We Love our Wet Pets!
Pond owners love their colorful Koi. And they also tend to love their pond plants. Yet many people struggle to keep their Koi from making a feast of their favorite waterlilies. What’s a water gardener to do? No worries, it really is possible for Koi and aquatic plants to live in harmony in the same pond.
Stocking is Key
One of the keys to the plant-eating Koi dilemma is to make sure you have the correct Koi-stocking density for your water garden. Put too many Koi in a pond and they’ll compete for everything – especially food. Your ravaged waterlilies are simply evidence of hungry Koi!
A good general rule of thumb for Koi stocking is to have no more than one inch of fish per 10 gallons of water. For example, you can have 150 inches of fish in 1,500 gallons of water, which is about five Koi. Remember, when buying small fish, they’re going to get bigger! So, choose fish based on how large they’re going to grow. If you don’t provide Koi with enough room, you risk plant health, water clarity, and the fish will suffer from stressful living conditions.
Another key is to have the pond well planted with mature plants BEFORE adding large Koi to the mix. Start with small Koi, less than 3” in length, and they won’t have the strength to disrupt your aquatic plants. Not only will this save your plants, but the Koi will adapt to pond life much easier.
The final key is to make sure those aquatic plants are planted securely in the rock substrate of the pond. Once the plants are established with a good root system, the Koi may nibble and root around, but won’t be able to uproot them completely.
Understanding and Feeding Koi
Keep in mind that Koi are inquisitive fish and explore their surroundings with their mouths. If you catch them rooting around the base of your waterlilies, simply use larger rocks around the base of the plant so the fish can’t move them and destroy the planting.
If your Koi are well fed, they won’t eat many plants. Although they love dining on your favorite waterlily, they actually prefer Koi food. Given the choice between a pelleted food and green vegetation, they’ll opt for the taste and high-energy of a pelleted food. Feed your fish once or twice a day all they can gobble in about two minutes, and they’ll be satisfied enough to steer clear of your plants.
When choosing fish food, the pellet size should be close to the size of the fish’s pupil (the black part of the eye). Toss in a few pellets for starters to get them going, and then throw in more food over the course of approximately 2 minutes. Excess food is caught in the skimmer and will decay, which isn’t ideal for the water quality of your pond. This is why it’s preferably to toss in a few food pellets at a time, as opposed to a large handful.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
The truth is that aquatic plants and fish complement one another. Combining the two creates a healthier, cleaner pond that’s easier to maintain. Pond plants offer coverage from predators and our Arizona sun, reduce nitrates, and oxygenate the water during the day. Just remember not to overstock the pond and to feed your Koi a quality fish food on a regular basis. You’ll find that Koi and aquatic plants can live in peace and harmony, providing you with hours of water gardening enjoyment.
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What's the Best Food to Feed my Pond Fish?
Just like humans, the absolute best food to feed your fish are natural whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, and allowing them to graze on the algae that naturally grows in the pond. Okay, maybe as humans, we don't want to eat the algae, but that's a whole different discussion. Feeding your pond fish lettuce, zucchini, oranges, melons, etc., will not only keep them healthy, but help maintain your water quality.
What's The Best Commercial Food Can I Buy for My Pond FIsh?
If you opt to keep commercial fish food around, be sure it's the best stuff. If you feed your kids a diet comprised of just breakfast cereal, that's not enough to keep them healthy. The same goes for feeding your beloved wet pets. Read labels, like you do when buying food for your dogs and cats. If you consider your pond fish your pets, then you'll want to feed them the good stuff. They'll be healthier, live longer, and look better, too! Here are some commercially-made fish foods that we've personally found are great.
Warm-Weather Pond Fish Foods
When your water temps (which follow nighttime temps) are above 55 degrees, these fish food options are terrific.
Aquascape Premium Staple Fish Food Pellets are formulated for everyday use and provide your pond fish with the nutrition they need to thrive at an affordable price. This food contain probiotics that aid in digestion and reduce fish waste, while the high-quality protein included helps to optimize growth rates. The floating pellets contain stabilized vitamin C and other quality ingredients and are scientifically formulated for all pond fish, including Koi and goldfish. This fish food will not break apart during feeding, helping to maintain clear water conditions.
One step further would be the Premium Color Enhancing pond fish food.
Cold-Weather Pond Fish Food
When your water temps are below 55 degrees, you can switch over to natural treats (fruits & veggies), or this fish food works well.
The Premium Cold Water pond fish food is actually formulated to be fed to pond fish when the water is cold and their systems are not as active.
The bottom line is to read labels and make an informed decision. I guess that's actually good advice for us human, too!
Watching your fish glide gracefully and happily through the pond is a sight for sore eyes after a long day and/or week at work. But do you have a pond that promotes the health of your fish? Several factors influence whether a pond is habitable by fish, so before you stock your new pond or choose a few new finned friends at your local pet store, take a few minutes to assess your fish’s dwelling space as it relates to pond fish health.
Healthy Goldfish and Koi in an Ecosystem Pond
It all starts with the size of your pond. You need to make sure that it is large enough to support the type of fish you want (whether that’s Koi or goldfish) and their growth potential. Pond fish generally need 10 gallons of water for every inch of their length, and you have to be ready for them to grow larger, so be careful not to overstock, no matter how tempting this may be! Some pond experts go so far as to recommend only ½ inch of fish per 10 gallons of water as a maximum stocking density.
You’ve probably seen ponds crowded with two or even three inches of fish per 10 gallons of water and the fish seem to be fine. However, the density and ecological strain of this kind of fish load turn these ponds into fragile systems. The fish tend to grow more slowly and disease can become a too-common occurrence. Too many rats in a cage, so to speak.
You won’t be able to salvage sick fish in a pond that’s overcrowded. Eventually, Mother Nature will pick off some of your fish (mostly likely your favorites) to achieve her ideal stocking density based on the environment the fish are in, and then the remainder will recover as if by magical intervention. Reduce the number of fish if your pond is over-stocked before Mother Nature handles this crucial step for you in a manner you may not appreciate.
Good Morning, Sunshine
Some aquatic plants that tolerate shade include Taro, Papyrus, Horsetail, Cardinal Flower, and Lizard’s Tail.Ponds that have at least some sunlight are also beneficial to pond fish. Valuable vitamins are contained in sunlight. Sunlight also helps the plants in your pond grow, thereby reducing nitrates in the water. Unfortunately, you can’t just up and move your pond, so if you have a shady-place pond, add shade-loving plants to help balance the water. Aquatic plants play a critical role when it comes to enhancing pond fish health.
When it comes to pond depth, Koi and goldfish aren’t really very picky. Just be sure that the pond is deep enough (generally about 2 to 2 ½ feet) to give the fish a chance to get out of the way of predators. Or you can opt for a cave network within the pond to allow them to hide when need be.
A Balancing Act
The quality of your water is critical to pond fish health and you want to make sure your water garden is balanced. The proper mix of fish, plants, filtration, circulation, and rocks and gravel all provide an important role in your pond’s ecosystem. Work with Mother Nature, not against her, and you’ll find you spend more time enjoying your pond and less time maintaining it. Now, doesn’t THAT sound like a dream come true?
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My wINTER Pond Is Different
Yes, every pond is an individual when it comes to how it will act in the Winter, or any other time of year, for that matter. Differences include: age, size, depth, filtration, fish load, additional wildlife load, exposure to sun and wind, adjacent terrestrial plant life, as well as the aquatic plant life, and a plethora of other micro-climate variations. Add to this how much fish food gets thrown in the water (any, a lot, none). It all goes together to make up the body of water that is your pond.
CYA Statement: Every article or blog that we write is based on the rules that we understand in average circumstances in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. Your pond is an individual, with a unique set of circumstances, so please understand that what we discuss in any of these articles is the rule of thumb and may not be precisely descriptive of what you are experiencing today in your own personal backyard pond.
Fish and Water Temperatures in A Winter Pond
With winter temperatures, as the water dips down below 55 degrees (water temperature follows the nighttime temperatures, NOT the daytime highs), we recommend you stop feeding your fish. In colder water, the fish don’t metabolize high protein food like they do in the summer, and if it goes through their digestive system too slow, it could begin to rot inside them and result in a fish kill. We get a couple of calls a winter from people who have literally fed their babies to death. It's a very sad thing to have to tell people.
As always, natural treats like zucchini, melon, lettuce, oranges, and even Cheerios, can be given.
Algae Blooms in Winter Ponds
We don't freeze over here in Phoenix (typically, that is), so we tend to experience a big algae bloom in the Winter. We just had a caller this week tell us that we must be wrong about this because she had always heard that algae was more of a problem in the hot weather. She is not wrong, and neither are we. What’s the deal then? Our ponding system relies on a healthy ecosystem full of micro organisms and zoo plankton to keep the water healthy and clear. In a healthy ecosystem pond, zoo plankton are very active and do a great job in the warm weather, but they hibernate in the colder water temps. How much will YOU get? Well, that goes back to that ponds are individuals thing.
Plants in a Winter Pond
DO NOT thin or trim back your aquatic plants too severely just yet. Remember, we technically have a chance of frost through the end of February. Many years, that seems practically impossible, but we've been surprised from time to time, so better safe than sorry.
Your annual cleaning should be done when the water is COLD. So, plan to do that before the end of March. We provide that service, or you can certainly do it yourself.
Before you know it (and for those of us getting older, it seems to be in the blink of an eye), the water will begin to warm, your fish will become more active, and your aquatic plants will burst forth with new life. Then, we can all start complaining about the heat again...
Adding fish to your pond provides a whole new element to the overall experience of owning a water feature. In fact, many pond owners decide to install a pond for the sole purpose of fish-keeping. When acquiring fish, there are certain things that you should look for and ask about to make sure that you are receiving healthy fish. And if you're acquiring your fish from another pond owner, these tips for acquiring healthy fish are even more important!
Whatever type fish you choose to add to your pond, first and foremost you want to make sure they’re healthy. Don’t be shy about asking a few questions. In the end, you’ll be glad you took the time to acquire the right fish for your pond, especially if you're adding to your existing population. The wrong sick fish can wreak havoc!
There's a lot of information out there on Koi fish. Here are a just a few fun facts that you might not know! When consulting an expert, make sure you're talking to someone who is familiar with the location in which you live!
Koi fish are sensitive to the sun. They may get sunburned if they live in ponds that do not provide enough shadow and shade for them to escape to. This kind of shade can be provided by either external elements, such as trees, bushes, or shade sails, or from within the pond, like as lily pads, marginal plants, and well-positioned rocks and Koi caves.
Koi fish release ammonia into the water. When a large number of Koi inhabit the same pond, levels of ammonia can increase rapidly and induce poisoning of the fish, especially if it’s not an ecosystem environment. Although life in a community can be dangerous, Koi fish enjoy the company of other Koi fish. It’s a good idea to consult an expert to see how many Koi are right for your size and type of pond before adding them.
During the mating season, females produce thousands of eggs that will be fertilized by the male's sperm in the water. Only 50% of fertilized eggs will survive. This explains the “foaming” and “fishy smell” that is sometimes present in the pond, particularly in the Spring.
Koi fish can mate with goldfish because they are closely related; however, the result is sterile offspring.
Did You Know These Facts About Koi Fish?
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The Pond Gnome designs & builds award-winning living water features for the desert Southwest. Invite a little magic into your garden!
What's the Process for Adding Fish to my Phoenix Pond?
The number one killer of pond fish is stress. This makes the acclimation process (adding fish to your pond) one of the most important moments in your fishie’s life. Each time a fish is captured, transported, and released, it's a stressful event for that fish – how stressful is in the hands of the “handler” – literally. Three things contribute to stress levels in you new fish:
Where Can I Get Fish for my Phoenix Pond?
If you're interested in getting show-quality Koi, there are many sources that you can research on the internet, and find the best pricing and methodology that meshes with your beliefs, wants, and needs. If you're simply interested in some cool pets, we recommend the local pet store. Buying small is less expensive, and they acclimate to the pond environment much more easily.
Gambusia (Mosquito Minnows):
Gambusia should be acclimated in the same manner as described above. Pet stores will often carry them, but you’ll need to call around. Many cities, towns, and counties will give them away as vector control. For example:
Maricopa County Vector Control (free source)
3343 W. Durango
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First of all, you should wait at least two weeks after the aquatic plants have been installed before introducing Koi or decorative goldfish to your backyard pond. The longer you wait for your plants to mature and become well-rooted, the better off you’ll be. But we understand that a new backyard pond is exciting, and that you’re anxious to put all the pieces together.
Remember that a Koi’s mission in life is to forage and uproot the lovely aquatic plants that you’ve grown fond of. It’s how they entertain themselves – fish humor, if you will. This is especially true if you’re not feeding them other types of food regularly, which you don’t need to do in a well-built and well-balanced backyard pond. They can certainly live off foraging, and this makes them about the lowest-maintenance pet possible!
Secondly, we recommend purchasing small fish (3-5” in length). This is a much less expensive option than buying larger fish, and it’s less stressful on the smaller fish to change environments – typically from a glass bowl/tank to a backyard pond. The smaller fish do less damage to aquatic plants, as well. The drawback, however, is that you may not be able to see exactly what the fish will look like when it “grows up.” Be sure to follow the Fish Introduction Guidelines when adding fish to your pond.
Stocking density is an important part of keeping your backyard pond healthy and low maintenance. Having fish in your backyard pond is an essential part of the ecosystem, but if your fish are crowded, they are more likely to have problems with parasites and disease. If one fish is sick in a crowded pond situation, the illness will spread more quickly than in a less crowded pond.
There are different guidelines for stocking density, depending on how low maintenance you want your backyard pond to be, and how many fish it was designed to support (filtration, predator protection, etc.):
These are general rules of thumb to follow for a living ecosystem backyard pond. Make sure you ask your contractor their recommendations based on how they designed and built your pond.
If you're ready to have a gorgeous living backyard pond installed, let us know!
Why is there foam in my pond?
The most common reason for foam in a pond this time of year is that your fish are doing the Spring thing. Yep, even the fish are gettin' busy in the Spring. The wise old owl told Bambi that every living creature gets "twitterpated" in the Spring. Well, your fish are living creatures! If you've noticed a foaming in your pond that comes and goes, don't panic. It's simply your fish responding to Spring's siren call. Love is in the water, and so are excess proteins. If the foam in the pond is a bit fishy smelling, then that is what's going on and it should be gone in a couple of days, and there's no need to treat it. You might also notice that the fish are quite active, tearing around the pond and even jumping. This type of thing can also happen in the Fall.
There are a few potential causes of foam in your pond.
Over-application of pond bacteria can create foam in the pond temporarily, in which case there would be no odor accompanying the foam and it will dissipate in a few days.
Another cause of foam in a pond could be a dead animal in the pond and you will need to locate and remove it immediately.
Soap being thrown in the water can obviously cause foam in a pond. This typically doesn't happen to backyard ponds, but if you have a front yard pond or it's in a commercial location, it's a possibility. In this case, the pond will have to be drained, cleaned, and re-started. This would also kill the fish. If this has happened to you, you have our sincere condolences. And may the bad karma of whoever did it be swift!
So, if it's just your fish being twitterpated, no worries, all will settle down again shortly. If it's something else that you need help with, don't hesitate to call us at 623-572-5607.
Should I put salt in my Phoenix pond?
We often get the question about salting ponds. Salt enhances the slime coat on fish, which aids them in fending off parasites. If your fish are jumping and flashing (scratching up against rocks, or other hard edges), then we highly recommend salt for helping the fish fight the itching that comes with the spring parasite bloom. But there are some rules!
What are the drawbacks to using salt in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
The main drawback is that your aquatic plants are not keen on a lot of salt in the water, so you have to be careful as to how much you add. Too much salt may affect your plants and cause them to die. Also, when salt is used constantly in a system, even at low levels, various parasites can become resistant and pose an even bigger threat to the overall health of your fish. For this reason, it would be best to use salt as a preventative for disease in the springtime only, allowing the water to return to it's natural level the rest of the year. Massive die-offs of algae due to the addition of salt can also cause a substantial drop in oxygen levels in your pond, causing stress and/or death to your fish.
How much salt should I use in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
Recommendations range from 1% to 3% solutions in your water. So....if your fish seem fine and your plants are young, you probably shouldn't add anything to the water. If your fish are itchy and your plants are mature, you might want to add a 2-3% solution, but be aware that your plants will start to suffer and burn at a level over 2%, and at over 3% you will kill the more delicate plants.
What kind of salt should I use in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
You certainly don't want to use table salt! You want pure non-iodized salt. Avoid using any salt with additives such as iodine and other minerals, as well as those with anti-caking agents which can out-right suffocate your fish.
Pond salt can be purchased on-line, or at various pet supply stores.
Is a high pH bad for my Phoenix pond?
Pretty much everything you read regarding pH for backyard ponds is focused on a perfectly controlled environment for the fish. Here in the Arizona desert, with our hard, alkali water sources, attempting to keep the water in your backyard pond at a neutral pH is impossible. People will drive themselves crazy with this effort, when in fact the fish can handle a wide variety of water conditions. Yes, even Koi. We are not, however, talking about raising show Koi, but merely pet fish.
But I tested the pH!
Just like a blood test is simply a snapshot of a small moment in your life, if you test your pH in the morning, and then again in the evening, you will get two different readings! This phenomenon is due to photosynthesis activity by plants and algae, just like your blood test is dependent on when you last ate, and what you consumed. Obviously, who can spend the time adjusting for that, right?
What's the right pH for a Phoenix pond?
We have seen fish do well in pH values ranging from 7.2 all the way up to the mid 9's. The fish do not like rapid swings in pH; however, they have the ability to acclimate to our high, and naturally fluctuating, pH environment just fine.
Should I try to adjust the pH in a Phoenix pond?
We never recommend attempting to adjust your pond pH with acidifiers, as the rapid pH swing is a potential fish killer. Buffers are a different story. Buffers can help control pH swings and are probably (theoretically) helpful to fish health and happiness, although we have no proof of this. Most of our clients just leave it to Mother Nature and she seems to do OK with it on her own. :-)
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 20+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!