Spring is an exciting time for pond owners. The plants are starting to bloom, and the weather is warm enough that you may be seeing glimpses of your koi after a long, quiet winter.
It’s time to get your pond cleaned and started up again – everything from filters to pumps and waterfalls – so you can enjoy this new season. When the stones are washed and the lilies brought up, the beneficial bacteria added and the pH tested, all you want to do is step back, smile and spend some time appreciating your personal oasis. It would be a terrible shame if that was spoiled by some easily avoidable but common mistakes when it comes to feeding fish.
Unfortunately, this simple and pleasant task can become a nightmare for water quality and fish health if it isn’t done properly. Here are some tips for feeding fish during spring so that they – and your entire pond ecosystem – will be healthy all season long.
Start Feeding At The Right Time
One common mistake when it comes to feeding fish, especially koi, can be chalked up to simple enthusiasm. You see your fish surface for the first time, you get excited, you’re sure they’re hungry after a long winter, and you start feeding.
The problem is that it may be too soon. A fish’s metabolism slows substantially during winter in order to conserve energy for the months ahead. While they don’t technically hibernate, they do spend most of their time sitting on the bottom of the pond in a dormant state. In cold water, a fish’s digestion slows until they stop eating altogether. So if you do add food, it will end up decomposing and wrecking havoc with water clarity and quality.
As temperatures rise, koi and other fish may become more active, but they’re still in “winter mode” until the water temperature is high enough. As a general rule of thumb, you should only start feeding your fish again when the water temperature – not the air temperature – reaches 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit.
That means it’s time to get a water thermometer if you don’t have one already. That will make it easy to determine whether it’s a good time to start feeding fish so they can resume regular activity.
Pro tip: the time to start feeding fish is NOT when they “look hungry” or come to the surface begging. Believe it or not, koi can be trained to want and expect food just like dogs, so avoid those cute little puckered lips and wait until the temperature is right.
Feed The Right Food
Fish have different metabolic needs at different times of the year. As fish begin to “wake up”, they don’t have the same ability to metabolize food that they do during summer. So feeding them the same food during early spring that you feed during summer can make them sick.
They’ve also been fairly dormant for a number of months so they do need food for energy and to rebuild their strength. Choose a cold weather food that is higher in protein and will aid in springtime digestion. A wheat germ-based food is a smart choice.
If you want to amp up the color of your koi, you can choose a cold weather food with vitamins and ingredients that will help you do just that.
Pro tip: choose a high quality fish food whatever the season. It will contain the right balance of vitamins, proteins, minerals and amino acids to support fish health.
Feed The Right Amount
Those little buggers look hungry, so you pour in the food and they dart up eagerly for a meal. As long as they nibble, you keep adding food, until you realize they’re sated. The problem is that now you’ve got uneaten flakes floating around the pond, or pellets sinking slowly to the bottom. And no, your koi can’t save the leftovers for later.
Uneaten food is only going to do one thing: rot. And when that happens, it’s going to completely throw off the balance of your pond. A better way to feed your fish is to slowly sprinkle food into the pond only for as long as they continue to eat voraciously. If they’re still eating, you can add more food. If they slow down or stop, then that’s your cue to do the same.
And don’t feed them for a period of time longer than five minutes – even if they’re still begging. Fish may overeat, too, and that will only make them unhealthy.
On the flip side, be mindful of underfeeding. If you have a good amount of plant material and natural forage, it’s possible that you won’t have to feed fish much, if at all. But fish do need enough calories to survive and support their metabolisms, so be on the lookout for signs of underfeeding. That can include small, stunted fish, sunken eyes, poor color and inactivity.
Pro tip: if you’ll be away for a while and you’re concerned about your fish getting enough nutrition, try an automatic fish feeder. It can be set to dispense an appropriate amount of food at appropriate intervals to maintain fish health and happiness.
Make Feeding Fun
Food is a necessity of life. But feeding time can be a lot more than a rote activity. Have some fun with it! Start by designating a feeding spot so your fish can come to expect food in a certain place. Try to feed on the same schedule so they become familiar with feeding time. Your fish – and you! – will be rewarded each day with a chance to interact *and* enjoy a tasty meal.
You can even train koi to eat right out of your hand. You’ll need the right type of food for this – something you can hold as opposed to a bunch of tiny flakes. And as your fish learn where to go for their treats and when to expect them, they will become more comfortable with the routine and more willing to engage.
Finally, switch it up now and then. Koi appreciate variety as much as you do. Instead of commercial fish food, try adding some leafy greens like lettuce and spinach to their diet. Have some leftover watermelon after a summer picnic? They’ll enjoy that, too! Grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, bananas… all of these and other fruits make excellent treats for your treasured pets.
Pro tip: you can even feed fish Cheerios (plain or honey nut!) for a special treat. Feed carbs in moderation though, since much like us, fish can get fat and unhealthy with too much of a good thing.
It’s time for koi and pond fish to begin a new season of frolicking and foraging. And it’s time for you to help them enter the season in a healthy, safe and happy way. These feeding tips should get your started and help you keep the gems of your pond in good shape all season.
If you have questions about pond fish or need help opening and preparing your pond for spring, let us know. We’re available to answer questions or to professionally clean and maintain your pond.
And if you don’t have a pond yet but have been dreaming of one, contact us for a consultation. We’d love to share our passion for ponds with you!