“It’s too much work!”
“I don’t have time for a pond.”
Those are just a few of the reasons people give for not wanting a pond in their yard. But did you know that a naturally balanced pond is actually quite low-maintenance? Maybe even more so than the patch of grassy lawn it will replace! Lawns need regular watering, fertilizing and mowing. But a natural ecosystem pond that’s built with sustainability in mind needs minimal TLC – and you might even enjoy giving it.
Here’s how to ensure that your pond is low-maintenance and worry-free, so whether you have one and want to improve it, or wish you had one but always thought it would be a headache, you can see exactly how stress-free pond maintenance can be.
1. Choose (Or Improve) The Location
If you don’t yet have a pond, then choosing the right location is a key first step in ensuring that it will be as low-maintenance as possible. A few things come into play. First, you want to be sure that your pond gets an adequate mix of light and shade. Too much of either can cause headaches down the line, from unhappy plants and critters to overly-happy algae.
If your yard is in full sun, consider adding a pergola or other shade structure. If it’s mostly shady, it might be time to cut back some of the trees or bushes. Even if you already have a pond, one of these solutions can make a much better alternative than relocating a pond that may not have been ideally situated at the outset.
Sun will help plants grow and will welcome critters who enjoy basking in the light. Shade will help prevent your pond from overheating and keep algae blooms at bay. Ultimately, the right combination will keep your pond healthy with minimal input from you.
Second, be cautious about drainage and runoff. If you locate your pond where it may become swollen with rainwater or a catchall for the runoff from fertilizers and pesticides, you’re setting yourself up for lots of upkeep.
Finally, it’s best to place your pond where you can enjoy it from both inside and outside your home. If you can see it – and you’re enjoying it – you’re more likely to take the small, necessary measures to keep it healthy.
2. Choose The Right Plants
Plants add beauty but they also serve an important function in preserving the health of your pond. And since a healthy pond is a low-maintenance pond, you’ll want to take the time to select plants strategically.
Pond plants are typically divided into three main categories: floating plants, submerged plants and marginal plants. Floating plants play an important role in shading your pond from the intense summer sun, which will help keep oxygen levels steady for healthy fish, and help prevent algae outbreaks. Floaters also draw excess nutrients out of the water, contributing to a clean, balanced environment. And they help prevent water loss through evaporation which means less worry about keeping water topped off during hot months.
Similarly, marginals play a role in shading the pond, and together with submerged plants, they filter excess nitrates and fish waste. These three types of plants create a harmonious, balanced ecosystem by adding necessary elements like oxygen back into the pond and removing unwanted ones, like waste materials.
3. Welcome (The Right) Bacteria
With the number of antibacterial soaps on the market and our general concern about good health, it may seem counterintuitive to invite bacteria into your pond. But the right kind of bacteria perform an important function in a healthy, balanced, low-maintenance pond.
Bacteria will occur naturally in your pond, or you can purchase beneficial bacteria designed specifically for improving your water quality at different times of the year. These bacteria break down organic matter like fallen leaves and debris, fish waste and even excess fish food before it can decompose and throw off the balance of your pond.
One of the ways that you can encourage and support beneficial bacteria is by giving them a place to grow – namely, on the surfaces of rocks, stones and gravel. Don’t worry that your stones will become an ugly green mess. Beneficial bacteria will actually help avoid exactly the type of slimy green algae that you don’t want to end up scraping off your lovely natural stone accents.
If you use a biological filter, that will also provide surface area where good bacteria can colonize. However you invite and sustain them, they will reward you with a clean, clear, healthy and low-maintenance environment.
4. Circulate And Filter
Mother nature does an excellent job of keeping balance. Given an appropriate combination of sun, shade, fish, plants and bacteria, your pond will thrive, leaving you with little to do but enjoy a peaceful afternoon near the water’s edge.
But sometimes she could use a little help from science and technology. Hot summer days can deplete oxygen stores quickly, and plants may not have enough time to replenish them, leading to sick fish, stagnant water and algae. Excess debris, whether from dying plants or fallen leaves can decompose too quickly for bacteria to manage, leaving the water murky and unhealthy.
In short, things can go wrong! That’s where filtration and circulation systems come in. A mechanical filter will collect debris before it can sink to the bottom of your pond and rot. Your job is simply to occasionally remove and empty the filtration basket so it can continue to work.
A biological filter gives beneficial bacteria a place to grow. And your job is to stand back and let it happen! No cleaning, no maintenance required. In fact, these filters are best left alone to do what they do best: keep your water clean and clear.
Circulation systems can be as simple as adding a waterfall or bubbler. Not only will they look great, but they serve a few important functions. First, they help maintain appropriate oxygen levels, which keeps fish healthy and prevents the growth of algae. Second, they help prevent the growth of the bacteria you don’t want in your pond. Third, they can help eliminate that stagnant sulfur-like smell you may associate with still summer ponds.
Finally, they can keep water temperature more even during colder months, which creates a healthier environment for fish.
Plus, if you’re worried about whether your pond will become a magnet for mosquitos, you can put those fears to rest. Mosquitos only collect around stagnant water – something your pond should never be.
Together, filtration and circulation systems help keep pond water clean and clear, maintaining balance naturally and simplifying your job tremendously.
5. Manage Fish
Consider this: far from being more work, fish can actually reduce pond maintenance, in part by feeding on string algae that can otherwise become a pest. But there are a few things to keep in mind so you don’t turn an asset into a disaster.
Be careful of overcrowding. Too many fish will diminish water quality, perhaps detrimentally. More fish equals more waste, which means that even the hardiest bacteria may not be able to keep up with the supply and that will throw off the balance of your pond.
As a rule of thumb, you need 10 gallons of water per inch of fish. So a three-inch fish would require 30 gallons of water. Just remember that fish grow, too!
Be mindful of how much you feed fish. Fish can survive simply by eating the plants and insects available to them in the pond. But since you likely don’t want them nibbling on your prized lilies, you can feed them commercially available food, or even bits of fruits and vegetables left over from dinner.
Don’t overfeed, though. That can lead to excess food sinking to the bottom of the pond where it will decompose and throw off the balance, resulting in poor water quality and – you guessed it – algae.
Feed fish only as much as they can eat within a five-minute period. If you notice excess food floating around, feed less next time.
Given appropriate conditions, your pond can flourish with minimal maintenance. So forget the horror stories you’ve heard about having to drain a pond twice a year or constantly test and clean the water. Forget the worry about green slime and mosquito infestations.
Maintaining a pond can be as easy as setting yourself up for success at the beginning and taking a couple of simple steps to help Mother Nature’s natural inclinations along.
If a low-maintenance pond sounds like something you’d like to explore, contact us for a consultation and let us show you just how enjoyable and stress-free a pond can be.