Spring pond update

There are five ponds in the garden, and for the first time in years I had to replace one of the pumps this spring. Several pumps have been working without a care for ten years, or at least as long as I can recall. I haven’t a clue what happened. One day it worked, the next it didn’t. Quite often when a pump has stopped I’ll find that something large (and often gruesome) has become lodged in the pump opening, but that wasn’t the case this time.

So, I turned a couple screws to loosen a fitting, popped the new pump into the water, plugged it in, and the pond’s off and running. Beyond this minor aggravation the ponds have been no problem at all this spring.

On occasion there will be a problem with string algae in a few of the ponds, but that has been only a minor nuisance this spring. A few years ago I purchased a metal pole with a brush at the end that does a marvelous job of capturing algae, but I haven’t needed it so far this year. The water, as always, remains clear enough to see the small stones on the bottom of the pond, even on the swimming pond that is nearly five feet deep.

I have talked with people who think that ponds must be a tremendous bother, requiring endless hours of maintenance. Admittedly, my first pond twenty years ago was a bit troublesome, but I’ve figured out a thing or two since, and most months I spend less than fifteen minutes fooling with one thing or another. I would say no time at all, but that would unnecessarily arouse suspicion that I’ve been less than honest.

In my experience, the biggest labor saver is the pond skimmer, a plastic or fiberglass box that sits outside the pond, with a flapped door into the pond similar in appearance to the openings in a swimming pool. The pond pump sits in the skimmer so that water is drawn through the rectangular opening. A leaf net captures leaves and debris, and a filter pad stops smaller particles from fouling the pump.

Although the skimmer will not capture every leaf that falls into the pond, it serves to prevent debris from clogging the pump.  In my earliest pond the pump sat on a rock on the bottom of the pond, so that every sort of debris was drawn to its small filter pad. Even after I added a large pre-filter the pump would lag after a week, so that I had to remove the slimy filter and hose it off regularly.

With the skimmer this maintenance isn’t necessary. Three ponds have no filter at all, just a leaf net. They require cleaning no more than every other month, and often only once each summer and once in March when the debris from the autumn and winter is cleaned out. And there’s lots of debris.

Most pond references tell you not to build a pond near trees, but between the forest that runs along the southern border of the garden, and the dozens of trees that I’ve planted, there is no way that I could avoid falling leaves and twigs. One pond and a long stream are only a few feet from the trunks of large maples, and the other ponds all have overhanging trees that necessitate covering them with large nets prior to leaves dropping in the autumn.

No chemicals are needed to keep the ponds’ water clear. Pond supply centers sell dry and liquid bacteria formulations that convert decaying organic materials to forms that don’t feed algae growth, but this seems to happen naturally in my ponds, so I’ve no need to purchase anything. In my limited understanding, beneficial bacteria multiply in highly aerated water, and require the surface area of filter pads, beads, bioballs, or other porous materials to grow in sufficient quantities. In my ponds the bottoms are covered in small river gravel, and the sides are covered with larger stones. Apparently this is adequate surface area, since the ponds are always clear.

Some pond keepers prefer mechanical filtration such as sand filters, and devices such as UV lights to kill algae, but these are more costly from the start and require more upkeep than I’ve experienced. For most of the year I’m able to sit back and enjoy the ponds, without a care that hours of maintenance are just around the corner.

Today we have not addressed the aesthetics of the pond, or how the pond fits into the larger garden. I take for granted that you want a pond, but perhaps fear that it will be too costly or require too much time to maintain. Besides my five ponds, the garden is nearly an acre in size, yet most of my free time from mid April through year’s end is spent enjoying, not working. There are no helpers, no paid staff, just me, and all is accomplished with plenty of time for leisure.

In the next week I will get back around to covering what’s blooming in the garden, but at week’s end the Japanese iris that surround the pond will be in full bloom, so I’ll return then with more photos.

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3 thoughts on “Spring pond update

  1. I’m hopeful that our pond and surrounding Japanese garden, will be as lovely as your ponds. We are having skimmers installed, and I’m pleased that you speak highly of them. We also have mature maples,Norway spruce and weeping Red Jade crabs and other deciduous trees nearby, and we’re hoping to have some partial shade so we can grow moss/ferns on/between the rocks where the water fall enters the pond. Hope our pond is fully up/running by 1 July. Know the water has to become conditioned, or whatever, before fish are introduced, but we already we have frogs and tadpoles, who found their way to our backyard. We have a nighty serenade now.

    • If moss begins to grow on rocks in a shaded pond it can spread quickly (for moss, that is). The combination of constant moisture and shade encourages moss, and if you want to spread it more quickly you can mix bits of moss and buttermilk and paint it onto the rocks. Moss is very specific to the surfaces that it grows on, so you’ll need to harvest moss that is growing on rocks

      The only water treatment that is needed for a pond for it to be suitable for fish is to dechlorinate treated water, since chlorine is toxic. Otherwise, koi and goldfish in the pond are even easier to raise than plants.

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