The beauty and joy of a pond makes summer far more memorable and relaxing! Summer is still in full swing here in Phoenix (as demonstrated by the 100+ degree days) and every moment with your finned friends and pond plants should be thoroughly relished. To fully enjoy yourself while Living the Aquascape Lifestyle®, you want to make sure your water feature is healthy and functioning optimally throughout the remainder of the warmer months. When water temperature remains above 80 degrees, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
Health of Your Pond Fish
Keep an eye on your fish. Do your finned friends appear stressed out, gasping for air close to the water’s surface or especially close to a fountain or waterfall? Warm water has a low capacity for holding oxygen, while cooler water can hold very large amounts of oxygen.
Warm pond water and increased fish activity go hand and hand, and that increased activity also means your fish require more oxygen when less oxygen is available, thus creating a vicious cycle. Stressed fish often begin to develop diseases, and soon enough you’ll have a domino effect.
If you haven’t already done so, add oxygen to your pond by placing an aerator in your pond. You can also install a fountain with a pump, or even a simple spitter, if your pond doesn’t have a waterfall or stream -- and even if it does, this adds more interest in addition to more oxygen. Make sure all areas of the pond are skimmed and the water is being circulated -- keep those streams and waterways clear and flowing. And keep in mind that waterfalls, streams, and even fountains play a huge part in the oxygenation of the water in your pond.
Beat the Heat
There are some preventative measures you can take in order to keep your pond from turning into a warm, unhealthy mess at the end of summer. It all starts with a well-designed water feature. Depth of water, plant coverage, shade, and circulation should all be considered when designing and building a pond. A minimum depth of two feet is suggested; the bottom of the pond will remain cooler.
You’ll also want to stock your pond with a lot of plants to provide shade for the fish. A good rule of thumb is to provide plant coverage of approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the pond’s surface area. It’s not too late to add plants to your pond.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of pond design is circulation. Hopefully your biological filter and mechanical filter are placed across the pond from each other, so that your pond receives optimal circulation. If not, consider adding a fountain or spitter for additional circulation and to create movement in stagnant areas.
Additional Late Summer Pond Tips
During the final months of summer, you can use these tips to help keep your pond performing optimally:
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Lucky is the pond owner who enjoys having a beautiful Kohaku koi swimming among the lily pads in their very own back yard pond. The Kohaku is the oldest and most well-known variety of koi, and is often the most popular among koi lovers.
Kohaku is a bright white koi, patterned with red. There are two types of Kohaku – one has the red pattern all over its body, which is the most common. The second type of Kohaku only has a red spot in the middle of its forehead. This is an extra-special type called Tancho Kohaku, and is a highly prized specimen because of its rarity.
A Model of the Japanese Flag
The red spot on the forehead makes the Tancho Kohaku a living, breathing model of the Japanese flag, which represents a red sun in the middle of a pure white field.
Kohaku is the most common fish to win “Grand Champion” in Japanese shows, because it is the most popular fish in Japan and therefore, the breeders of koi spend the most time producing the finest specimens of this type.
Judging Kohaku Koi
Judging good quality koi such as Kohaku is not an easy task! There are certain “pattern” basics that you can learn to apply when buying fish, but forecasting the way that pattern will look later as the koi matures is a special talent. Also, body shape and conformation are important features, and few Americans appreciate the complexities of this characteristic. Finally, the way the red, called Hi (pronounced “hee”), breaks into kiwa (the trailing edge of the Hi) or out of the white (sashi) is important. The more crisp the transition from red to white, the better.
The details concerning pattern intricacies of Kohaku during championship judging can seem tedious, so here’s a simplified method of Kohaku appreciation that, although likely inadequate in choosing show-quality koi, is effective enough to choose fish which most folks will value.
Patterns to Look For
When you see a Kohaku with a uniform pattern of a single, red blossom in the center of each scale, and the pattern is pleasing to the eye, it is called Kanoko (fawn). Some of these fish are thought to make a good investment, but rumor has it that Kanoko Kohaku are “going away” and the red dots won’t survive many years in the pattern, which leaves you with nothing but an expensive white fish.
The pattern of the fish can be solid (ippon), lightning strike or zig-zag (inazuma), or it may occur in spots. The appearance of two spots is called “Two-Step” Kohaku or Nidan, and three spots is referred to as “Three Step” Kohaku or Sandan. They even have names for Four Step and Five Step patterns, but they’re generally not as precious as the two and three step koi.
The body of Kohaku ought to be rather fat, rounded off, and sort of voluptuous or “Rubenesque.” The head should have fat “cheeks” in the more mature fish. The base of the tail, where the caudal fin emerges, should be fat and round instead of streamlining into the tail. The fan-shaped pectoral fins behind the head should also be big and round. The rounder and whiter, the better. Thin almond-shaped pectoral fins are a disappointment. The body of the fish should be wider than the head, which would suggest that the fish is a female, which is a good thing.
A Final Thought
Understanding the characteristics of different types of koi helps you make an educated selection when shopping for your finned friends. Keep in mind that unless you’re planning on entering your fish in competitions, it really only matters that you like the coloration and markings of the fish in your pond. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, after all!
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If you’ve never owned a pond, or you know next to nothing about keeping koi and pond fish, three basic rules will help you create and maintain a healthy habitat for your new finned friends. We want fish to be happy, and your pond experience to be as enjoyable as possible. Once you become familiar with your fish and their basic needs, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the full benefits of living the pond life!
1. Fish Need Clean Water
Your pond water should always be clean-smelling and have good clarity. On occasion, the water might be green due to suspended algae, or slightly brown due to tannins, or even a bit cloudy after one of our famous dust stroms.
Algae is typically expected in the winter and spring when the plants are not growing aggressively. Once the plants grow, they consume more nutrients from the water, thereby starving algae of food to survive. Ponds in sunny locations experience higher algae growth, but this can be alleviated by shading the pond surface with waterlilies or floating plants like water lettuce.
Keep in mind, algae isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your pond fish will eat algae off the rocks in your pond so it’s good to have a little of the green stuff. Too much algae can become unsightly, but can be controlled with various water treatments.
If you’re going to keep fish, it’s imperative that your pond have proper filtration. A mechanical skimmer is your first line of defense for removing unwanted debris such as leaves and twigs from the surface of the water. If left to decay in the pond, organic material can cause a host of water issues that could make your fish sick. The skimmer also houses the pump, which circulates the water and helps to aerate the pond. A biological filter is positioned opposite the skimmer to create the beginning of a waterfall. This filter uses bacteria to break down pond waste, converting it into less harmful compounds that can act as aquatic plant fertilizers.
2. Maintain a Healthy Population
One secret to making sure your pond water remains balanced and healthy, is to control your fish population. Sure, it’s tempting to add lots of colorful koi and pond fish to your water garden, but you want to avoid over-crowding. Too many fish creates excess waste in the pond water, which in turn can cause water quality issues. As a general rule of thumb, pond fish need 10 gallons of water for every inch of their length. So a 10-inch long fish needs 100 gallons. If you have five 10-inch long fish, your water garden should have at least 500 gallons of water. Keep in mind that your fish are going to grow so be sure to under-stock your pond in the beginning.
3. Feed Your Fish Appropriately
Koi and other pond fish will feed on natural sources such as algae and wayward insects, but they’ll benefit from a prepared, quality fish food such as Aquascape Premium Fish Food Pellets. Just like other pet foods, not all fish food is created equal. You want to look for food that contains a high-quality protein along with stabilized multivitamins and probiotics. Only feed your fish what they can consume in about three to five minutes, at the most. In the summer, you can feed them twice per day, but in spring and fall you should only feed them once per day. Be sure not to feed the fish at all after your pond water temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, although you can give them natural treats like oranges, melons, zucchini, and even Cheerios!
Following these three basic rules for keeping koi and pond fish will help ensure that your finned friends have a solid foundation to grow and thrive. You’ll enjoy hours of watching your colorful koi and goldfish swim around the pond, gliding here and there beneath the waterlily pads. It’s a great stress reliever and a perfect activity to enjoy a bit of nature in your own backyard with the family.
Should I ADD salt TO 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 do recommend salt for helping the fish fight the itching that comes with the spring parasite bloom. But there are some rules and caveats!
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 more delicate plants.
What kind of salt should I use in my Phoenix ecosystem pond?
You absolutely don't 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.
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Did you know your koi and pond fish have a simple heart with only two chambers? Should that even matter to you as an owner of a pond with fish? Probably not, but you should be aware of the Koi and pond fish anatomy that actually does matter to you.
Let’s start with the obvious. Koi and goldfish have the usual dorsal (top) fin, an assortment of bottom fins, and the caudal (tail) fin, as well as a few others.
The dorsal fin on Koi is extremely vulnerable to ulceration and it’s not uncommon for the mildest of bacterial infections to erode a hole right in the middle of it! Once the ulcer has healed, the fin can remain incomplete. So, when purchasing (or adopting) a new fish, inspect the dorsal fin to make sure it’s whole.
The two pairs of pelvic fins are the pectorals and the ventrals. These are the fins that define the landmarks for injection of sick fish because it is the safest site with good absorption.
Next up in learning about pond fish anatomy are the scales. The scales cover the body of the fish and are of variable size, depending on the location, and they overlap at five points. People tend to think the scales overlap on the obvious four sides, but the center of the scale is underlapped by the scale behind and in front of it.
When a fish gets a deep wound, they may dislodge or shed their scales. The dead tissue and loose scales that surround a wound can provide bad bacteria with fuel to continue to infect the fish. To avoid this, gently scrub the wound with a piece of gauze soaked in grocery store hydrogen peroxide. The term for this process is debridement. It’s not meant for all wounds and should not be overdone. Over-cleaning a wound removes cells that are trying to heal, so usually only one debridement is enough.
Fish do a good job of replacing lost scales over the course of several weeks after their loss. However, the replacement scale is of a finer (thinner) quality and sometimes unevenly marked compared to the original scales.
The Gills and Operculum
The gills are to a fish what your lungs are to you: a delicate organ system that exposes all of the blood to oxygen. The gills are pushing the blood through capillaries that exchange with water, not air.
What most people don’t know is that the gills perform another important function: the excretion of fish waste in the form of ammonia (like we exhale carbon dioxide). The gills are the most important waste excretion organ in the fish’s body. Damage to the gills by way of infection from bacteria, destruction via viruses, infestation with parasites, or just damage from medications or poor water quality, can impact the fish far more than just breathing.
The operculum is the thick boney covering on either side of the head and protects the gills. You may need to lift the operculum to examine the gills, but don’t lift it too far or it might tear. The gills of any sick or dead fish can be photographed to provide important forensic information after a fish disease outbreak.
Koi and goldfish don’t need eyes to live. In fact, there’s a genetic mutation that causes one out of ten thousand fish to hatch without any at all! If a fish loses one or both eyes through trauma, it can still find food perfectly well with their barbels, lips, and mouths which are loaded with sensory structures like taste buds.
There’s a fat cushiony blood supply to and from the eye called the choroid plexus, designed to protect the eye from any trauma. Sometimes the choroid swells due to a blow to the eye. This is temporary and the eye may sink back into the socket over the coming week. A popped eye for an indefinite period could be the sign of another problem that may require the help of a fish professional.
An Overview of the Guts
You’ll find Koi and pond fish anatomy shows a very simple digestive tract. They have an esophagus that comes from the mouth and goes to the “stomach.” Their “stomach” is actually just a stretchy wide spot in the top of the intestine for food storage before it’s passed into the intestine.
Koi tummies hate to be full in cold water. When this occurs, the lining of the intestine is damaged and bad bacteria can get through the damaged lining into the blood stream. The fish show no obvious signs of this, but may die later in the spring when the water warms and the bacteria go to work on the poor fish. This is one reason we recommend that you not feed your fish when water temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
The Air Bladder
The air bladder is an amazingly delicate structure. It fills with air via a thin veil of capillaries extending over its surface, and air is released by way of a thin tube that comes from the caudal sac. The air is burped into the esophagus, which then escapes through the mouth. The air bladder is balanced to the weight of the fish against the water, which is the primary means by which the fish can hang in the water without paddling the whole time.
If a fish is floating upside down on the surface, something has happened to the air bladder’s ability to let air out, so it is then too large and too buoyant for the weight of the fish. A problem with the air bladder can also cause the fish to sink to the pond bottom. This usually occurs when the spinal cord is damaged near the point where the nerves that regulate the air bladder emerge. Sometimes the air bladder can be removed or surgically corrected, enabling the fish to swim normally.
Fish are boney, and ornamental pond fish are no exception, as you’ll see in the pond fish anatomy diagram below. Unlike the bones of sharks and stingrays, their bones are truly bones and not cartilage. The bones of a fish are not meant for bearing weight because, in water, the fish is pretty much weightless. The two principal stresses on the fishes’ bones are hydrostatic pressure from the water, and the push and pull of the fishes’ mighty muscles on those bones.
That’s why, when you net a fish and carry it in that net, you’re putting a unique force on their skeleton which can damage them. The fish is bent into a u-shape and its full weight torques the skeletal bones. Broken backs are a common result. Instead, use your net to catch the fish and then slide a big plastic bowl under the fish to carry it.
If a fish suffers from a broken back, the cure is simply time. The fish may compensate for the injury – even if crooked from that day on – or it may simply starve to death.
Fish muscles are different from your muscles. If you’ve ever seen a fish filet, you remember that there are red and white lines in the meat. The muscles of a fish are oriented in thick bands called somites. These bands are stacked all down the sides of the fish in thick, orderly rows. Let’s go back to carrying fish in nets to find out why this matters. When the process causes damage to the back, it also destroys at least some of the nerves to at least one of the bands of muscle.
Whenever a somite dies, the muscle gets smaller and a kink in the fish will be seen. The concave side of the bend is the side with the dead somite. If you don’t carry fish around in nets, this is unlikely to ever have been seen in your collection.
No, Koi can't bite you. In the back of the koi throat, emerging from the lower gill arch in the back, there are three to four molars. These molars have serrations on the top like your own molars. They’re broad, crowned teeth used to destroy shells and pulverize insects and crustaceans scavenged from the pond bottom. These teeth are shed and replaced continually through the life of the Koi. They are too far back for you to ever be bitten by a koi.
Hopefully you now feel a little more confident in understanding Koi and pond fish anatomy and how it relates to your care for them. Finned friends are just as important as furry friends but are often less understood since you can’t hold and cuddle them. Enjoy watching your fish and familiarize yourself with their behavior. That way, it will be easier for you to identify when something might be amiss.
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