Pond Water Test Strips

Those of us in the business understand that in spite of our best efforts a customer’s pond paradise may turn into a nightmare if they do not perform some basic maintenance tasks. To make sure our customers’ ponds remain a welcome retreat from an otherwise stressful world we educate them about proper feeding amounts, how to flush the filter or rinse the pads, how to keep away predators, proper circulation, and basic plant and fish care tips.

With all the great things we do for our customers there is one piece of valuable ammo we often fail to arm them with. A simple water test kit is not only an added sale and a precursor to additional treatment purchases but it can be the first line of defense in a customer’s battle for water quality and a healthy pond.

With so very many choices in test kits, parameters tested, and testing procedures available it is no wonder that some pond retailers and installers are reluctant to make a recommendation to their customers.

Below we will discuss some of the pond water tests performed, the types of kits available, and how we can better educate our customers on their proper uses.

What tests should be regularly performed on a backyard pond or water garden?

Over a dozen different tests are routinely done in the water garden industry in order to ensure the best possible water quality. With tests measuring everything from Alkalinity to Salinity it can be a bit overwhelming to know which tests are needed most.

Fortunately, most water quality experts agree on a handful of tests that every industry professional and pond owner should perform.

AMMONIA – Ammonia is formed when fish waste and other organic debris (leaves, grass, dead fish, or frogs, etc) begin to decompose. This decomposition releases toxic Ammonia into the pond water. A test reading of Zero Ammonia is best but not always possible.

NITRITE – Nitrifying bacteria work on the Ammonia and break it down to Nitrite. Nitrite is also highly toxic to your pond fish and the ideal reading should again be Zero.

NITRATE – Eventually Nitrite is broken down further into Nitrate, which is less toxic to your pond fish although still bad enough in higher concentrations. Ideal reading would be zero. NOTE: Many industry experts suggest testing for both Nitrite and Nitrate in your pond but others believe testing for Nitrite is sufficient.

Norm Meck, former president and 20-year member of the San Diego Koi club, feels that testing for Nitrite is vital due to its high toxicity and danger to the fish. Nitrate, Norm indicates, is far less toxic to pond fish and is also reduced when the pond is treated for Nitrite.

pH – Testing the pH of your pond is critical according to many experts. The ideal pH reading in your pond is debatable by many but is often considered to be 7.0 – 7.5 although pH will vary throughout the day.

According to Freddie Combas, owner of Florida Water Gardens and veteran pond builder, pH will be lowest in the morning and highest in the evening. Someone who tests their pond early morning for pH and again in the evening may see a huge variance in readings. It is important to find an average reading and not be alarmed by a wide swing in the readings during the day.

KH – Carbonate Hardness = Total Alkalinity which is different than pH. Carbonate Hardness is the ability of the pond water to stabilize the pH in the system. According to Dave Jones, owner of The Pond Professional in Woodstock GA, KH should be at least 100 PPM. Ideal KH readings are between 100-200 PPM.

PHOSPHATES – Phosphates are usually introduced into a pond thru fish waste and are a nutrient that algae require to flourish. Algae, like other plants, require many nutrients to grow so the presence of Phosphates alone does not ensure an algae problem is imminent. A reading of Zero PPM is ideal although many ponds can have much higher concentrations with no algae issues present.

What types of test kits are available and how do they work?

All test kits use a chemical reaction between the sample pond water and a reagent, which causes a color change to show results. The results are compared to known parameters allowing the user to obtain an accurate reading. Test kits for ponds and water gardens fall into three types.

1. Photometers – These handy meters are highly accurate but often expensive. Readings are very quick and some meters can be used for many different tests. Advances in technology bring constant improvements to available meters but some experts find that the units require frequent recalibration.

2. Liquid Test Kits – Using small vials, the pond owner takes samples of the pond water. Liquid reagents are added to the samples and a short time later the water turns color. The color is compared to the included charts providing an accurate reading of the water sample. Liquid kits show a high level of accuracy as they give you many points of reference when the color samples are between shade points in the charts.

3. Dry Test Strips – Test strips are handy and quick. With the reagents already applied the strip is dipped in pond water and a short time later a color shift will occur, which is compared to the provided charts just like in the liquid kits. Test strips are less mess, very easy to use and often include multiple parameters tested for on each strip. They are a great way to let you see if the readings are going up or down.

How often should I test my pond and at what time of day?

Carolyn Weise, consumer relations manager and in-house pond expert for Ecological Laboratories Inc., believes that new ponds should be tested at least once per week. This will establish a baseline for their particular pond. Established ponds with any type of known problem may need to be tested daily and treated until the issue is resolved.

Carolyn also indicates that testing should be continued through the winter with water samples taken inside to warm before testing.

The time of day for testing varies among experts in our industry with many of them preferring to test at midday when possible. What everyone agrees upon is to test at the same time each day. Consistency is the key to achieving accurate results and establishing a baseline for your pond.

How long are test kits good for?

As indicated above, pond test kits rely on chemicals known as reagents in order to provide accurate testing results. Those reagents do not last forever and must be replaced. Each reagent may have a different chemical type and last a different length of time.

Gary Jones, of Mars Fishcare in PA, strongly recommends not using any kit past its expiration date. The dates posted on kits are not “sell by dates” but are the best indicators of when the reagents used will cease to provide accurate results.

Gary maintains that consumers can best protect themselves by checking the expiration dates on kits when purchased and by buying replacement reagents upon their expirations. Additionally he mentions that retailers sometimes fail to consider the expiration date when they stock new kits in front of existing ones.

Proper stock rotation will ensure customers receive the best possible results from their kits and retailers will continue to enjoy repeat sales of the water treatments needed for their customers’ ponds.

NOTE: Keeping your liquid or dry strip kits out of the sun and away from moisture will help ensure they remain potent till the expiration date. Test kits that do not contain expiration dates should have their reagents replaced no more than one year from purchase.

Summation and Safety Note

The pond lifestyle is attracting more and more advocates. With increased pond ownership we must ensure that each and every experience in ponding is a pleasant one. The recommendation and use of pond water test kits will help our customers take more responsibility in the upkeep and healthy water quality of their ponds.

As our industry promotes ponds and water gardens as a family activity it should be noted that pond test kits use reagents that are chemicals. These chemicals, and all others, should be kept safely out of reach of younger ponders. That way we can all enjoy our ponds!

Thank you to Ecological Labs, Eastern Nishikigoi, Industrial Test Systems, Mars FishCare, and Tetra Pond for providing the photos.


This article was written for Pond Trade Magazine by: John Olson, Owner and CEO of Graystone Creations.

John Olson Google Author

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