Basic Pond Book

20379 Ecorse

Taylor, MI 48180

313 383 8653

Reprinted from our web page





Basic pond construction for dummies...and useful hints for the rest of us.


Before we get started with all the ins and outs of basic pond construction, we would like to give you a little background on why we are the so-called "experts" when it comes to water gardening. It is because we have made all the mistakes... we literally have either tried or done every stupid thing you can possibly think of in building and maintaining a pond. What follows is a short list of dumb things... NOT to do if you want your pond to be fun instead of work:

  1. Just dig a hole in the ground and add water. A pond unless it was made by Mom (Mother Nature) needs something to hold the water other than just plain old dirt, like some kind of liner, but more on liners, proper design for waterfalls, flows and such later.
  2. Do not circulate the water or use some type of filter system. Unless you are making a cesspool instead of a pond you will need to move that water around a bit. More on filters, pumps etc. later (be patient)
  3. Put what life (both plant and animal) you want in the pond. This you can do, that is if you are ready to except the consequences. Do you really want to do the care and feeding of a 8 ft croc, as in 'odile' that is. We will talk about what you can safely add to the life that Mom adds to make your pond as compatible as possible later under the heading "Life".

That is the big three... The 3 biggest mistakes you can make when building a pond. All problems associated with failed ponds seem to come from these mistakes or at least some variation of them.

As we go through this text about ponds we will try to show you some things that have worked and a few that have not.

This is not a contest. Sure someone, somewhere will find a way to make something work where we have failed, but... so what, this is a beginners help guide, and as such we have attempted to give you some advice on how not to do things as well as how to... in an effort to save you some problems. After all we have made all the dumb mistakes for you, no need to thank us, it is our job.

Let's start by talking about "balance".

If you get into this hobby, you soon will be hearing about "balance". Pond people love to talk about balance. The term is subjective at best and has couple of meanings. One refers to the state of the pond where it is for the most part self-sustaining and another is when the water remains clear. For the purpose of this text we are going to combine both meanings into one. That is to state that "balance" is when the pond is for the most part operating on it's own and the water clarity is acceptable.

The reason we started this text with a definition of balance is because before you start your pond building you should consider what type of pond you want and what it is going to take to obtain the "balance" you want for it.

DO NOT USE BLEACH IN YOUR POND IF YOU WANT LIFE TO LIVE THERE. (WE HOPE THAT IS CLEAR) BUT... if you want life then a few other rules apply...

Rules: We do not like rules, rules are made by someone so that someone else will follow them. The basic concept of rules is contrary to our nature. Who wants to follow when they can lead. As far your pond is concerned, you are going to build it, maintain it, enjoy it etc. SO... when it comes to your pond, make up your own set of rules to obtain your balanced pond these with three exceptions..... Which are MOM'S RULES:

Rule #1. Life finds a way.

Rule #2. Mom is always in charge.

Rule #3. Mom makes the rules.

Mom being of course: Mother Nature.

To illustrate a point about rule #1. If you took a kiddy wading pool, put water into it and did nothing else... Soon life would come to that crude pond. Microscopic plant and animal life would soon start the life cycle, breed, grow, live and die. Now this type of backyard pond may not be what most would consider an attractive addition to the landscape, but it is a pond no less. Few would want to have the boss over for a bar-b-q, next to a smelly, green slime cesspool. Which means we want the type of life we want, not what just comes along. Mom put life there because it is... simply her job.
Also, which we will soon explain, this crude pond is balanced. That is… according to Mom.

Which brings us to rule # 2. Mom is always in charge and has all the time in the world. Unless you want to engage in a constant battle with Mom (over her idea of balance and yours), you better learn right up front that the best way to introduce the type of plant and animal life you want in the pond is to let Mom know in such a way that she will except it, not just do it and hope for the best.

Mom does not care what type of life we have in our ponds, just that there is life there. We can put what ever we want in the pond as long as we can show Mom we can care for it under her rules. Under Mom's rules, that above kiddy pool is balanced because the life in there (mostly algae and microscopic animal life) will LIVE AND DIE at a proportional rate. No new life will come to the pond until there is food and the room for it.

Rule # 3 is simply a re-cap of this understanding of the nature of Mom. You can get what you want as long as you "suggest" it, not force it, upon Mom.

Maybe a good illustration of this balance concept is to realize that the entire world is in balance. That is the way Mom set it up. Every aspect of life as we know it is in complete harmony. Life begins, lives and dies. The world works!

WHAT??? You might be saying to yourself right now... "How about oil spills, air pollution, the all out assault on the forests, chemical overkill, war, and about a thousand other bad things... balance? The world is in total turmoil all the time, not at all balanced."

Well, according to whom and on whose timetable?

Remember Mom is in charge, her world = her rules. She does not care what life is here, just so long as there is life. Another thing to think about is that Mom works at her own pace. If we had not cleaned up that Valdez oil thing in Alaska, she would have taken care of it just fine. Sure it may have taken her a few million years to do it, but she does not care how long it takes, we do. We want what we want and we want it now. That also goes for our pond. That is okay, after all we built the pond and it is our right to have it the way we want it. Right? Yes to some extent, just remember it is Mom who gave you the knowledge, materials and tools to do it. Which brings us back to why Mom's rules are important. If we do what we need to do to show Mom what we want in our pond in a way that is not completely in opposition to her rules, then she will let us have it. More detail on this later, we just wanted to give you a short overview of the concept of a natural balanced pond, which you will soon be hearing about, and the fact that the only way to achieve it successfully is to follow Mom's rules.


Skippy Sez: Do Not Get Nuts! Water gardening is supposed to be a fun and relaxing hobby. You can build a pond and enjoy it. Take your time and gather as much information as you can. Ask for advice. Learn from other's mistakes and do not beat yourself up over your own mistakes.

The first thing we need to do now is... Go dig a hole!

That is, if you are planning to put in an in-ground pond, but if you are planning on putting in an above ground pond then...or maybe you are planning to have a combination of in ground and above ground then... or what if planning to have an outdoor pond or planning to have an indoors pond or... or... or...

If you get the drift of the above paragraph then you realize that the key word in it is planning. Planning was something we did not do much of when we put in our first pond. In fact we said something to this effect. "Hey, this looks like a nice place for a pond, go get a shovel."

Skippy Sez: Do some planning. If nothing more than a rough draft on notebook paper. Then ask someone to look at the draft and the site. A second opinion can often uncover basic design flaws. This is important in the fact that in our haste to enjoy the pond, even before the work of putting it in is complete, we have a tendency to over look a few things like:

Let us give you an example of what happened when a small flaw in the design of a pond was overlooked. We have a friend who for the most part is reasonably intelligent; he has the good fortune to live above a nice golf course. We say above, because his house sits on a high hill over looking the course. He decided to build this huge two level 7000gal pond on top of the hill next to his deck. He even designed his own flow through bio-filter which would handle the capacity of the pond and then some. For ease of maintenance he installed a 1 1/2 inch drain hose leading down the hill. When he wanted to clean his filter he could just close off the valve to the inlet of the filter and open the valve on the drain hose, which led down the hill. The idea being he could flush out all the trapped waste. Semi-good idea. The flaw was where he put the valve for the drain. He put the valve at the end of the hose, which ended near the bench where golfers waited with nothing to do as others teed off. One day a bored golfer opened the valve to see what would happen. 7000 gals of our friend's water was used to wet the thrust of the seventeenth fairway. Oh yes, one other thing, it seems our friend had put his pump in the lowest possible point of his pond system, therefore the entire pond got drained by the siphon effect.

Skippy Sez: Do not put your pump lower than you ever want your water to get to. Nothing is worst than a mad koi flopping around.

What all that means is that planning is important. Ponds drawn on paper are a lot less costly than real ponds mistakenly built. When ever we start a new pond, before we take the first shovel full, etc., we take the basic design which we have done on paper and sit in a chair near the site we are going to use and try and imagine the pond in operation. We ask ourselves several questions:

What is the meaning of life?, just kidding... But we do ask this:..

AND... Any other question we can think of, but you get the idea. After you thought about this for awhile and answered all your questions then...
...dig a hole. Well maybe, what you should do is think about doing something that will hold water........


Dry ponds are not what we are discussing here. Water wet and wild is the topic, so you will need something to hold it in. From a simple oaken barrel on up to an in-ground, thousands of gallons, small lake you will need something to keep that water where you put it. There are all kinds of ways, but we will talk about only a few. The reason being is that we are not writing a book here, just a short (maybe) text on some pond building tips. So, let's talk about the two most popular ponds or better put, ways to keep water where you put it, which will become a pond... pre-fabs and flexible liners.

A prefab (prefabricated) is the hard-sided shells, which are sold at all the Home Depot/Lowe's/etc. garden centers. They come in a vast variety of sizes and shapes. What they all have in common is that they are not flexible. What you see is what you get. For all their shapes and sizes, the fact remains that someone has predetermined for you the choices you have. Which is fine for some, but in our opinion there is a better way, that being a flexible liner, which we will talk about in a moment. Prefabs might seem at first the way to go because the sales clerk might have said "this pond is easy to install, just dig a hole and drop it in."

Well, we have never figured out why digging a hole for a prefab is easier than digging a hole for a flexible liner? Also if you put a pencil and calculator to it, a prefab loses in the "bang-for-your-buck" category. We will go out on a limb here by stating that with the same money you can build a pond that will hold at least twice the gallons by using a flexible liner as you can with a prefab. Another drawback of the prefabs is winter. They are not normally deep enough to properly keep fish alive and they have a tendency to crack or heave out of the ground.

Now that being said we sometimes recommend prefabs for above ground installation. Double talk, right? No not really, using a prefab as a deck pond, indoor pond or as an above ground first pond in a cascading series of ponds leading down to a in-ground pond can save a lot of time and work.

Lets talk about flexible liners...

We are not here to get into all the controversy surrounding flexible liners.

WARNING: if you have not heard about all the pros and cons of using pool liners, roofing liners, EPDM, etc. then never mind and skip the next 4 paragraphs and save yourself some time.

First of all, this is our opinion, what we have tried, used, failed at, and had success with and so forth. You can do as you please, your pond, your rules, remember? As far as pool liners are concerned... we do not like them because of the color, normally blue, and their thickness, 20 to 30 mil seems to be to thin to withstand the punishment of someone stepping on a stone while wading in the pond.

We are not even going to discuss the 4 or 8 mil plastic junk here, except to say that our first pond was made out of some of this stuff and lasted about three months.

Now the biggie... EPDM 45mil rubber. Pond safe or roofing liner? NO, NO, NO, we are not going to get in to it... What the heck, lets just say it… we use roofing liner and think the so-called "fish safe" stuff is a waste of money. The "fish safe guys" try to say without any concrete proof that we have seen is that for some reason 45mil EPDM rubber roofing liner is different than 45mil EPDM rubber pond liner. Just one quickie example: We have heard it stated that the roofing material is sprayed with insecticides and/or algaecides. This is dumb on the surface for 2 reasons. First, there is no warning label on the roofing liner, which if the stuff was harmful in any way would most certainly be there. Secondly, if this were done it would require an extra step in the manufacturing process. What company do you know adds something to their product and then charges less? Sometimes the material comes with a fine powder, which helps to keep the material from sticking to itself. Big deal, wash it off.

"But, the fish safe stuff is guaranteed." ...The other dumb claim. Every guarantee we have read basically states: If it can be proven that the liner caused fish to die, then they will replace the liner. Now that is a great guarantee. If that guarantee impresses anyone we got some snake oil for sale.

Okay, for all of you who skipped the above 4 paragraphs and saved yourself some time and those of you who had to read it anyway, we are now going to discuss the use of flexible 45mil EPDM rubber liner... in our opinion the only stuff to use.

To help put all this together, lets go build an in-ground pond that should sustain life, which is what most of us want.

Now dig a hole, go out and buy the right size liner and put your liner in the hole. For the first time in this text "digging a hole" is not that far off base. You see, that is the nice thing about flexible liners...hey, they are flexible. They conform to the hole that you dig for the most part. NOTE: You noticed that we underlined and highlighted the right size liner above, well that is important and here is why...

You could dig a hole that is to big for your liner, which is a waste of hole digging energy, so do not buy the liner until you are sure of the right size to get.

Which brings us back to planning. Keep in mind in the planning stage to account for any underwater features you want in your pond. Shelves for plants, deep holes for wintering, slopes, etc.

We are about to talk about liner size vs. hole size, but we also do not want to get real complicated here, so we are going to try and make this as simple as possible. Keep in mind a couple of things we have learned from experience:

In order for a liner to fit properly in the hole, then the liner must be bigger than the hole. The liner must run from past the outside lip of the hole, down the side wall of the hole, across the bottom of the hole (laying flat to the deepest part of the hole), up the other side wall of the hole, and over the lip of the other side of the hole. Oh yes, in both directions... length and width.

That should be common sense, but sadly some of us did not understand that. Not to mention names, but it was us. (Another dumb mistake, one that now you do not have to make, no need to thank us, it is our job.)

The formula for all this is…length + twice the depth for one side of the liner and width + twice the depth for the other side of the liner.

Example: if your pond (the hole) is 5 feet long and 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep you will need a liner that is 9 X 9. 5 feet to run across the bottom, plus 2 feet to come up one side, plus 2 feet to come up the other side...5 + 2 +2 = 9. Recommended liner for this pond would then be 10 x 10.

That being said let us now get into the variables:

Most that has been written about pond construction tells us to make the pond sides level with each other. This is good in the respect that when the pond is full, the water level is equal all the way around the edges.

We also recommend that in actual construction you want your pond lip to be level all the way around, but somewhat higher than the surrounding ground level. Remember your pond in most cases, since it is in-ground, is going to be the lowest point in the area where you install it. Water seeks the lowest level.

If the lip of your pond is lower than your lawn, then anything you pour on your lawn, like chemicals, weed killers, fertilizers etc., will sooner or later flow into your pond.

Skippy Sez: If you frame in your pond with 2"x6" boards stood on end about 12 inches back from the lip and secured into the ground with 1/2 inch conduit pipes driven into the ground behind the boards, this makes a nice barrier where you can bring the liner up and over the boards. Where it can be secured by screwing a few slats of wood to the outside of the boards wedging the liner in-between. Also, a couple of other benefits of this design is that you create a under-water shelf, where you can put bog plants etc.. Since the water when full, is actually higher than the surrounding ground by 4 to 6 inches it softens the sides of your pond and looks more natural. If you have a problem following this concept see the following diagram for the installation process. OR just ask us, another free advice thing.

If Mom had put a liner under the Colorado river a few million years ago we would not now have the Grand Canyon, which in turn means we would not need National Park service employees, which in turn means there would not be so much of a budget crunch, which means we would not need a congressional committee to over see the budget, which means we would not need as many congressmen, which in our opinion would be a good thing. Not having congressmen we mean, the Grand Canyon is okay. But do you want the start of a canyon in your back yard?

Water is the most powerful force on earth. The absolute best time to plan for a waterfall and/or stream leading into the pond is before you buy the liner. Patching together a couple of pieces of liner is a pain, take our word for it. If you can plan ahead and get a liner that is long enough that your entire system, from pond, through a stream, and up to the top of the waterfall is contained in one continuous piece of liner, that is good, real good.

Skippy Sez: Also consider the type of rock your water will be running over. Do not put sandstone or other soft stone in or around your pond. Sandstone erodes and will turn your water a nice shade of tan. Slate and river rocks are best to landscape the pond.

As we stated earlier the easiest sizes of liners to obtain are 10ft, 20ft or 30ft wide. (But 40 or even 50-foot wide stuff is available) As far as length is concerned, they can come prepackaged up to 30 or more feet long and if you get a roll of the stuff they can be even 100ft long. So if you are planning for example to put in a pond that is 4ft wide, 2ft deep, 10ft long, with a 3ft stream leading to a 2ft high waterfall, the math for the liner works out this way. 4ft (width of pond) + 2ft (depth of pond) + 2ft (depth of pond again) = 8ft. This is the minimum width liner you can use. Now for the length. 10ft (length of the pond) + 2ft (depth of pond) + 2ft (depth of pond again) PLUS 3ft (length of stream, (Note: we are assuming that your stream is smaller in width and depth than your pond so the above, width size will be ample). Mini-tip... during planning, you should have some type of lip running down both sides of your stream to contain the water in the direction you want it to flow, remember the Grand Canyon?

Skippy Sez: If you are going to also use our recommended construction process utilizing the 2"x6" boards stood on end as explained above, you will have to add another 2ft to the width of the liner to compensate for the extra area. 1ft + 1ft = 2ft to cover the set back from the lip.

Where are we at? Oh ya, we have 10ft + 2ft + 2ft + 3ft which equals the length of the pond and the stream or 17 feet to this point. Now add 2ft (to run up the waterfall face) = 19ft.

Recap: you need a liner that is at least 8ft x 19ft.

If you incorporate the set back 2"x6" boards as in our recommended method then that liner needs to be at least 10ft wide X 22ft long.

Confused yet? Well, we will try harder. Do this... Dig a hole. There is nothing that says that you can not dig the hole first, then take a flexible tape measure and run it from the lip of one side of your pond, down the side, across the bottom, up the other side and over the lip to the other side of your pond and get the exact measurement of the width of the liner you need. Do the same for the length and you got the right measurements for the size liner that will work. Why did we not say that right up front? Because we wanted to give you some basic information to use when you are just in the planning stage of your project. Some people like to cost out every thing before they actually do it. Unlike us.

A word about costs... the most important part of your pond besides the water is the way that water is contained... the liner. Do yourself a favor and do not skimp on this aspect of construction. Get a full 45mil thick EPDM rubber liner. For some reason people seem to want to try every thing from pool liners to plastic drop cloths, but we have not found anything that works better and longer than EPDM. However, like we just said, before you actually purchase that liner and start to lay it in your pond it is a good idea to take that final measurement as stated above.

Okay, let us say that you are smarter than we were, (which is not too hard) and you have gotten the right size liner to fit your pond. The next step is to put something between the ground and the liner. Something that protects your liner from punctures by roots, small rocks, etc. This happens when you get into your pond when it is full of water and walk around... yes, you will get into your pond and walk around, take our word for it.

You can go out and buy an under liner-liner, but we think that is a waste of money. If you just put a 1/4" layer of wet newspapers down and line the hole with them it works just fine as a cushion to protect the liner from the ground. Why wet? This is a mini tip... when the newspaper is wet; it will stick to the sidewalls and will not blow around while you put in the liner. Also do not get into your pond with 3" spiked high heels on. Get the point? What you want to do after you have lined the hole with newspaper or other type of protection is to lay the liner in the hole and fit it to the bottom and sides as best as possible.

DO NOT worry that there are going to be wrinkles, just fold and smooth out the liner as best you can. (The pressure of the water does great things to wrinkles.) When done you will quickly see if you bought the right size liner. It either fits or you are on your way back to try and get an exchange. OR, you will have to fill in some of the hole. Your choice. HOWEVER, before you secure the ends of the liner, by either screwing it to the boards by using our recommended method or other means, you will want to fill the pond. As the water fills the pond you can get in and straighten out the wrinkles, a pull here, a tuck here, and soon the liner fits! When you are absolutely sure it fits, then secure it.

Do you want to know how many gallons your pond holds? Yes you do, we all do and for several reasons which are discussed under the headings of Pumps etc. and also under Additives. Well, there are a couple of ways. When the pond is completely full, get a one-gallon milk jug and scoop out all the water while counting. (We hope you understand that was a joke)

You can get an estimate of the gallons by taking the length X width X average depth X 7.5. You noticed we said estimate and the reason is the average depth measurement. Most ponds do not have straight sides going down to a flat bottom.

Another way is that some hardware stores sell a devise that you can attach to your garden hose that will measure the flow through the hose, but common sense tells us we need to attach this devise before we start filling the pond.

Now fill your pond with water… You got a pond. A still, fresh, uninhabited pond.

Life begins. Right from the start Mom starts her work and begins to prepare that water you just put in the pond so things can breed, live and die. Just take our word for it...all right? More on this later.

One of the attractions of having a pond is the sound of running water, it soothes the soul. Also, running water has a very beneficial effect on the life of the pond. We are not going to get into which life likes moving water and which life likes dead still water except to say that most of us like the type of life that likes running water and needs it to survive, so we are only going to talk about ponds where the water moves around a bit...which means some type of pump.

AND there are a bunch... all types, sizes, shapes, with every horsepower, amp and GPH rating vs. head height etc. you could think of. Let us give you just a few simple explanations of some of the terms you will running into when considering a pump.


Amps...they go hand in hand with watts, which simply put is the money you pay to your electric company.

If that explanation is too simple for you, then go talk to an electrician. But for our discussion here, lower amps = lower cost. Take our word for it.

Skippy Sez: A sump pump that is designed for sucking out a basement may at first look like a good buy, but check the amps. That pump may cost you a bunch in the long run, if it runs all the time like we want when we use a pump in a pond situation. Also be careful of any pump that is filled with oil. The seal may leak and you will have your own little Exxon spill to clean up.

GPH... Gallons Per Hour. A rating that goes hand in hand with something called "head height." The best way to explain head height is to think of it this way... a pump is used to pump water from one place to another, usually this is uphill. The head height is where the water ends up. The height the pump has to pump the water. The reason it is rated, is that as you increase the height that the pump needs to pump the GPH rating decreases.

Just a small variable here, the rating, which is printed on most boxes that pumps come in, is assuming a straight up measurement. If you are also pushing this water some distance away from the pump as it raises, then the efficiency of the pump is also decreased somewhat, the pump is working harder and the head height rating is even lower.

BUT, do not get nuts about all this, the two main ratings which concern us are GPH and head height. There is a long complicated formula for all this which includes such things as hose size, length, height, time of day, rotation of the moon, weather... NO, not all that, but a formula none the less, that needs a rocket scientist to explain it. For most of our applications just worry about GPH and head height. Unless the run from the pump's inlet is real far from the outflow you will not see much difference in performance, that is subject to head height. You might be amazed at how fast the rating of a pump decreases as you raise the head height.

Example: a lot of 250 GPH pumps will not raise water over 6 feet, the pump actually stops. So if you got a 2ft deep pond and a 2ft high water fall then the flow out of that 250 GPH pump would not be confused with Niagara Falls.

On the other hand a 5000 GPH monster pushing water through a 1 1/2" hose down a 1-foot steam would make a sound that would keep neighbors awake two blocks away. Which brings us to why all this GPH, head height, etc. is important... balance and common sense.

The last two examples of pump use hopefully will cover the common sense part and as far as balance is concerned here goes... Almost every book we have read tries to come up with some type of formula, which compares the amount of gallons in the whole system (the pond) to the size of the pump. Yes there are some guidelines, which should be observed. But keep in mind this is your pond, your rules, your problems and your enjoyment. The reason being to promote the proper balance and to some extent proper filtration.

Skippy Sez: We would like to meet the "pond guru" who knows exactly the ratio of gallons per flow rate for every type of filter in use. There are just too many variables to take into consideration. Water hardness, number of fish and their size, filter medium, cubic inches of filtering material, organic waste load, etc. just to name a few. But, also let us not get nuts over this. Most filter manufactures have done the work for us. They will tell us in their propaganda the pump size and pond size that they recommend for their products. As a rule of thumb, if you stay with in their guidelines and the basic filter design is not flawed, they work fairly well. (Note: We want so badly to make a few recommendation here on our own about filters, to tell you what works and what we have found out is just plain junk, but that would take up a book.) So, ask us and we will, if we have tested a filter you are considering, give you the best advise we can. This is another of those free advice things. Mostly because we have not figured out a way to charge for it yet, so take advantage. One thing we will state here is that we really like "out of the pond, flow through" type filters. AND the very best system we have used is the Rubbermaid stock tank conversion, up flow filter, acting as a waterfall. This type of filter you can get more information about on our website.

Back to pumps and flow rates and like that... when you consider a pump, keep in mind the work you want it to do...i.e. gushing waterfall vs. trickle, towering fountain or calm bubblier. Consider the manufacturer's recommendation on what pump to use with the filter you choose. And also consider the Toys. Toys are all the fountains, spitting frogs, aerators, etc. you may want to incorporate into your water garden landscape.

You can use one pump for each toy you add or with a little forethought have just one pump run the entire system. Keep in mind each outlet; each flow of water is a separate head so the more the toys the bigger the pump you will need. Again common sense should prevail.

Skippy Sez: Here's a double tip... Here in Michigan where it gets cold in the winter, we have to sometimes use pond deicers (floating heaters) to let the gases escape from the still living pond to protect the fish. We use a large main pump during the summer months to operate the filter and waterfall. We use a separate smaller pump to operate the toys, a spitting frog and small fountain. When winter comes, as it seems to do each year, we shut down the main pump. We disconnect the toys and switch the smaller pump to an aerator with the outlet pointed up. The aerator combined with the upward pointed water flow keeps the pond deiced most days, so we do not have to use the deicer that often.

Second part of the tip... once you have decided on the pump and toys etc. put the system together (plumbing etc.) before you do your landscaping both in and out of the pond. Get it up and running for a day. It is much easier to correct a problem without moving two tons of river rock to get to a hose line, we did that and it was a pain.

A side note about circulation. It is best to circulate the entire pond as best as possible. So therefore put your pump as far away as the return as you can. Example: Have your waterfall at one end of the pond and the pump at the other end.

What were we talking about? Oh yes... pumps and such. With all that said, some of you may still want a recommendation which states some type of guideline which in turn states pump size vs. pond gallons. Okay, okay here goes...

Use your head... common sense should always prevail. For example do not attempt to re-circulate a 50-gal whiskey barrel pond with a 5000 gal per hour pump. Try to stay within the guidelines set up by the filter manufacturer. We will even say this: use the smallest GPH pump you can get away with, taking into consideration, the type of filter you use, the amount of waterfall flow you want and the toys. Which brings us to the other extreme of the above example: a 5000gal pond being re-circulated by a 50gal per hour pump just does not get it either.

We feel, (due to trial and a lot of errors) that it is better not to re-circulate your pond more than once every hour. So a 1000-gallon pond should need no more than a 1000-gallon per hour pump, right? Yes, but take into account all the above variables and that this are not chiseled in stone.

We are going to mention one more thing about circulation here that really needs a long explanation, which you can get by asking us. And that being... the flow of water and its effect on the biological filtering process. No long-winded explanation, and if you have not heard the term "biological filter" you soon will, just go into any place where pond people are. Simply put, the biological filter process is the process that Mom set up in the beginning to break down waste matter into more suitable compounds. This process takes time, that is the way she set it up, we got to deal with it, and in fact we want to deal with it. The process works, but we have to give it time and the reason it is important is that it is beneficial to our ponds. The process takes place in the entire pond, but is real effective when it happens in the filter.

Like we said, a lot of this bio-stuff takes place in the filter and it takes time. If you are over pumping your filter, pushing it past the recommendation of the manufacturer, then that biological filtering effect has a hard time taking place. Unlike swimming pool filters that are designed to completely filter out anything that comes along, a pond filter needs time to trap things, let them biologically decompose and the beneficial stuff gets returned to the pond. Swimming pool filters are not designed to biologically decompose matter; they just trap the stuff that the chlorine killed. A big difference from pond filtration. Now, if you just want a pond for the running water effect with no plant life or animal life in it, you have read too far; go back to the beginning and see where we said use bleach, it kills everything. By the way if you are a bleacher, then thanks for coming, see ya later, have a nice day. You do not need to go on reading for we are going to talk about... LIFE

If you put life into your pond you should be responsible for it. You should maintain as healthy an environment as you can. In most cases that is going to require a filter. You should know this: People, often when they build a pond, bring along their "swimming pool" mentality. That is, they equate clear water with healthy water. AND they can be two separate things. Of course it would be nice if a healthy pond also was a pond which was clear enough to see to the bottom.

That can happen if the filter you use does a dual role, that is helping to provide a healthy environment for the life in the pond while keeping the water free of that dreaded algae stuff. Can be done, so lets start to talk about:


The best way to begin is to tell a little story about coots and ducks. A coot is a bird that swims like a duck, walks like a duck, flies like a duck and from a distance even looks like a duck, but it ain't no duck it is a coot. There are a lot of filters out there that are advertised as a filter, look like a filter, make claims to be a filter, but sadly fall far short of what a good biological filter should be. As examples here are a few "coot" designed filters. If a filter is advertised as a biological filter it must provide the elements necessary for the biological process to take place. That being: oxygen, bacteria and time. If a filter sets down in the pond, the only way for it to get oxygen is from the water. Any filter in a box, which by designed is to be set in the bottom of the pond, is therefore not a biological filter. They do have some useful purposes, they are fine for keeping a fountain running clean or for aeration. If the filter is nothing more than a bucket where a pump has been placed wrapped in filter media this is a real poor design and far from being a biological filter. Common sense should tell us that in a very short time in operation the outer layers of the media will clog and then the water is being simply pumped past the media and through the pump with no filtration happening at all. Also, cleaning this type of filter is a real pain. You have to pull it out of the pond, which dumps about half the stuff it trapped right back into the water. Other big problem with this "wrapped pump" design is that it causes the pump to heat up and therefore causing early failure. That type of filter is a REAL COOT.

A swimming pool filter just does not work in a pond application for the simple reason that there is life in a pond. The swimming pool filter is not what is keeping the water clear, what is happing is the chlorine is killing the algae and the filter is just trapping it. If you stopped using chlorine the water would quickly turn green.

Small square box filters which set out side the pond are getting closer to the right design, but most often they are far to undersized to do the job.

There are a few filters around which are not biological, but do help to keep the pond environment healthy and to some extent clean the water of algae. These types of filters contain a mesh bag with a zeolite and carbon mix. Zeolite is a natural mineral that absorbs ammonia and carbon removes other harmful compounds from the water. On small ponds the zeolite/carbon filters seem to work fine. The best we have found so far is made by PondFiltration.

Biological Filters:

In order to explain what a good filter must do we must give an explanation of the biological process. We are going to try and keep this as simple as possible. Decay is the key word when talking about the biological process. The process is really the life cycle of the pond. Organic matter (plant and animal life) dies, and bacteria begins to decay the matter. There are several stages that this process takes. Ammonia is formed, then nitrites, then nitrates and finally nitrogen. Nitrogen is basically plant food. So you can see how the natural life cycle of the biological process works. As things die and the process completes its cycle the resulting effect is a nutrient for plant life. The plant life is eaten by animal life etc..

A couple of points: Ammonia is deadly for fish and other living things. Algae thrive on nitrogen. What we want our filter to do is by using Mom's biological decay process we get rid of the ammonia as fast as possible. If you have been following this you might be thinking… "That a biological filter is actually a nitrogen making machine. It is good to take out the ammonia, but the end result, the nitrogen, will that not cause a major algae bloom and therefore turn my water green faster?" Well, no and the answer is FM. What follows is an essay off our web page, which we hope will explain all this.









Most people who have ponds want the water to be bright and clear, but sometimes experience a problem, which can be best described as "green water". In order to find a cure for this green water condition we have to understand what causes it to happen. Green water is simply floating algae in the water making the pond appear to be green. Algae is nothing more than a form of plant life. A very important form of plant life, in fact, so important that without algae, all life on this planet would suffer. You see, algae is way down on the food chain. Mom (Mother Nature) likes algae. She has made it easy to make… a little water, a little sunlight… boom… algae. She has even made algae pretty much self-sustaining. When algae dies and decays the final result of the process is nitrogen, which feeds plant life, algae included. Algae is found in every natural body of water that contains life, even under the polar caps. It is Mom's way of feeding the earth. She wants it, she needs it to feed both animal life and other forms of plant life, it is easy to grow, it is hardy and has been around for a few billion years, so if we try to eliminate it all together Mom is going to get mad. AND here in lies the answer to the problem. That being how to let Mom have her algae and us still have clear water. It's called "balance".

Let's take a moment and talk about the aspect of life called balance. Balance is where life for the most part is self perpetuating, that is where life comes about, lives, dies and the cycle begins anew. The whole world is a perfect example of this balance of life. Mom loves life, she put it here and she intends on it staying here. Mom also does not care what forms of life are here, just so long as there is life. She does not discriminate, giving each form of life the means to live, reproduce and die. Sure, there are natural and man made disasters which on first glance might seem like a break in the life cycle of the planet, but are they a problem for Mom? Lets take one example of what most of us would deem a break in the natural balance of life… an oil spill in the ocean. For us humans this is a major problem, but for Mom it is just a little glitch, which she will handle in her own time and way.

Believe it or not, Mom will clean up any oil spill that happens, sure it may take her a few million years or so, but she will handle the job just fine and she is not on a timetable like us humans. Mom has devised ways of dealing with any problem that comes along that is detrimental to life. Now, that may sound like an "off the wall statement" when you consider the amount of life that is lost when a oil spill or other disaster happens, but life goes on, life will find a way and therefore Mom is still in charge. She even has enzymes (life forms) that eat oil, now is that balance or what? Now, what does all that have to do with our pond and green water?

Well, understand this… the old saying is true, "you can't fight Mother Nature". BUT if you give her what she wants, she might let you have what you want. Again this is going to require some explaining. Take into consideration that the whole world is a filtration system designed to keep our most precious resource: water, clean. We all know that water is needed to have life… that's a fact.

Without going into great detail the system works something like this… water evaporates over the ocean, becomes clouds, floats over the land, is dumped as rain, is cleaned by the rocks, dirt, and used by plants and animals then in some form is returned to the ocean.

That is the way it works, think about it… the perfect filter system. AND where ever there is water there is algae… Mom's perfect food. That part of the system works something like this, small microscopic animals eat the algae, bigger animals eat the micro-animals, bigger animals eat the animals that have eaten her algae, and then… well, you get the picture. Even the nitrogen that is produced by the dead algae that was not eaten is used by Mom to nourish her higher forms of plant life. (the nitrogen cycle will be explained in a moment) What a system… right? Of course and here is something else to consider… if you have ever seen a clear stream, river, or lake you have seen the perfect example of "balance". The algae is there, it is growing and reproducing, but it is being used, therefore NO GREEN WATER.

Now you should know how to cure the green water problem in your pond. If not, here is a hint. Follow Mother Nature's example and add to your pond a "filter system" that closely emulates hers.
How do we do that:

First of all we need a filter system that uses the biological process in such a manner that deals with Mom's "nitrogen cycle" in such a way that is beneficial to our needs while at the same time does not conflict with her desire to grow algae. The nitrogen cycle is something that Mom set up to reproduce her algae. In order for algae to grow, besides water, you have to have sunlight and nitrogen. Nitrogen is simply algae food. Nitrogen is also used by all other forms of pond plant life. Without going into a long boring detail of the cycle and how it comes about here is a short explanation of the cycle: Ammonia is produced by both animal waste (fish poop and such) and decaying organic matter (dead stuff), this ammonia is decomposed by bacteria into first of all nitrite, then to nitrate and then finally to nitrogen. This nitrogen is then used as a nutrient by the plant life, algae included, which starts the cycle all over again. STOP! Does this not mean that if we have a filter which enhances this nitrogen cycle are we not actually making a nitrogen producing machine, which is food for algae, which common sense would tell us that we are going to now get even a bigger crop of algae?

Well the answer is… NO and the reason being is FM. FM stands for freakin' magic. Let me explain… with the right type of filter a wonderful thing happens which for the lack of a better term is as stated… FM. The filter will trap the algae, let it die, and decompose it in such a way that the end result, the nitrogen, is used to the extent that basically starves out the algae in the pond. Need a little more detail? Here goes… let us compare a un-filtered pond with a filtered pond. For example, if you took just a simple kiddy wading pool and filled it with water you would have a un-filtered pond and soon Mom would put in some algae, in fact after a while a bunch of algae. If you looked at this pond what would you see? A green slime filled cesspool right? Well, not exactly. Yes, after a time the sides, bottom and the entire surface of the pool will become covered with green algae, but also an amazing thing will happen. Even this simple kiddy-pool pond will obtain a balance. At some point in the life cycle of this pond all the nitrogen produced by the life in the pond will be consumed by that life at a rate which will be in perfect balance. The amount of life this pond can sustain will be reached and as things die they will only be replaced proportionally. Need proof? If you were to take your hand and slowly move the surface floating algae away you would find clear water. What has happened is that the algae that has lined the pool, combined with the floating algae is using the available nitrogen and sunlight therefore any new algae which could grow in the water is slowed, end result is clear water.

"Yes, but the pond is covered with algae and that is not acceptable?"…you might be saying. Okay, let us add a filter and see what happens.

If the filter is of the right design, the filter will take away the floating algae, move it to the filter, where it can still grow and satisfy Mom, the natural life cycle of the algae will even help to use up the available nitrogen which will slow the growth of any new algae, for the most part the ammonia to nitrogen cycle will be taking place in the filter instead of the pond AND guess what?… FM = CLEAR WATER

That is the simple explanation of the FM cure for green water and sure there is more to it. As an example, as stated, you need the right filter design. For the biological process to take place you need bacteria and time. A good filter will trap the algae giving the bacteria enough time to decompose it. Bacteria needs oxygen to live so therefore "out of the pond" filters are much better at decomposing organic matter than "underwater" filters. The filter must be large enough to produce the desired effect on the entire pond. The filter is very important in our quest for a balanced pond, but other factors also apply and are helpful… Higher forms of plant life in the pond and around the pond will help keep the algae growth under control by taking away the available nitrogen and by also shading the pond. Add plants that you like and add lots of them!

A few more tips on controlling algae:

Do not over clean your pond and filter: Whenever you clean your pond or filter you actually trigger Mom to grow more algae. The biological process takes time, if you hurry it up by cleaning, you most often also remove the beneficial bacteria colony and/or nitrogen consuming algae… more will grow and very quickly. Tap water added to the pond also adds chlorine which in turns kills bacteria. Bacteria is needed for the ammonia cycle to take place. No bacteria = no cycle = more algae, the point being add a chlorine remover every time you add water. With the right filter the pond should take care of itself. Start it up in the spring by spiking with some beneficial bacteria and let it run all summer.

Do not over feed you fish: Uneaten food becomes waste. Excess waste matter in the pond in any form adds more ammonia which is detrimental to both animal life and plant life. Excess ammonia levels in the pond and filter will slow the natural cycle down and produce more algae. Fish are natural algae munchers, but are also lazy for the most part.

If you feed them too much from outside the pond they will simply stop eating the algae in the pond.

Add higher forms of plant life: Mom does not care what life is in the pond just so long as there is life there. Mom does not care that the available nitrogen is being used by a beautiful lily or by a clump of pea soup colored algae. She leaves that choice up to us.

Shade the pond: Algae being plant life needs sunlight to grow. If the sunlight is being used by an overhanging plant then… you get the picture.

Algaecides and other ...cides: (Additives which are used to kill algae.) If you noticed in this essay we did not mention them and the reason is because for the most part as far as controlling algae is concerned they are an un-natural addition to the pond used to mask the problem by treating the symptom not the cause. If the above essay makes sense to you then common sense should also tell you that the use of anything that is designed to kill has to carry with it a harmful effect, therefore the use of anything that in an un-natural way effects the pond environment should be used rarely if at all. Algaecides kill algae. Algae is plant life. Logical conclusion algaecides can not be beneficial for any form of plant life including but not limited to lilies, cattails, rush, iris and so forth. Bottom line… if you kill off the algae by using a algaecide Mom is just going to grow some new algae anyway and you have just also hurt your other plant life besides.

Salt and other additives: First salt… yes, salt slows the growth of algae. Salt is also beneficial in the treatment of many illnesses that effect fish, but do you know what types of plant life and fish live in Utah's Great Salt Lake? Answer… NONE. The point being: If salt slows the growth of algae it has got to slow the growth of the other plant life in the pond, it is almost impossible to gauge the right amount of salt to add to a pond (if there is a right amount) which will slow the algae growth and still let the other forms of plant life survive. If you want to treat a sick fish with salt then use a sick tank. Keep salt out of your pond.

Other additives: There is a bunch and it would be almost impossible to describe them and there use here. A general statement which could cover them all is this… use with caution. Most of these additives are actually treating the symptom and not the problem.

One example is a product that makes the floating algae clump together, something like a "love potion #9" for algae thing. The result being that clumped algae is heavier than single algae so therefore the clumped algae sinks clearing the pond. Yep, it works and at times might even be needed, but think about it, if you have to keep adding this stuff every week are you not just making your pond clear enough for more algae to grow?






We said this earlier and we mean it, you can put whatever type of life you want into your pond. That is as long as you are willing to care for it. So when considering what to put into your pond get as much information as you can before you actually do it. One thing to keep in mind is that Mom set up a system long ago that seems to work, at least for pond life, and that is big things eat small things for the most part. Even the best behaved koi, if large enough, will snatch up a little koi cousin if given the opportunity. A good rule of thumb is: If a fish can get its mouth around another fish, the smaller fish sooner or later becomes a snack.

Mom also is putting life into the pond, it is her job, she provides for the life by setting up a food chain. If we as pond keepers deal with this food chain in the most natural way possible then Mom will help us in our quest for "balance".

Two tips on life and how to suggest to Mom the type of life you want and she most likely will go along with it are: Control algae in a natural way by using other forms of plant life. The other tip…do not over feed your fish, Mom provides a bunch of natural things for fish to eat, algae being one of them. Wasted food can greatly increase the chances of harmful bacteria growth.

For our discussion here we are only going to briefly touch on a few of the most common forms of life that are put into ponds by us humans.


The most common are plain old gold fish and wonderful koi. We like koi, as you can tell. Mostly, because they are much more colorful than goldfish. Some ignorant people actually call koi just a carp with color. That is like calling the Sistine Chapel just a paint job.

Some people put bass, pike, perch, sunfish and other types of wild lake fish into the pond. This is fine, but remember these type of fish take some extra care and they like to eat. Also you may need a permit to keep a game fish, check with the DNR before you drop in that Walleye.

There are a bunch of books written about fish for ponds and we are not going to try and add our, so-called, expertise here, we will save that for a seminar or another text. Again ask us, we love to talk fish as much as we love to talk ponds. What we want to state here is that if you are planning to keep fish in your pond you will need to plan for their care. That starts with water quality, which will be discussed under fish health.

Skippy Sez: Here, in Michigan during the winter we have hard water, it is called ice. For fish to live in a pond the water must be deep enough for the fish to have room under the ice to survive. We suggest that you will need to have a spot in your pond that is at least 24" deep (30" is best) and wide enough to hold the number of fish you plan to winter over. Also a deicer and a bubblier are a must. Koi and goldfish can handle the cold, but even when they go dormant for the winter their natural bodily functions continue. A by-product of this process is ammonia and other harmful gases. The deicer and bubblier keep "a hole" open in the ice for these gases to escape.

Snails, tadpoles, frogs, turtles and such… These guys are neat and fun to watch. In the wild they have their place in the grand scale of things, but in a pond environment they really are just a novelty. Do not get us wrong, we are not saying not to put them in your pond, just that if someone tells you that you got to have them, that person most likely sells them. Snails and tadpoles do eat algae to some extent, but it would take a bunch to have any real effect on algae control in the average pond.

NOTE: Tadpoles become frogs, frogs have legs, frogs hop, frogs go hopping, frogs sometimes go away on trips. Turtles also have legs. The point being if you put something in your pond that has legs do not be to surprised to find out that they have used their legs to walk away.

The main point of this short text on pond life is to stress that you can put stuff into you pond that is alive, but you have to care for it. We suggest you do some homework and reading before you put any living thing into your pond. Oh, just one more tip, Great White Sharks are NOT good backyard pond fish. Oh yea, the same goes for electric eels.

In order to keep any type of fish or other life in your pond you will have to maintain an environment that is healthy for the type of fish you choose. In order to do that you may have to introduce additives to you pond which provide the elements which make the environment conducive to substance life.

Additives for Your New Pond:

Walk into any store that carries pond supplies and you will see a shelf full of brightly colored bottles of stuff that you can add to your pond which are advertised as solving each and every problem that might crop up. We are glad we did not see this array of stuff before we built our first pond for we might have gotten the impression that this pond keeping is just too complicated and quit before we started. Which is going to be our point about additives.

Skippy Sez: DO NOT GET NUTS! Yes, there are solutions in a bottle for problems that may occur when maintaining a pond, but also a lot of additives are overused and/or simply not needed, at least not all the time.

Example: One of the products available on the market under a variety of names is an "algae clumper" or water clarifier. Note: If you build a pond sooner or later you are going to know about algae. Algae is not bad, that is if it is controlled as most of us want, but right now we are just trying to stress a point. This product claims to clear up cloudy water or green water by making the suspended algae in the pond come together forming a mass which is heavier than normal and therefore the "clumped" algae sinks to the bottom clearing the water. We got no problem with that. BUT, why do you have to add this product every week or so as the packaging recommends? Well, what happens when you use this product is to treat the symptom not the problem. The problem, if you need this product is because you have pea-soupy green water, the problem therefore being an overabundance of algae. The clumper i.e. clarifier additive clears the water, but the cause of the over abundance of algae is still there. As a matter of fact if you keep using this product you set up a cycle that actually promotes algae growth. By taking out the old algae you create a perfect environment for new algae to grow, which triggers a cycle of clearing the algae, grow new algae, clear it and so on. There is nothing wrong with these types of additives and in fact we sell them, we just recommend that you use them sparingly. They can be very helpful in the quest to cure the actual problem.

In this example, what one might consider, is to go ahead and clear the pond, but also re-establish a beneficial bacteria colony which is large enough to eat the algae or else add a few more aquatic plants to starve out the algae. We do not want to go into long scientific explanations here in our discussion of additives as to what might help in each and every case, our point is here is do not over use any additive.

What might be helpful in our discussion of additives is to take a step by step approach from the set up of a pond by filling it with water to it becoming established and explain where and when you might think about using an additive.

Take our word for it, one of the things you will want to do to have life in your pond is to establish a beneficial bacteria colony. This is were life starts in the pond, now Mom is very helpful in this area, she is working on establishing bacteria to the pond even before the water is shut off. But man has a problem with bacteria so he has put additives in that tap water that kills bacteria, chlorine is the most common. Now, and again you are going to have to take our word for it or do some research on your own, but there are harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria.

In a pond we want beneficial bacteria, the type that feeds on algae, decomposes waste matter and to some extent even feeds the fish. Chlorine kills bacteria, (bleach is chlorine) chlorine kills both types of bacteria, beneficial and harmful. Also chlorine in high concentrations is very harmful to fish. So one of the first things you will want to do is to rid the water of the chlorine, (that was added by the water treatment plant) or you could harm your fish and other life forms i.e. beneficial bacteria. Many pond people will recommend that one way to rid the pond of chlorine is to do nothing, just wait, because chlorine will dissipate over time. Which is true, but how long do you want to wait and when will you be sure the chlorine is gone? And that brings us to chloramine. Chloramine is a chlorine and ammonia compound that is sometimes added to tap water because of the fact that it does not dissipate as fast as just chlorine, therefore it's bacteria killing properties lasts longer.

Ammonia is a fish killer. And when you read about the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate cycle in another part of this book or another, you will find out that the natural life cycle of fish also adds ammonia to the water, which in addition to the ammonia added by the water treatment plant can cause DEATH. So in order for us to establish the pond and help Mom on her quest of adding life to that pond (the bacteria we want) we start with our first additive: A chlorine, chloramine and ammonia remover. Just a side note here, the water level in your pond over time will go down, do to evaporation and wind action. Remember when you add tap water straight from the hose, you are again adding chlorine, etc.. So you should also add the remover, every time you add water. In order to do this properly you will need to know how much water you are adding.

Skippy Sez: Knowing the full gallon capacity of your pond as discussed above is important when adding additives at the beginning. When your pond is low we feel it is best to add the remover to the water before it is introduced to the operating pond. One way is to add the remover to a 5-gallon bucket and then pour that into the pond. A less effective way is to add the remover to the stream of water coming from the hose. In either case it is a good idea to know the amount of water you are adding so you can add the proper dose of remover. A hose gauge or by counting the 5-gallon buckets as an example.

Once you have removed the chlorine you basically have just water. That is water with nothing in chlorine and no bacteria.

The bacteria being removed before it ever got to your pond, by the chlorine you just removed. Now you got to put the bacteria back in. Mom will do it, but Mom does not discriminate, which is a problem, for she might add bacteria that you do not want, and she is a little slow at times.

She will put into the system whatever bacteria comes along, both beneficial and harmful. What we want is the beneficial stuff. The best way to do that is to add it right from the start by spiking the pond water and the filter. So, the second additive you use is a bottle that contains beneficial bacteria. If you get this bacteria colony going and growing early it goes a long way to preventing problems later on, like green water and fish health problems.

NOTE: There is a very harmful bacteria (Aeromonas) that causes all kinds of problems in koi. If you establish a healthy beneficial bacteria colony before this unhealthy bacteria comes along; either by introducing an unhealthy fish or by plants which have been grown in ponds with infected fish the healthy beneficial colony will be dominant and there is a good chance that the harmful bacteria will not get established.

Now what? That's it, enjoy your pond. Now was that so hard? YES!!, what we are saying is this... the two additives that you really need is just chlorine remover and beneficial bacteria. Anything you add after this point should be used just to re-establish this point in your ponds operation. If you think that is an unreasonable statement then think about this... Right now if you were to put a healthy fish in the pond it should live. Right? If you look at your pond you should be able to see clear to the bottom. Right? What more do you want?

Well, of course other things are starting to grow, like algae, but the best way to handle algae growth is not with a algaecide (like bleach) or even a clumper, what you will want to do now is to establish a eco-system that contains other natural forms of life which work hand in hand to balance out your pond, to your goal, under Mom's rules. AND that is a whole book in itself. We will give you just a quick overview and some tips. Hopefully we have done our job and explained the benefit of starting with the right stuff in the pond to start with. As the pond matures and things grow the pond environment will change you will need to change with it.

Green water seems to be the biggest problem that we deal with so here are a few tips as to how to naturally control algae: First of all establish a good beneficial bacteria colony. Second understand that there is just so much nitrogen to go around. Nitrogen is the stuff that plant life needs to survive. Algae is plant life, so by putting other forms of plant life in your pond you slow algae growth by having the other plants use the nitrogen in the water. Sunlight promotes algae growth, put a few plants outside, as well as inside, your pond to help shade the pond. Do not over feed your fish. Sure it is nice to see those hungry koi come when you drop in the floating food sticks, but over-feeding them causes a bunch of problems, including excess waste matter in the pond and abundant algae growth. Do not clean that filter spotless each time, believe it or not, a pond filter is designed to work at it's best when it contains waste matter and a growing thriving bacteria colony.

Other additives should only be used to re-establish a balance to your pond. If you find yourself buying bottle after bottle of a water clarifier or other product to solve a problem, then start looking at the reason for the problem and not the symptom.

Other additives and a short description of their use:

Algaecides... Be real careful here. Algae is plant life and an algaecide will hurt your other plant life as well.

Clarifiers, clumpers... use only to clear the water when absolutely necessary, but work to establish a balance with other plant life and beneficial bacteria.

Blue water dyes... just what they say they are, they dye the water blue. The reasoning behind them is to shade the water to slow the growth of algae. Use if you want, but keep in mind that other things can shade a pond, like plants.

Pesticides and other cides... be real, real CAREFUL, use with extreme caution. Any thing that ends in cide should bring to mind homicide or suicide. These things are designed to kill...and they will.

Salt... This is a good thing, but as a fish health additive in an aquarium hospital tank not the pond in general. You can get that recommendation in a good fish health book or ask us. Also to much salt harms plant life.

Zeolites and Carbon… Should be used to help control ammonia and purify the water for general fish health. As pond keepers we tend to put in more fish than is natural for the size of the pond. Which is fine as long as you compensate the natural order of things.

Fish vitamins, fish additives, sick fish cures and such… Please ask us about these types of products, some are wonderful, some are deadly.

Recap: Simply put, use additives sparingly. Try to strive for as natural an environment in your pond as possible. Think about this... if Mom is working for you, you can sit back and relax.

Skippy's Directions for Healthy Fish

Even the healthiest of ponds can succumb to disease or toxic poisoning. The very nature of the pond makes it susceptible to infestation of one type or another or a build up of unhealthy toxicants at some time or another. Ponds are normally outdoors, therefore subject to the elements and the creatures that roam there. A squirrel that visited your pond could of left behind a germ filled dodo as a present. That little bird that took a morning dip may have had some bacteria that got washed off. You might have unwittingly put in a new fish or plant that brought along a strain of aeromonus salmonicida all the way from Asia.

The chemicals from your tap water can effect the health of your fish. Even the fish themselves do to their natural body functions contribute to toxic waste. The point being... disease and toxic poisoning can come to your pond and your fish from a variety of sources.

The best we can do as pond keepers is to do all we can to start with and then maintain as healthy an environment as we can, so if some unforeseen bacteria or other health problem comes along our pond and the fish there can by the use of their own immune systems to fight back.

Which brings us to the number 1 thing you can do to help your fish fight bacteria infections and poisoning...water quality. Common sense should dictate that the water in your pond is as important to your fish as the air you breathe is to you. The main way you get a cold or the flu is from the air you breath and in turn the main transfer of disease to your fish is from the water they breath in. Also chemical and biological toxicants can be floating around in air and water. We are not going to go into all the different ways that an infection or the transfer of harmful bacteria or toxicants can occur, but what we want to stress is that it all starts with the quality of the water. As a pond keeper you need to start with healthy water and then try as best you can to maintain that healthy environment for your fish.

WE CAN NOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH… do not buy a single fish or plant that you are not reasonably sure is free of health problems.

If you are starting a pond or already have an established pond, but do not have a water test kit you are inviting a tragedy to happen. The type of test kit we are talking about is a simple, do it yourself kit, that tests for at least three things: That being ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. The instructions that come with the kits will tell you why and how to test your water. Again we will not go into a long discussion here on each and every test and the reason for it other than to say if you test your water and any one of those tests are out of line your fish are in trouble. These kits are available at most stores that sell pond supplies and like we said are a must.

Testing for toxicants as above is easier that testing for harmful bacteria and disease. The usual way you will find out that your fish are sick from some type of internal infection, harmful bacteria or parasite is you will notice them acting differently. They will act sick or dead. Dead is easy to determine, but the early forms of sickness are often hidden or difficult to detect until it becomes a major problem. How do you know if a fish is sick or not? The answer is that you need information. Something you should have on hand in your personal library is a good informative book on the subject of fish health. It seems we have read about a million or so of them and have come to the conclusion that one of the best is the one written by the FishVet. Hey, with a handle like that he better know his business. His real name is Dr. Johnson and he takes a no nonsense approach to his recommendations and from our experience we know his advice works. We can get the book for you or give you Dr. Johnson's address to write to. There is a link on our web page to his. The reason we suggest that you keep a fish health book readily available is because infection, disease, and poisoning can occur very quickly. The faster you treat a problem in your pond the better. AND of course prevention is the best cure for any problem. Let us give you an example of how things can go terribly wrong. We know someone who decided that it might be a good idea to test their freshly built pond and the water by putting in a few cheap goldfish first. The reasoning being if they survived for awhile then better fish could then be introduced to the pond. BAD IDEA... let us explain why: These type of fish, normally sold as feeder fish, dime store goldfish, etc. are most often hatched and raised in the worst type of conditions, with little or no concern for general health, much less any type of preventive immunization. They are raised cheaply so they can be sold cheap. What happened in this example was that one or more of the cheap goldfish had a bacteria infection and lived long enough to transfer the bacteria to the new pond, where it grew, slowly at first, but growing none the less. When new fish got introduced to the pond they also got introduced to the bacteria which was already there, they in turn infected others and so on, eventually all the fish became infected and died. The only cure was to start over. Sure, at anytime, harmful bacteria can be introduced to the pond environment and just as surely buying expensive fish is no guarantee that you are buying disease free fish, but what we hope you get from this example is this... Hedge your bets... buy fish that you can be reasonably assured are healthy and free of disease. If you plan on having koi in your pond you need to be aware that there is a disease that is, sadly to say, very common among the koi population, it is aeromonus salmonicida, commonly know as ulcer or hole in the side disease. It is a bad bug and can cause you a major pain in the butt. We have found that one of the best ways to handle this disease to prevent it.No scientific mumbo jumbo here, but from what we understand bacteria is very territorial. If you establish a good beneficial bacteria colony even if Aeromonus is somehow introduced it has a harder time getting a foothold. BUT, you might still end up with a fish that develops a hole in the side or other injury. What follows is a treatment plan we have used with some success. Any time you see a fish that has an injury, wound or developing sore the first thing you should do is isolate the fish. The isolation tank should be at least 3 gallons per inch of fish. Therefore a 10-inch fish should have about 30 gallons. The fish should also be able to turn around. Have a suitable cover for the tank, so the fish can not jump out. Generously aerate the water. Clear the tank of any objects where it can hurt itself further. No rocks, sticks or cute little underwater castles. Remember to use a de-chlorinator. Make sure the temperature of the water in the tank is the same as where the fish came from. Do not add salt at this time, but you will later. Prepare a flat surface and have these items readily at hand:

When you capture the fish, be careful not to bend its body or let it struggle too much. A flat koi net is preferred. Lay the fish on the damp towel. Cover its head by folding part of the towel over it. This should quiet the fish some, but still hold it firmly, but not so hard as to cause more injury.

Carefully clean the wound of any obvious infection and/or fungus. Finish by dabbing on the Mercurochrome. Mycitracin will come later.

Put the fish in the isolation tank making sure it is well aerated and the cover is secure. Let the fish have 24 hours of undisturbed rest before proceeding. It is a good idea to have the tank away from the mainstream of traffic. This includes, but not limited to kids and cats.

The water in the tank should end up as a 3% salt solution. Which as a rule of thumb is 3 teaspoonfuls per gallon. BUT, do not add this all at once. Break the dosage down into thirds and add over 3 days. Example: A 30 gallon tank would require 90 teaspoons total, so add just 30 per day. Use non-iodized salt.

You should frequently check the water for ammonia.

After the first 48 hours and for the next week or so do this:

Every other day repeat the original treatment with the damp towel from above, but after each cleaning of the wound rub in the Mycitracin. After a week there should be some improvement. Return the fish to the pond after the wound has for the most part healed over. During isolation you should do ¼ water changes about every 3 days. If the fish has any of these signs then most likely no treatment is going to help it. Bloated, bug eyed or raised scales. These are signs of liver decease.

Let us recap:

  1. Start and maintain as healthy an environment as you can for your fish.
  2. Do not introduce to your pond any fish that you are not sure is a healthy specimen.
  3. Keep handy a good reference guide to prevent and cure health problems. Get the fishvet's book.
  4. Also if you have a specific question about the health of your fish, we will do the best we can to research it. The advice is free!


Well not really, if you have read this short little text on basic pond stuff you might still have a bunch of questions. That is okay. Even dumb questions are acceptable; we have all the dumb answers. This is our commitment to you…




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20379 Ecorse, Taylor MI 48180