Fish are the jewels of our ponds and bring us joy from last thaw when they reemerge from the warmer waters below, to first frost when they disappear again for winter.
But if we want to enjoy our fish season after season we need to care for them and ensure that they are healthy and safe. It’s not difficult to care for fish and if you have a well-balanced natural pond ecosystem, they will practically take care of themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can leave their fate to chance. With a little bit of knowledge and the right practices you can keep your pond – and the fish that live there – in optimal shape now and for years to come.
Here are some important things you need to know about fish health so you can watch yours thrive.
Mind The Water
It may sound obvious but water quality has a tremendous impact on the health and longevity of your fish. The problem is that it isn’t always so obvious when it comes to recognizing poor water quality. A big algae bloom is a noticeable sign of a pond out of balance but even clear water can harbor problems.
Fish, just like humans, need oxygen to survive. The difference is that they take in the oxygen dissolved in water rather than oxygen from the air. Why does that matter? Well, if the water is too warm or not circulated and aerated properly, there may be insufficient oxygen to sustain your fish.
Warm water cannot maintain the proper ratio of dissolved oxygen so if your pond is in full sunlight for most of the day, it’s especially important to shade it, either with a man-made structure like a shade sail or pergola, or with plants designed for just that purpose, like water lilies and duckweed. Approximately 40-60% of the surface of your pond should be shaded at all times.
For optimal circulation, install a pump designed to keep the water moving. Typically, the entire volume of your pond should be circulated once per hour. You can also include a waterfall or fountain, which will not only help aerate the water but will also look great, too.
If you suspect a problem with your water, have it tested immediately. You can bring a water sample to our store and we’ll test it for you and make recommendations for resolving any issues that may come up.
Watch For Odd Behavior
If you enjoy watching and feeding your fish, you’ll quickly notice when something seems “off”. If you don’t spend much time gazing into the water then make a point of checking on your pond regularly so you will be able to tell when things go awry.
For example, you may notice that your usually active koi have suddenly disappeared to the bottom of the pond and don’t come out to be fed.
Or they may come up too often, jump out of the pond or swim erratically. Don’t mistake this for playful behavior – fish, koi especially, do not exhibit these behaviors unless there is a problem, and often it means a lack of oxygen.
Sometimes, high nitrites or ammonia levels can cause strange behavior and poor health. These can be diagnosed with a water quality test and treated. They can also be prevented naturally with a balanced ecosystem that includes a combination of the right types of shade plants, submerged plants, marginal plants, filtration and aeration systems.
Another sign that there may be a concern is “flashing” – which is exactly what it sounds like. While it’s not uncommon for your fish’s scales to catch the sun now and then, excessive flashing can be a sign of a deeper issue. And if you see multiple fish exhibiting the same flashing, it’s time to look for the cause.
It’s not always straightforward to determine the cause, but some common ones include high nitrites and ammonia, high electrical voltage from pumps or other devices in the pond, parasites and even a hard rain that has caused fertilizer-laden runoff to enter the pond.
If you see any of these behaviors or another that is out of the ordinary, take action to prevent a worsening situation. We’re equipped with a full fish hospital and can examine fish to help get to the bottom of the problem, make recommendations for treatments and even advise you as to whether it is a single-fish or full pond issue.
Feed Fish A Proper Diet
Just like their humans, fish need proper nutrition to live and thrive. Part of maintaining proper nutrition is keeping a balanced pond ecosystem. Algae is the most common natural fish food and even though nobody wants to look at a pond full of green water, it is important to maintain healthy levels of algae – that means enough algae to feed your fish but not enough to cause blooms that overwhelm the pond.
Too often people can get too aggressive about eliminating algae without realizing that some is an essential part of a healthy pond.
When you feed your fish commercially available food, be sure it is of high quality so they get all the vitamins and nutrients they need.
And don’t overfeed! Sometimes we get a little too enthusiastic about feeding our fish, especially if our kids are having a great time watching the critters eat right from their hands.
Uneaten food will decay and overfed fish will result in excessive waste, both of which can end up causing algae problems, which isn’t good for anyone.
Feed fish high quality food consistently, up to twice a day, and feed no more than your fish can fully consume within 30 seconds.
If you aren’t available to feed them, an automatic feeder can dispense the right amount at the right time whether you’re busy with dinner or away on vacation.
If you introduce a sick fish into your pond, there’s a good chance that the rest of your fish will get sick, too. That’s why it’s important to buy from a reputable dealer that ensures proper care and quarantine for new fish.
Fish that have been transported are typically under stress, and much like in humans, that can have negative side effects. Depending on where the fish was harvested and how it was cared for throughout its journey, it may be susceptible to parasites and disease.
Before you purchase the fish, be sure that it has been quarantined for several days to ensure its condition.
If you have a pond it helps to understand how to keep your pond critters healthy so you can enjoy them season after season. If you have any questions about fish health or are concerned that there may be a problem in your pond, let us know. We can test water, examine fish, make a diagnosis, educate you and recommend treatments.
And if you’re still dreaming of a pond, let’s talk! We want to build you the outdoor space of your dreams.