With spring the horizon, thoughts turn to warmer days outdoors, the first glimpse of koi returning to play, and all the pleasures your pond will bring.
But before you can get there, before you can enjoy your pond, waterfall, and all the delightful critters that call it home, you have to do a little prep work. Winter may not have been kind! Cold, icy days, wind, heavy rains and runoff conspire to rough up plants, stress fish and muddy water.
All of that is completely manageable with a few careful spring pond maintenance tasks. If you’ve got the time, energy and the right resources, you can clean out your pond yourself during the course of a nice weekend. Or you can leave the job to a pond professional who will make sure that you’re set up for a successful season.
Either way, these are the key pond maintenance tasks that will get you ready for spring.
Rake And Skim
Begin with some initial cleanup around the edges and at the surface of your pond. Depending on winter weather conditions and where your pond is located (partially under a tree or near a wooded area), you may have more or less debris to contend with.
Start by raking and disposing of leaves around the pond’s edges. If you covered your pond with netting for the winter (and hopefully you did!) then remove it carefully to avoid letting any accumulated debris fall into the water.
Use a skimmer net to remove debris on the pond’s surface. By eliminating leaves, branches, and other debris, you’ll reduce the excess nutrients created by decaying organic matter and avoid unwanted algae blooms.
Decide If Your Pond Needs A Water Change
After you’ve done the initial cleaning, take a step back and examine your pond. Is the water fairly clean and clear? If it looks pretty good after raking and skimming, you will probably be fine with a bit of tidying and no water change. Stir up any remaining debris at the bottom and capture it with a net.
If your water could user a bit more TLC, you can consider doing a partial water change of 25-50%.
If, on the other hand, you can see a decent amount of sludge buildup on the bottom, or the water looks cloudy or dark, then a full cleanout would be warranted. Prepare to fully drain and refill your pond!
Draining a pond is not for the faint of heart. There are a number of steps to take to ensure that it is done properly and to keep fish healthy and safe. Plan to set aside a day to complete the process, especially if you’re just getting started with pond care.
Prepare Your Fish
If you’re opted for a pond cleanout then you’ll need to take steps to prepare your fish for the transition. You’ll need a clean holding tank, such as a large tub, kiddie pool or commercial fish tank. Your fish will need to survive in their temporary home for a few hours so be sure it is big enough to provide them with space to move and fitted with a net to prevent them from jumping out. Don’t neglect this last step – those little daredevils will end up flopping on the lawn more often than not unless you take steps to keep them safely contained.
Fill the tanks with some of the pond water so the fish won’t be stressed too much by a change in environment. Drain the pond until there is about a foot of water left. Then capture your fish in a net and place them in their holding tank. Lowering the water will make it easier to catch those slippery critters. Be gentle!
Once the fish are in the holding tank, keep them in a shaded spot for no more than a few hours. Planning each step ahead can help you save time and move through the process quickly.
Drain The Pond
Place your pump into the deepest part of the pond and attach it to a drainage hose or pipe. Be sure to place the drain far enough away from the pond that the draining water won’t simply create a muddy backwash.
During the course of the draining, move the hose several times to different parts of the yard to avoid flooding. The last thing you want from a pond cleanout is a wrecked flowerbed or a lawn turned into marsh.
Clean The Pond
Once the pond has been drained, rinse it out gently with a hose or power washer. Don’t use any detergents or soap, as they can seriously disrupt your pond environment! If you have a power washer that was previously used with soap, it may still contain residue. Consider getting a power washer that you use just for the purpose of cleaning your pond.
If you’ve got a lot of algae, you can gently scrub it from rock surfaces but don’t be too aggressive. A balanced pond needs some algae to keep it healthy. Algae actually provides necessary nutrients and serves as food for fish, so no pond should be completely algae-free.
If the bottom is particularly sludgy, you can use a pond vacuum to help.
Check, Clean And Replace Equipment
Some of what you do now will depend on what you did to close your pond in the fall. If you’ve removed and cleaned the pump, you can simply reconnect it now. If it remained in your pond all winter, it most likely needs a good scrubbing.
While you’re at it, clean and scrub filters, but remember not to use soap or detergents. Your pond isn’t your kitchen table! Some bacteria is actually healthy just as some algae is beneficial.
Now would also be a good time to check that pumps and filters are in good shape. Replace any equipment that has been damaged or broken over the winter. You’ll have a much easier time doing it now than going backwards later after you’ve gone through the effort of cleaning your pond.
Don’t forget that lighting is part of what makes your pond special! If you haven’t installed any, this is as good a time as any to plan to do it. With the water drained and the fish safe, you can install lighting between stones, at the bottom of the pond, and where waterfalls will be.
If you already have lighting, check bulbs and replace any that need it. Things get jostled during rough winter months, so reposition any spotlights or bulbs that have been pushed off kilter in recent storms.
And even if you already have lighting, this is a great time to think about how you can make it even better. Consider color changing bulbs, different types of lighting designs, or timers.
Cut Back And Prepare Plants
Any dead or damaged plants should be cut back and removed. If you overwintered plants in a deeper part of the pond or even indoors, now is the time to bring them back out. If plants have become overgrown, it’s a great time to divide and repot them.
Consider where new plants will be needed. Different types of plants serve different important functions in a pond, from protecting fish to keeping algae in check to providing shade and nutrients. A healthy pond has the right combination of marginal plants, submerged plants and floaters. A wide variety of plants will not only keep your pond healthy but get it looking beautiful.
Refill Your Pond And Send Fish Home
If you’ve drained the pond in part or in full, this is the last step in the refilling process. A garden hose isn’t known for speed so this could take a little while!
Be especially careful about returning fish to their home. The water they’re used to can be radically different than the new water, which is likely much colder and can have unwelcome additives like chlorine. If you’ve got municipal water then you’ll likely need to add a dechlorinator before returning fish.
It’s a good idea to test the pH, salinity and other aspects of water quality. Any unsafe levels can be managed with the right pond products.
Ready to return fish? First place them into a smaller bucket with their original pond water. A 5 gallon bucket should do nicely. Place the bucket into the pond but don’t dump it or the fish in! Just let the bucket, with the fish inside, sit in the pond water so the temperature equalizes slowly without over-stressing fish.
After about 15 minutes, start splashing new pond water into the bucket to help fish acclimate. Do this a few times and your fish should be fine to place back in their home environment.
Add Beneficial Bacteria
Remember that we said some bacteria is necessary for a healthy pond? Now is the time to add it. The right kind of bacteria can help break down any additional organic matter, clear up remaining sludge and keep water clean and clear. Whether you’ve drained your pond or not, don’t neglect this step.
Put Predator Controls In Place
If you’ve got fish, then you’ve got predators. Fall netting may have protected them for a while but soon the herons and other hungry critters will return.
There are a lot of predator controls you can put in place, so don’t wait. Raccoons aren’t going to wait for their dinner, so protect fish early! Netting, bamboo edging, decoys and water “scarecrows” that shoot a stream of startling water at intervals can all help to keep pond fish safe for the season.
Once the temperature is a consistent 50 degrees again you can start feeding fish. There are myriad types of commercially available fish food, or let them enjoy your leftover salad greens.
With the right equipment, plants and protections in place you’re ready to enjoy a brand new season. If you’re planning to clean your pond out yourself and have questions, or if you’re just not eager to tackle the job, let us know. We’ll give you advice and let you know which pond supplies you’ll need. Or our pond professionals will visit your home for a full, white-glove spring pond cleaning.