A naturally balanced pond ecosystem is like a puzzle where all the pieces fit together perfectly, and each one must be in place if you want to achieve an effective result. But do you know what those pieces are, and more importantly, do you know how they all work together to create a beautiful, healthy, low-maintenance natural habitat?
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer who is interested in building and keeping a pond as a hobby, or you simply want to keep yours healthy and harmonious between visits from the pros, understanding how a pond ecosystem works and where the key elements fit will help you get the most out of your investment and enjoy it all year long.
Five Puzzle Pieces
In a healthy, natural ecosystem pond you’ll need five main elements: fish, plants, rocks, filtration and circulation. These five pieces work in sync with Mother Nature to create a sustainable environment that will thrive all year long. Better yet, you can achieve optimal health and beauty with little effort and no chemicals that can be harmful to pets, people or the planet.
Let’s take a look at each of these five elements and why they’re important.
Fish aren’t just a playful addition or a hobbyist’s delight. They actually play an important role in the health and balance of your pond.
Far from being the maintenance nightmare that they are often perceived to be, fish will actually make pond maintenance easier, in part by feeding on string algae that can otherwise become a real pond pest.
Fish also dine on plant life, and while you may not want your prized underwater aquatics to disappear nibble by nibble, fish can help keep plant growth in check. Plus, in a balanced pond, fish waste is broken down by bacteria in the pond to then become nutrients that feed plants and support new growth. That’s the beauty of balance!
Whether they’re marginals, floaters or submerged, plants are a pond’s crowning glory. They bring height, texture, color and movement. They attract birds and butterflies, bees and frogs. They add a uniqueness to your pond that changes from season to season.
They are also nature’s best filtration system and help keep your pond water clear by digesting excess nutrients that can otherwise lead to bouts of runaway algae or murky water.
Each of the plant types play other unique roles as well. Floaters trap sediment and provide a habitat for fish, dragonflies and other critters. They also provide much-needed summer shade, which can help reduce water loss and excessive algae growth.
Submerged plants add oxygen to the water, a necessity for sustaining healthy fish life. They also help reduce algae and shelter fish from predators.
Marginals are also key in providing shade for a summer pond and absorbing excess nutrients that can lead to algae explosions.
Given their variety of responsibilities and the fact that their presence will transform your pond into a vision of beauty, plants should be chosen carefully for both their aesthetics and their function.
Much like the misconception about fish being high maintenance, rocks suffer from this same myth. In a balanced ecosystem pond, you won’t be scraping algae off stone surfaces or digging out debris from crevices.
On the contrary, rocks, stones and gravel provide surface area where beneficial bacteria can colonize and break down excess nutrients that result from fish waste and plant decay. Without this environment, it’s too easy for nutrients to accumulate and result in unwanted algae growth.
Plus, stones give your pond a beautifully natural aesthetic, and gravel is the “glue” that binds them together and keeps them from slipping or falling.
A good filtration system typically consists of both a biological and a mechanical component. A biological filter is exactly the type that rocks and gravel provide – with surface area for bacteria to colonize where they then break down nutrients that can create dangerous or unsightly conditions in your pond.
A mechanical filter houses your pump and also skims the pond’s surface to keep it clear of debris that can sink and decay on the pond’s floor.
These two types of filtration work together to both remove physical debris and to biologically break down other harmful, less visible elements. Proper filtration not only keeps water clear and healthy but also helps to keep oxygen at adequate levels to support fish. Without filtration, excess decaying matter can sap necessary oxygen from the water.
When water bubbles, tumbles and cascades over rocks in a stream or waterfall, it has greater surface area that comes into contact with air. This serves a twofold purpose: to increase the amount of oxygen absorbed by the water and to release harmful gasses that can become trapped in still water due to decaying organic matter.
Efficient circulation helps to maintain appropriate oxygen levels for plants and fish to thrive. It also helps avoid that unpleasant sulfur-like smell that can accompany still water where methane and other gasses have accumulated.
Still water can quickly become a haven for weeds, bacteria and algae, but circulation will maintain a pond’s natural balance and create a healthy environment.
Putting these five pieces into place in your pond puzzle – fish, rocks, plants, filtration and circulation – will result in a sustainable, self-cleansing and low-maintenance ecosystem that you can enjoy every season of the year and for many years to come.
If you have questions about building or maintaining a natural ecosystem pond, let us know. We can design and build one for you, or give you the tools and support you need to do it yourself.