Is your pond ready for spring?
By Dayleen Van Ryswyk aka “The Koi Lady”
It’s that time of the year when the warmer days of early spring lure you out into the garden to get things tidied up for the new season. Unfortunately, some people get a little over enthusiastic when it comes to getting the pond ready. Unlike the garden that can do with a really good spring overhaul, the pond needs to be treated a little kinder and more gently.
The fish are just starting to emerge from their winter rest and more than ever they need to have as little stress as possible. During the winter, the fish’s immune system is very slow and weak due to the cold and they are more vulnerable to stress, bacteria and parasites. This is why you must resist the urge to remove the fish from the pond to drain and clean it. Instead, get your filtration all hooked up and running but don’t have your pump suck from the bottom of the pond just yet. The reason being, you don’t want to start churning up the warmer water at the bottom where the fish have been lying during the winter. Equally, you wouldn’t want to run a really big waterfall yet because it would create too strong a current in the pond. If the fish have to fight to stay warm and upright, then they will be weaker and less able to fight off disease. Do a small water change. Think of it as "flushing the toilet"
1) Do a 20-25% water change, use dechlorinator
2) Do keep your aeration going, do keep any pond cover you had on over winter..ON
3) Do hook up your filtration if you can follow the rules listed in this article
4) Do salt your water if the ice is off. 3-4 pounds per 100 US gallons or 30-40 pounds per 1000 US gallons. This gets your water to between .3% - .4% (POINT 3%-POINT4%) This helps with stress from spring temerature swings AND kills off some parasites. Keep the salt level up until early to mid May (most locations) NOTE: Use PURE salt, no additives
Anyone that has been keeping their pond fish indoors over the winter would be well advised to not put them out in the pond until the water is at least 55 degrees. Even then, make very sure that you take the time to acclimate them to the colder water. Every spring I get frantic phone calls from people that have fish lying over on their sides dying. I cringe for the poor things that have been happily swimming around their warm indoor tank (at home or at a pet store) just to be tossed out into a freezing cold pond. Imagine being all toasty warm and then falling in a freezing cold pond, you would soon get sick too. Be patient, proper acclimation in cold spring water can take hours
Depending on your zone, your Koi and goldfish may be coming to the surface now looking for food. Since they probably haven’t eaten in a few months and their digestive enzymes are still somewhat dormant, you should go easy on feeding. Koi do not have a stomach like you and I do. What they do have is a digestive tract with enzymes to digest their food. When the water is cold, those digestive enzymes go dormant and aren’t able to efficiently process high protein foods. This is why foods high in carbohydrates are recommended during the fall and spring times.
A good cold-water food to start with in the spring is wheat germ pellets. They are basically a regular pellet food but with higher amounts of wheat germ and carbohydrates. Start out slowly with small amounts every other day when your water is over 50 degrees, changing to daily feedings when your water has warmed to over 55. Once your water is over 65 degrees you can start adding a higher protein food to their diet and feed them twice daily if you have adequate filtration. Remember, you can’t over feed your fish but you can over feed your water. Proper filtration for “your” fish load is a must.
NOTE: The best first food for your fish is algae. DO NOT feed them, if the pond has string algae or an abundance of algae on the pond walls. If they aren't eating that, then they aren't that hungry, and you are spoiling them, when you shouldn't be. If there's algae, and you start feeding, you are only feeding MORE algae..STOP! Let them clean up the pond first..then feed them their pellets when everything is grazed down to a short fuzzy coating.
Once you start feeding your fish, you should check your PH, KH, ammonia and nitrites on a regular basis. Since the water is cold, the good bacteria that keeps your water healthy is dormant as well. Once the water gets over about 55 degrees the good bacteria will start to colonize but it takes time, approximately 4-6 weeks of warm weather until your filtration is running at peak performance. When it comes to pond cleaning I don’t advocate ever draining your pond completely and power washing it. One, that’s a pretty drastic thing to do and 2) the chlorinated water will sterilize all the good bacteria your pond needs to be healthy and the water clear. All anyone should have to do at spring start up is to do a partially water change and use a fine net or vacuum to remove the debris that has accumulated on the pond bottom over winter. Remember to always use a de-chlorinator to remove the harmful chlorine and chloramines from your tap water as you re-fill your pond. A regular addition of a sludge remover (Blast & AquaSphere Balls, Pond Blocks, Microbe-Lift) product in early spring and all during the season would help keep the pond cleaner and also help your filtration to be more efficient. By removing sludge and decomposing material, your water will be healthier and have a higher oxygen content.
If you have lowered your water lilies to the bottom of the pond for the winter, they can be raised back up now. Check the tubers for rot and destroy any that are rotten. If they are growing out of their pots, you can re-pot them and fertilize them now. If you keep the pots only a few inches below the surface of the water, they will grow faster as the water is warmer at the surface. You can slowly lower them as they grow. The ideal depth for most water lilies is between 12” and 18” over the top of the pot.
Here’s a good spring check list
1) Once the pond water is over 50 degrees get the filtration running. (Do a 20-25% water change once ice is off)
2) Don’t let your pump suck from the bottom until your water is at least 60 degrees.
3) Vacuum the pond bottom but no drastic water changes please.
4) If you would like to catch your fish to check over their health try and do so in as calm and as stress free manner as possible. Don’t chase them around with your net.
5) Feed a good quality wheat germ pellet between 50 and 65 degrees water temperature. Remember, small amounts are best.
6) Check your water parameters on a regular basis. Have test kits and use them.
7) Add a sludge remover product to help digest any unremoved debris in the pond. Something such as Blast from Bioverse and even toss in one of the AquaShere balls that we use. Other options could include Microbe Lift PL or Sludge Away to mention a few. For early spring and cold water, we use Blast and the AquaSphere balls together. Microbe-Lift Spring & Summer Cleaner, would be the next best thing and is designed for use in cold water. Summer treatments won't work successfully in cold water.
8) Re-pot over grown plants and start feeding your water lilies their fertilizer tabs.
Just a reminder; the fish predators are also active again. If you have small fish you may want to add bird netting over your pond to keep the Heron’s and Kingfishers out. Black netting in ¼” by ¼” squares is very unobtrusive visually and will help to keep your pond from being terrorized by birds. Raccoons can be stopped with straight sides on your pond, dropping to a water depth of 3 feet. Raccoons love shallow ponds with lots of shelves to wade around on and catch your fish. Unfortunately, shallow ponds are soon a predators all you can eat buffet.