Thursday, March 26, 2020

Spring in the Water Garden by Nancy Steinke

Photo:  Nancy Steinke

As the snow melts and the days grow longer, water gardens come to life. As with other areas of your garden, your pond requires extra attention this time of the year. Cleaning after spring thaw, when the water temperature is 50 to 55 degrees F, removes the excess nitrogen that can lead to overgrowth of algae, or “greening”. This causes the least disruption of the colonies of beneficial bacteria, essential to maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

After cleaning around your pond, decide if your pond needs a little clean up or a full water change and “mucking”. Your goal is to maintain balance, not remove every speck of muck and algae.
Light Cleaning: If you can easily stir up the debris and remove it with a net, a little clean-up will suffice. Pump or siphon 25% - 30% of the water, draining it into a large container such as clean garbage cans or a child’s wading pool. This water can be returned to the pond after the work is done. Continue with General Maintenance.
Full Clean Out: If there is a large amount of sludge at the bottom and the water is dark in color, a full clean-out is warranted. This should be needed only every three to five years. Keeping debris out of the pond and removing dead plant material help prolong the time between full cleanings. Taking care to avoid disturbing the sludge, drain most of the water into clean garbage cans, children’s wading pools, or large buckets that have been placed in a shady area. Once the water flowing from the drainage hose looks dirty, move the hose to water landscape plants or soak your compost pile, taking care to avoid overwatering or flooding any areas.
Photo: Nancy Steinke

As the water level drops, remove potted plants. placing them where they will stay moist and out of direct sun. If you have fish, wait until the water level is about six inches, then remove the fish with a net. Quickly put them into a clean five-gallon bucket filled with pond water and transfer them to the container with the pond water that you saved. Place an aerator in the container with the fish and cover the container with a net to prevent them from jumping out and to discourage predators.
Rinse the walls of the pond, leaving much of the algae to promote a healthy pond environment. Use a wet/dry vac to remove the water and muck from the bottom.
General maintenance: Inspect the pond liner and water features for any damage or leaks; repair if needed, adjusting any low edges to prevent water loss. Having to refill the pond frequently because of excess water loss not only wastes a valuable resource, it disturbs the balance of the pond and can lead to excess algae growth.
Photo:  Nancy Steinke

Clean the pump and filter pads according to manufacturer directions, removing muck and dirty water from the tubs. Replace the equipment and have it ready to turn on. Check pond lights to ensure they are in good working condition; replace as needed. Check the GFCI (Ground Fault Interrupter) to ensure it is working.

Divide and repot root bound plants, using pond planting medium or heavy soil topped by one inch of pea gravel. Fertilize potted plants with aquatic plant fertilizer. Check marginal plants, thinning and trimming as needed. Adjust hardscape scenery to provide hiding places for the fish to protect them from predators and to add interest to the water garden.
Refill the pond with clean water, trickling it from a garden hose.  When the water temperature in the pond is within three to five degrees of the old water, transfer the water from the containers back into the pond. As the water level in the holding container drops, net the fish and return them to the pond. Examine the fish for signs of injury or disease. Consult your fish supplier if you find problems.
Restart the filtration system when the water level is high enough for circulation.

The final step to spring cleaning is to sit back and enjoy! 
Photo:  Nancy Steinke

Additional information on pond care can be found at Colorado Water Gardening Society. Pond Care Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter.  Pond Care

Delaware Valley Water Garden Society. Spring Pond Cleaning Hints.  Hints 

University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science. The Green Mountain Gardener. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor. University of Vermont