet sterilization or an ozonizer to raise reduction-oxidation potential, enhance oxygenation, or reduce algal proliferation, leave these off as well. Continue to leave them off until you reach temperatures in the upper 50s to med 60s F..

Livestock Fishes and Invertebrates

As mentioned, your livestock is at a disadvantage after the winter. Not much food has been eaten or metabolized, so their immune systems are challenged. About the last thing they need or can handle is much change, particularly negative, after waiting out the cold months.

Handling and treating fishes is also to be avoided during cold-water times, unless absolutely necessary (e.g., a pond leak disease or, poisoning). It's best to not handle your fish or invertebrate livestock until water temperature is once again well above 5 F. during both night and day. There is simply too much stress and chance of damaging them until the weather is consistently warmer.

A good general rule of thumb is to feed cool and coldwater fishes once per day when water temperature is between 55 and 65 F., twice per day (though smaller amounts per feeding) when it's between 65 and 75 F, and back to just once daily if your water temperature is above about 75 F. This careful conditioning pays big dividends in health, vigor, colour, and reproductive success later in the year.

About Plants

It may seem counterintuitive, but plants lag behind non-plant life in the seasonal re-awakening of ponds. Not being able to change their condition through motion, they must "wait out" until condition of heat and light allow them to come out of senescence.

For you plants that are in place in the pond itself, with the exception of tropical lilies whose rhizomes are to be removed and stored, leave them be until the water warms to about 65 F There will be negligible growth up until this temperature sets in, therefore there is no need to fertilize or re-pot them for now. Floating grasses and surface plants like hyacinths and water lettuce (if they made it through the winter) should be left alone as well until this time. Similarly tropical lilies and other stored plant stocks should wait out until the water warms and stays warm.

As far as livestock and plant additions go, the advice here is quite simple: don't add anything until that magical temperature of 65 F. or higher is consistent. Simply put, not only your extant livestock, but all that is to be added should not be moved around during cold weather.

The period of oncoming spring is a time of renewal for lots of things, and ponds are no exception. There is no more important time of the year when you should take stock and time in developing a cleanup and startup plan for your biological pond. Remember, when in doubt, do nothing. Use a thermometer and your weather service to determine when you can (finally) get on to your terrestrial and water gardening chores. And, most importantly, enjoy your pond!

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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