Trey Smith is a pond and lake expert who lives in Woodstown, New Jersey, which is in the southern, more rural part of the state. Here he shares insights and important information about managing a natural ecosystem pond or lake right here in New Jersey.
This article was written and contributed by Trey Smith
Information on water garden maintenance is easy to find. But what if your pond is not a water garden?
Natural ponds with earthen bottoms are everywhere in New Jersey. However most are left either untreated or have been repeatedly treated with pesticides, killing the natural balance in the pond.
Homeowners, farmers, contractors, golf courses and home owner associations have traditionally relied on repeated pesticide applications performed by professionals. Although chemicals are effective they are not available for retail sale in New Jersey, which is probably a good thing. When chemicals are the only method of control in a pond you can end up making the problems worse.
After every successful chemical application dead plant matter is left to rot on the bottom of your pond which in turn is converted into a nutrient source for more weeds and algae to grow. While this cycle is great for the chemical companies it is actually costing you more money and adding to the muck layer in your pond. Algae, weeds and muck are common problems that can be managed naturally by most do-it-yourselfers with three simple steps; aerate your pond, add beneficial bacteria to your pond and shade your pond.
Aerate Your Pond
Aerating a pond, or adding air throughout the layers of a pond, provides many benefits. Aeration not only clears water but helps keep the bottom of the pond in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) state.
Oftentimes, ponds that are more than three feet deep become stratified during the warmer summer months. If you have ever been swimming in a pond and felt a cold layer of water at your feet, you have felt what is called a thermocline. A thermocline is a separation of water due to differences in temperature or water density. A thermocline will separate the warm oxygen-rich water at the top of your pond from the cooler denser water at the bottom of the pond.
When this happens during the warmer months, the cooler water at the bottom of the pond becomes anaerobic (without oxygen). When water is absent of oxygen, muck forms at the bottom of the pond and causes sulfur odors to be released and fish can become stressed and die.
The most cost effective way to eliminate a thermocline situation from occurring in a pond environment is to install a properly sized aeration system to deliver oxygen to every section of the water column from the bottom up. A properly sized aeration system consists of one or many diffusers that rest at the bottom of the pond depending on depth and size. A diffuser is a device that is connected to an airline from an external air compressor that pumps air through the micro-pores of the diffuser to disperse millions of oxygen bubbles through the water column.
When a diffuser is placed on the bottom of the pond it disrupts the thermocline, mixing the warm oxygen-rich water at the top of the pond with the cooler water at the bottom. This process will literally breathe life into the pond and jump-start all the natural processes again that were disrupted by the thermocline. The pond will now be able to support natural aerobic bacteria present in the pond to remove/eat muck caused by rotting vegetation, grass clipping, fish waste and leaves.
Typical aeration systems consist of an air compressor housed in a protective and noise reducing cabinet on the shoreline. The cabinet should be placed near a common 110 volt power source which is generally at the pond’s edge, but can be several hundred feet away depending on the application. The compressor supplies airflow via a self-weighted airline to air diffusers, or “bubblers” placed at the bottom of the pond. When installed correctly, a pond environment should almost instantly improve in clarity, odor and appeal.
Adding Beneficial Bacteria
Although all ponds contain natural aerobic bacteria, adding manufactured, beneficial bacteria to the pond on a regular basis, especially with aeration present, will keep ponds naturally clean throughout the year. Beneficial aerobic bacteria are cultured and grown for a specific purpose: to digest organic nutrients in aquatic environments. When used regularly and correctly, you can greatly reduce the muck layer up to 5 inches per year, improve water clarity and eliminate foul odors.
Another great benefit to supplementing your pond’s natural bacteria levels is reducing algae and weed growth. Natural bacteria can actually starve out many forms of algae and even some pond weeds by consuming their nutrient sources, which will lead to reduced or a full elimination of chemical applications. Most bacteria products on the market are now available in water soluble bags so application is as simple as throwing a few bags around the pond once a couple times per month.
Shade Your Pond
Finally, it is best to keep your pond shaded as much as possible. All plants, including weeds and algae require sun to grow by a process called photosynthesis. By limiting photosynthesis it is very hard for algae and pond weeds to grow naturally. Shading your pond regularly with a good pond dye is the most efficient and effective way to keep algae and aquatic weed growth to a minimum, but also makes your pond look brilliant and reflective.
The idea is not to make your water look like “Tidy Bowl” water. There are several dyes on the market that provide a blue shade without the “Tidy Bowl” look. Look for products that offer a natural blue or true blue color. Some manufactures are even offering a black dye which works well in wooded areas or where a mirror-like effect is desired.
Ultimately, ponds are just like yards; they both require a little maintenance. So don’t think you need to put up with a messy pond just because you may not know quite how to deal with it. There are simple answers available. By managing oxygen, nutrients and sunlight algae, odor and muck won’t have a chance. We certainly do our best to control weeds in our landscapes. Surely, with just a little effort, our natural waterscapes can be just as pristine.
More about Trey Smith
Trey grew up in Maine and has lived and worked up and down the East Coast. He lives with his wife, Stephanie and has two teenage children, Eli and Olivia. This year, they are also hosting an exchange student from Japan, Chika.
Trey studied music in college but was soon drawn to the outdoors. He started a landscape company then moved on to sales. He has since worked for a water garden distribution company and a pump manufacturer. In 2001 Trey formed his own marketing company that specialized in water garden and landscape products. About a year ago, he joined Airmax and really enjoys the dynamic entrepreneurial spirit of the company.
Treys hobbies include sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, woodworking, gardening and futzing with his pond.