Pond owners often have many questions regarding the cleaning of their pond. When can I clean it? When should I clean it? How should I clean it? Why should I clean it at all? These are all good questions and I’m going to see if I can answer a few of them right here and now.
The reason that we have these naturally balanced ecosystem ponds is to beautify our landscapes and sooth our minds right? Well I’m sure that we all have our reasons for owning a pond and we may all have our own reasons for wanting to clean our ponds. This is not something to worry about or to stress out over, it’s just a pond. You are not likely to wreck your pond no matter what you do. Now don’t get me wrong, if you never ever clean your pond or if you dump chemicals into your pond in an attempt to clean things up, you can definitely hurt or kill your fish. As a matter of fact, other than aesthetics, your fish are probably the main reason that you might want to clean your pond.
The biggest reason to clean your pond is to remove any of the debris that may have settled to the bottom since the last cleaning, or since it was installed for those who have yet to clean. How much debris falls into your pond in the first place, and what type of debris falls into your pond will have a huge impact on how often you will want to clean. Too much rotting plant or animal material at the bottom of your pond will be hard on your fish and hard on your water quality. The gravel bottom of your pond has a lot of surface area where the bacteria and enzymes will live and work hard to break down the debris to keep it to a minimum, but if you get heavy amounts of leaves, dead plant material or grass clippings into your pond, the bacteria will fall behind and not be able to keep up with the job. You can do a lot to help your little bacteria friends by removing the debris before it sits for too long on the bottom or by keeping most of it out of the pond in the first place.
Some people place a net over their pond in the fall when the leaves are falling heavily. This approach can really help the cleanliness of your pond. There are however some problems with this approach. It is often difficult to support the netting above the pond water. You may need some sort of framework to support the net. The netting itself is not extremely attractive and remember the pond is here to beautify the yard right? Also, I’ve seen many pond owners who stretch a net across the pond in fall and just forget it until spring. This will usually result in a net full of soggy rotten leaves that are sunk to the bottom of the pond. Usually this mess of soggy leaves is so heavy and water-logged, that it ends up ripping the net when you try to lift it out, so you are right back where you started with a bunch of wet leaves in your pond. If you are going to net the pond, you should support it so it doesn’t hang in the water and clean the leaves and debris that collect in the net to prevent them from weighing it down. I’ve heard that a leaf blower works well for clearing leaves from the netting.
If you don’t cherish the thought of having a net across your pond, then you always have the option of skimming the leaves and debris from the pond with a hand-held net. This approach can be quite effective, especially for someone who has extra time to skim every few days in the fall. the leaves are much easier to remove before they begin to clump together and rot on the bottom. In fact, for many pond owners whose ponds have become their hobby, this hand skimming method along with plant trimming and filter media cleaning are their only source of pond cleaning required.
Then there is the third method which is my chosen method for my ponds. Do nothing. For many of us, we don’t really touch, manipulate, clean or think much about our ponds. We just let mother nature take her course and we see what we have in the spring. I’ll admit, I do make a pass at my pond with a net late in fall, right before it freezes in an attempt to lessen the burden of heavy debris on my fish over the winter. This is usually sufficient to keep everything working smoothly and my fish alive. Now I’m not saying that I don’t lose a few fish occasionally, but for the most part, they do pretty well.
As I’m sure you can guess, these three methods listed above will leave you with ponds in various stages of clean going into winter. The big question now is what to do in spring? Well, the answer is still “that all depends”. It all depends on what you as the owner would like and what the pond needs. If you have made your pond a hobby and keep up with it all year-long, there probably won’t be much to clean. Even if there are a few piles of debris, you can probably just skim them out with your net and you’ll be fine. Even if you do not regularly maintain your pond, if your pond is well-balanced, you may not need to clean it every year. Some people clean their pond every few years. The larger the body of water, the more difficult the clean, but also the less it needs cleaning. It seems that the larger bodies of water are easier to balance and thus much more efficient and self-cleaning.
So, maybe the pond needs cleaning and maybe it doesn’t. More often than not, the question is does the homeowner want it cleaned. Well, do you? Some folks would like the pond as natural as possible with little human intervention, and some want to see those rocks sparkling clean every spring. Either way is fine, either way will work. If you don’t feel up for the pond clean, don’t do it. If you feel that life is better with a fresh, clean springtime pond then great, clean it. Either way , your pond will be fine.
I’ll go into exact step by step instructions on a different page, but for right now, I’ll give you my three levels of cleaning that I offer my clients. We try to perform these cleanings in early spring, after all of the ice melts but before it gets so warm that all of the plants and fish are going crazy. It is easier on the fish and the plants when the water is still cold.
Quick, Minimal Clean
The minimal clean is the quickest, easiest and cheapest level of clean. For this we clean out all filter material in the pond. This typically means biofalls filters and skimmer filters and nets. We also clean out the biofalls box and the skimmer box, removing all debris. We reinstall the filter material, top off the water, install the pump and get it running. We trim any dead aquatic plant material and we also take our nets and do our best to skim any leaves and debris off of the top and bottom of the pond. With a bit of patience and the right technique, we can get most of it. We add a barley bale or two in the biofalls box and we add a good strong dose of bacteria to the water. Clean, simple, minimal.
We do everything mentioned for the minimum clean, plus we pump down about one foot of the pond water. We leave the fish in the pond during our partial clean. We then pressure wash the top rocks in the pond and once again skim the debris with a net. This option allows for a rather quick clean with the added advantage of having fresh clean rocks at the top of your pond where you see them the most.
For the full clean, we do everything mentioned above in the minimal clean, but we also pump the pond all the way down. The fish are removed from the pond and held in a tank while we do the cleaning. This is a great time to cull out any unwanted fish. We remove all debris from the pond by hand and then fully pressure wash the pond from top to bottom. Any rocks that may have moved over the past season are put back in place and gravel is taken from the bottom of the pond and put back up on the upper shelves. The aquatic plants are thinned as needed and all of the lights are checked and fixed or replaced. After all of this, we wash down the rocks one more time with a hose and let our clean out pumps remove most of the muddy water. We re-introduce the fish and refill the pond.
Those are the three levels of cleaning that we typically offer, but a lot of times, our cleaning depends on budget. Many of our clients will want us to stay with in a certain budget, so that is what we do. We do our best with what we are given. You can treat your own pond the same. If you only have a few hours, plan accordingly. If you have all day, give it the full clean. It’s all up to you.
There you have it, the when, how and whys of cleaning your pond.