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Spring Pond Keeping

by Orest Protch
Reprinted from the Spring 2008 edition of Ponds Magazine, published by Fancy Publications, a division of Bow Tie Inc.
Spring Pond Keeping Article Photo courtesy of Chris Kelly, Ponds

We survived another winter. Though some pond keepers breeze through winter with summer like conditions, many shovel snow and wait for ponds to defrost. A lot of things might have occurred in your pond during the winter, depending on your location and your overwintering choices. Cooler water temperatures can cause problems that do not appear until the pond runs again. Even drained ponds might experience problems similar to an undrained water feature. Before starting spring pond rejuvenation, assume the worst:

  • You overfed your fish, and the uneaten or undigested food is in the water
  • Fish waste
  • Fish waste, in the form of ammonia, increased in concentration because the cold water lowered or stopped biofilter efficiency.
  • Drained ponds or those exposed to direct sunlight and UV rays had their plastic liners’ integrity compromised due to the chemical reaction between UV and plasticizers.
  • Above- and below-surface water piping, mechanical filters, biofilters and pumps are cracked because of expanding water forming into ice.
  • The pond foam is due to proteins from uneaten or undigested food.

Take precautions now to prevent the introduction or increase of damage. Follow these steps to prevent problems caused by winter weather:

  1. Start doing partial water changes of about 10 percent a week to dilute the food source available to algae, dilute the ammonia concentration and help prevent pond foam.
  2. Look for weakened or cracked liner locations. Heavy rocks can stretch the liner underneath them. Likewise, if a rock dislodged from the sides of the pond it might have rolled down and hit the frozen liner on the bottom. Use caution when walking on the liner or when moving heavy rocks in the pond.
  3. Once you know air temperatures will remain above freezing during the day, you can start up your water fountains and waterfalls to get warmer water circulating through the pond to help melt the ice cap. If nights remain cool, turn these systems off at night to prevent super-cooled pond water that can kill your fish.
  4. Check for any changes in local bylaws. Call the city office to find out if your pond now needs a fence around it. Contact your insurance company as well to see if they require a rider attached to your policy for liability against accidents.
  5. If your water feature includes electricity, check for damage from animals and environment. Are the underground gas, power and telephone lines marked? Are they still underground? Check above-ground electrics such as circuit breakers and ground fault interrupters.
  6. Trim shrubs and trees as needed. Good indicators are if they provide too much shade for your pond or if the leaves keep blowing into the water.
  7. Take a look at the pumps. Check impellers, wiring, intakes and outflows. Are they plugged with leaves or algae clumps? Also look for frayed wires that can cause a shock.
  8. Wash or replace the filters. Check secondary coverings if you use them to hide the filters from view. If they are falling apart, they can fall into the filter and plug it.
  9. Blow hoses and tubing clear. Repair any leaks you discover.
  10. Replace air stones. Clean devices and repair diaphragms in your aerators
  11. Check UV clarifier gaskets to make sure water cannot get inside them. Repair them with rubberized glue, or replace them if needed.
  12. For UV clarifiers, it is time to replace the bulb. Check the wiring for frays and the quartz glass for scratches that can weaken it.
  13. Examine the wiring on your submerged lights, replace the bulbs and check the ground fault interrupters.
  14. Patch concrete as needed.
  15. Repair and replace edgings as needed.
  16. Look over your bird and leaf nets. Do some of them need to be repaired? Is it time to replace them? Are you ready to remove them?
  17. Sort through your pond plants. Now is the time to trim them back, replant as necessary and consider replacing or at least removing those you lost.
  18. If your pond sand and gravel look dire, replace them. If they can be salvaged, vacuum and pressure wash them.
Spring is a time for rejuvenation, not only for your garden, but also for your waterscape. Neglect can lead to future problems and diminished enjoyment. Get the bulk of your maintenance done as soon as possible to extend the total days of enjoying your pond.

Fish Concerns

If you can see your fish in the spring pond, look closely at their condition. Winter can cause these ailments:
  • Fin rot – Fins and tail appear to be rotting off, with red areas around fins.
    Treatment – Clean up pond water and treat with rot medicines
  • Fish leach – Skin examination shows wormlike leaches.
    Treatment – Place fish in a container with 15 tablespoons of salt per 2 gallons of water for 30 minutes.
  • Fish lice – Red spots turn into ulcerations.
    Treatment – Give fish 30 minute baths of .1 gram potassium permanganate per 2 gallons of water. Treat the entire pond if you cannot catch all the individual fish.
  • Fish pox – Pink, white or gray spots on the skin. This often occurs in spring.
    Treatment – General pond cleaning.
  • Fungus – Cottonlike growths on the skin.
    Treatment – Treat the entire pond. Fungus usually attacks weak fish.
  • Gill flukes – Parasites can cause fish to rub against objects, rapidly move their gills and gasp at the water surface.
    Treatment – Organic-phosphorus-based medicines, or those designed for the gills, might work. Copper-based chemicals kill any invertebrates, such as crayfish, clams and freshwater shrimp, in your pond.
  • Gill rot – Fish appear lethargic and display red and swollen gills, mucus around gills or bleeding gills.
    Treatment – A salt dip of 2 tablespoons per gallon of water, or antibiotics.
  • Sliminess – Fins are held tight against the body and the fish rub against objects. Slimy coating can be on eyes. It is caused by too much ammonia in the water.
    Treatment – Test the water and treat it with water changes and medications.
  • Ulcerations – Red sores on the body.
    Treatment – Purchase a painted on medication. Also put fish into a container with 2 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water.
  • Whitespot – Pinhead-sized white spots on the body, this is extremely contagious.
    Treatment – Treat the entire pond over several days to kill freeswimming parasites.