Caring for Your Water Feature

ANNUAL POND CLEANOUT
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES A BEAUTY

Aquascape Pondside Monthly October 2008

Ah, the glamour of owning a pond! The waterfront living, the visit from wildlife of all shapes and sizes, the envy of your friends and neighbors. Owning a pond has been a purely enjoyable experience for you … or has it?

The truth is that anyone who owns a pond will find themselves frustrated with it at some point in time. A lot of times, that time comes in the pond’s second season. By the third season, everything seems right in the world. The pond is clean, clear and gorgeous. Is it a coincidence that so many pond lovers are ready to throw in the towel during the pond’s second season, and singing its praises the next year? There may actually be a science to it.

In the Beginning

In order to better understand the progression of a pond, we must start from the beginning. Do you remember when you first plugged in your pump and watched the waterfall make its way down the stream and into your pond paradise? It was an exciting time and you were thrilled by the results. Your next question, undoubtedly, was, “When will the water clear?” It didn’t take long before the water was clear and your landscaping was in, completing that natural look.

You were eager to take care of the new pond, much like the teenager across the street with his first car. While he was out washing and waxing his car, you were fertilizing your water lilies and adding your beneficial bacteria. The pond was so easy to take care of because you wanted to enjoy this new hobby.

On To Two

The second year, you performed your annual cleanout, but the newness of the pond has worn off and you aren’t as religious about keeping everything in check. That’s when the green algae monster decides to come for a visit. With no one keeping an eye on the pond, he decides to unpack and stay awhile. This is when that frustration sets in. “All of a sudden it seems like more work for you and the pond, and it will be if you don’t stay on top of it,” Brian Helfrich, Construction Manager for Aquascape Designs, said. “The pond is in the process of maturing, and some people have no patience for it.”

To some, it may not make sense. After all, if you perform an annual cleanout, shouldn’t the pond be brand spanking new again? Don’t you wash all of the stuff from the previous season away? Nope. There are several living organisms hiding out in the rocks and gravel, the root zones of aquatic plants, and hanging out in open water that are helping your pond become established. They’re called zooplankton. Zooplankton are microscopic animals that are suspended within the water column. These zooplankton, which are instrumental in winning the algae fight, are not fully matured by the second season.

Skip the Annual Cleanout?

By now, you’re fighting with yourself. You’ve been told that a annual cleanout is a necessity, but you want your zooplankton to grow so you can skip the second-season blahs. Should you say “so long” to the annual cleanout? “Absolutely not,” Helfrich says. “An annual cleanout is vital to a healthy ecosystem, especially in colder climates where ponds freeze over.” According to Helfrich, you can’t speed up the pond maturation process. “A pond is like a fine, aged wine. You have to give it time,” he says.

That Fine Balance

You always hear that a well-balanced pond is an ecosystem, but did you know that an ecosystem needs to hit a certain threshold to function properly? During the first two seasons of life, a pond goes through many changes and a maturation process that involves the growth of beneficial organisms, plants, algae, and a bio-slime of sorts. When your pond is first built, none of that stuff is there, so it seems to be balanced, but as all of these pond organisms develop, there’s a stage of adjustment that the pond needs to go through … thus, the infamous second-season slump. The third season emerges with great looking plants that are in their second or third year of growth and are healthier than ever, adding to the beauty of the balance of pond.

What About You?

Believe it or not, you also have a role in the success of your pond. That’s right, the maturity of the pond owner has a lot to do with whether or not the pond can get through those growing pains. It’s a learning curve, and the second season is when we figure out how to battle algae and keep our pond looking healthy. “At the beginning of the second season, I think people are struggling to get their ponds in shape so they do more harm than good,” Helfrich said. “They tend to get to picky and want it really clean, trying to kill off everything. This only makes it worse.”

Helfrich admits that the old phrase “it’s always darkest before the dawn” rings true when it comes to a pond. “It almost has to get really bad before it can get better. And if a person understands that and is patient, they’ll be much better off,” he said.

Patience is a Virtue

Like all things in life, good things come to those who wait. It may be frustrating to watch your pond go through growing pains, but with a little research and/or help from a local expert, you can help it along the way. The best thing to do when you’re smack dab in the middle of a rough second season is to take Helfrich’s words to heart. “Remember the good things about the pond when you first got it and think ahead to the great things that are in store for you and your pond once you get through the rough patches,” Helfrich said. “I guarantee you that it is worth it!”