Carbon, and Why It’s Important in Your Pond

Hello Friends……

There are a multitude of factors (environmental, chemical, physical, biological, whimsical and ethereal), that contribute to the conditions that you observe at any given time down at the pond.  Surface water, whether it’s a 2 acre pond or a backyard koi pond, has the potential to present you with an assortment of faces over the course of the season (or from year to year for that matter).  I have put together this article to shed some light on the basics of the elements that drive change in your pond.  There are bunch more factors that contribute to the conditions we see, but here I am focusing on carbon.

(I will be posting articles about nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contributing factors in the near future, so please check back regularly.)

Carbon (C):


Carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon chameleon ….. heh heh… yeah… (What….not big Culture Club fans? Well….. carrying on then)

I have absconded the pictures from the web to illustrate the role that carbon (C) holds in our waters.  Please notice the equation for photosynthesis from your eighth grade science class. This pile of letters is responsible for life on Earth as we know it…and drives water quality more than most people think. Looking at this equation, you’ll see the C that is the reason we, the people of Earth, can walk around and worry about pond health and maintenance. If we are able to utilize carbon in the aquatic environment more efficiently, it will lead to a more stable, healthy water column.

I am focused on the bottom of the picture from above.  The part with water (cuz I’m a freshwater biologist, for realz) is where the carbon cycle is most applicable to you and your pond.

Carbon accumulates in critters and plant biomass and is recycled through the resource (the water) through decay.  Decomposing plant and animal material that settles to the bottom of the pond is the main source of nutrients that most ponds have to deal with on a continual basis. The vast majority of this detritus is made up of organic, carbon-containing compounds. These compounds will be used by the resource. It is up to you to push the ecosystem away from using those organic compounds for primary production (plants and algae) and towards the creatures (fish, insects, bacteria) of the pond biome.  The more efficient you make your pond; the better the carbon cycle operates and the better your pond will look and smell.

The best/easiest/most efficient way to nudge this cycle along is through propping up the very bottom of the food chain.  The bacteria that is involved in the breakdown of the organic material that collects at the bottom of every pond (no matter its size) is aerobic in nature and will ALWAYS do better under high oxygen conditions.  For you that means: AERATE YOUR POND.  For smaller ponds, run the filter/waterfall as much as you can.  Oxygen depletes at the sediment layer very quickly (a matter of minutes). This depletion starves out the bacteria, limiting their growth and reproduction.  Get air down there!

The carbon that is present in the molecules abundant in decomposing organic material will re-suspend into the water column in one of four ways: (1) as parts of an aquatic plant, (2) as parts of algae, (3) as fuel for critters, or (4) as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) blowing away on the wind. My preferences are (3) and (4).  This brings us back to bacteria.  Bacteria gets eaten by larger organisms and zooplankton (which also do better in high oxygen environments…hint hint), and these in turn are consumed by insects and fish which are continually accumulating and concentrating all this carbon (among other important nutrients).  When the carbon is stored in fish and insects, it can be removed or cycled back through the system as the big wheel of nature spins around.

The end goal is this: store as much carbon out of solution as you can to make your pond a happy, healthy place.

  • Maintain a stable fishery to balance out the Carbon. (Harvesting fish is OK. I promise. Please see my article about fish health.)
  • Harvest off plant biomass in the fall.  Removing dead or dying leaves from water lilies and other aquatic plants eliminates a bunch of carbon from the system.
  • Bolster your bacteria with beneficial bacteria products and enzymes (like theseand these) to make them even more efficient and abundant.
  • For watergardens: clean out the pond every year (or every other year) to keep the organics down. Spring cleanup article.

I thank you very much for reading my posts, and as always, please ask questions or request topics in the comment section.


Senior Biologist

Nitrogen, and Why it’s Important to Your Pond

Hello Party People.

Surface water, whether it’s a Lake Wobegon (shout-out to my homies in MN) or a backyard koi pond, will confound you at times with its many mood swings from season to season.  There are many parameters  (environmental, chemical, physical, biological, celestial….), that contribute to the conditions that you observe at any given time down at the pond. I have put together this article to shed some light on the basics of the elements that drive change in your pond.  There are bunch more factors that contribute to the conditions we see, but here I am focusing on nitrogen.

Nitrogen is everywhere…… The air we breathe is 80{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822} nitrogen, and Mother Nature has harnessed this nitrogen into the essential building blocks of life as we know it.  Nitrogen-containing molecules (like Ammonia, Nitrate, Nitrite and their derivatives) makes up crucial parts of amino acids and proteins that build critters like human beings. These molecules are also needed to make plant material.  Without nitrogen-containing molecules, we would not have the photosynthetic organisms that produce the oxygen that’s needed to bloviate about your fantasy football team (perish the thought).

(BTW….. the author of this article is a three-time Champ of the Shut The Front Door Fantasy Football league…..Please inquire in the comment for the details…….)

On land, the cycling and recycling of nitrogen plays out mostly in the soil.  Nitrogen from the atmosphere is “fixed” into usable molecules by lightning strikes and bacteria. These molecules then turn into plants, which animals eat, and return to the soil as waste or decomposing plant/animal parts.

Ok, as fascinating as all that is, this is a water article…… Who cares about land stuff anyway?





Fresh water acts somewhat differently than terrestrial environments when dealing with nitrogen (N). On land, nitrogen is widely available…in aquatic environments, nitrogen is limiting. That is, in a healthy aquatic environment, there is not enough of it to go around. Any available nitrogen-containing molecules are sucked up in rapid fashion to be utilized for primary production (plants and algae).  It is noteworthy here to mention that it does not take a large waterbody to complete the nitrogen cycle; it can easily occur in your back yard koi pond.

What does this mean for you?

If your nitrogen levels are artificially high, you are in for lots of algae growth, and potential fish health issues too.

Please notice in the above picture (thank you, internet) that all internal cycling of nitrogen within the pond biome requires the decomposition of organic material (plant/animal/algae).  This is the area where we as resource managers can effect the amount of nitrogen in our ponds.

In watergardens, you can physically remove nitrogen by doing a water-change or a good spring cleanout.  In larger systems, physical removal is harder and very expensive, as dredging or re-excavation are our only options.

As in most of the articles that I’ve posted here, I’m going to lean heavily on aeration. No matter the size of your system, aeration is the single best tool for managing water.  For small backyard watergardens that means: run the waterfall/fountain/filter as much as you can.  For larger systems, it means diffused aeration and/or large aerating fountains.

Koi pond Aeration system

Large pond Air system

Aerating Fountain

Properly aerating the water achieves many things. For our purposes here, I will stay focused on how it helps you out with excess nitrogen.

Nitrogen is bound up in organic material that sits on the bottom of the pond and gets kicked up into solution in the form of nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia.  Maximizing the efficiency of our pond ecosystem will mitigate these molecules, making them less available to fuel excess weed and algae growth.  The lifting action of rising air bubbles brings the volatilized nitrogen containing molecule ammonia to the surface where it can blow away on the wind.  Bringing air to the bottom (and throughout the water column) allows for the bottom of your food chain to become more active and plentiful.  The bacteria and insects (and other creatures) that feed on nitrogen-laden organic material need oxygen to survive. More oxygen = more critters available to tie up nutrients (like nitrate, nitrite and many others).  If the bulk of the nitrogen is tied up within the food chain, it is unavailable to algae and/or nuisance plantlife.  Higher organisms (fish, frogs, insects) can sequester and concentrate nitrogen-containing molecules more efficiently than algae and plants. They also tend to hang onto those molecules for longer as higher lifeforms live for a relatively long time.  In a lot of cases, these organisms leave the pond altogether, taking their stored nitrogen with them.  Every time a fish is eaten by a heron, or a dragonfly grows its wings and flies away, they take all their contiguous nutrients with them.

So lets prop up the ecosystem, shall we?

  • If you are not on a bacteria regime, start one. Bolstering the bacteria that are living in your pond (especially watergardens) can bring about positive change to the pond biome.

 Pond Bacteria

Watergarden Bacteria

There are a lot of choices for bacteria out there, so please ask questions if you get confused/overwhelmed by all of the products offered.  We have plenty to choose from on, so search away…….

  • Maintain a balanced fishery….. fish are a great way to tie up nutrients, but each system can only support so much fish biomass.  Encourage your best specimens, while removing the smaller, less important fish so the system can stay balanced.
  • Harvest off dead or dying plant matter so that the nitrogen in those plant parts cannot be re-cycled back into the system.

Mother Nature is undefeated.  She will have her way no matter what we do, so work with her in helping keep your pond environment stable and healthy.  As always, please ask for clarifications or further questions in the comments.  I am here to help!


Thanks for taking the time…..


Senior Biologist

Phosphorus, and Why it’s Important to your Pond

Hello fellow pond connoisseurs,

Behold, the third installment of the major chemical players in your pond environment that I’ve posted on this site.   PHOSPHORUS!

Please refer to:


Phos for me? Phos for you? No…. it’s Phosphorus!  (not my best, I admit)

Interestingly enough, phosphorus’ name is derived from the Greek word for Lucifer or Morning Star (referring to the planet Mercury). It was so named because phosphorus, in its elemental form, glows or catches fire. This is why it’s used in match heads…..It is extremely volatile.

Anyhoo… We don’t ever have to deal with elemental phosphorus in ponds; instead, we get phosphate (PO4).   Phosphate is important for all life on Earth.  It’s a necessary building block for DNA, RNA, ATP, and cell walls.  All life that we know of needs phosphate, and it is relatively rare in the environment……This of course brings up all the life we do not know about. For instance, the silicon-based life on Janis VI; the Horta I believe they called themselves.  When Captain Kirk and Commander Spock came into contact wi… ….. phosphate…..yes…..moving on.

In fact, for a long time, humans gathered phosphate from human and animal teeth, bone and urine (EWWWW!).  It’s now mined in areas where large fossil deposits are found, like ancient sea beds……

Ok, enough of that….. Why is it important?

Phosphate is the most limiting nutrient in freshwater environments.  It is rare, but it packs a HUGE punch.  Varying the amount of phosphate in any aquatic environment will have very large impacts on the overall ecological state of the waterbody.  In fact, most large-scale management strategies are implemented to limit this one molecule from entering any watershed.  If you ever test your water (and you should test your water), any level at or above 0.03ppm is considered high and in need of a change in management strategy. This is why most lake associations, municipalities, and even whole states have banned phosporus-containing lawn fertilizers; as the phosphate easily runs off into streams that eventually empty into lakes.

If you can manage your phosphate input, you are ahead of the game.  Plants use phosphate to build roots, and algae needs it to grow its cell walls and other cell parts, so if we can cycle it out of the pond environment, you will have clear, algae free water.

Many ponds with a planktonic algae (green water) problem are abnormally high in phosphates.  The single celled planktonic algae reproduces extremely rapidly in high phosphate environments and can become very hard to manage.


So where does dissolved phosphate come from?……. BEHOLD!

Poop…..and urine…..and dead stuff….and sometimes it comes in with your source water

Thanks again to the vast internet for the helpful picture……

Looking over the above diagram, you’ll notice how phosphate moves through the environment.  Just like the other elements that I’ve spoken of (listed above) on this blog, phosphorus can be tied up in plants, animals, insects and bottom sediments.  Our job is to store as much phosphorus in the critters as we can.  That means developing and maintaining a healthy, stable ecosystem.

We can also tie up phosphate with flocculating agents.  These products are fantastic at grabbing phosphate and making it inert.  That is, the flocculate does not allow the trapped phosphate to react or be absorbed by anything. Flocculates effectively remove reactive dissolved phosphate from the water column and sink it to the bottom. It also will grab anything that has open phosphate sites in its cell structure. Planktonic algae have these open sites, and are susceptible to flocculates.  The below products will glom the single cell critters together and eventually sink them the the bottom where they will wither and die. (Muah-hahahahaha)……

Flocculate ponds

Flocculate for watergardens

A lot of times these treatments are temporary, as the problem resides in the bottom sediments and/or a nutrient overload of the whole aquatic system…… I use these products as a part of maintenance programs to help stabilize the pond environment without using algicides or other pesticides. Be sure to read the label to dose correctly for your pond.


Once again, the best answer lies in proper aeration.  Increasing your pond’s ability to sequester and concentrate nutrients (including phosphate) as parts of higher organisms (fish, insects, etc.) is limited only by the space available and the amount of oxygen in the water column.  Higher organisms like fish, frogs, and insects need many times more phosphate to live and grow algae.  The more complex creatures assimilate the phosphate at high rate, outcompeting the algae for this much needed and rare freshwater resource.

Installing a good aerator or aerating fountain will triple the carrying capacity for fish biomass in any aquatic system. Imagine…. three times the amount of fish!  It will also provide oxygen to the tiny creatures (bacteria and insects) that eat the decomposing organic material on the bottom of the pond.  These sediments are a major source of phosphate in the pond environment.  Imagine, ten times the amount of dragonflies!

For watergardens, running the waterfall as often as you can, and performing a good spring cleanout once per year will help tremendously.


Once the phosphate is consumed by the critters on the bottom, they then work their way up the food chain. Small fish eat insects, big fish eat little fish….. Eventually the phosphate (and other concentrated nutrients) is removed from the system through predation or harvesting by you the pond owner (as it is very healthy to harvest fish from a pond ecosystem).  Be active in the management of your pond.  If you truly care for the pond, it will reward you with big fish and a pristine, elegant aesthetic that you and your family and friends can enjoy for generations.

But….. Seriously….. Aerate the water!  You’ll thank me. Here are some good systems….

Watergarden Aerator

Large Pond Aerator

Aerating Fountain

These are just three options of many available on , so click around and see what you can find….

Please feel free to ask me any questions that come to mind or to suggest ideas for future topics on this blog.  I am here to help get you the stuff you need and the knowledge that is vital for a clean, healthy pond ecosystem.

Thank you for being interested enough in your pond to learn more about it…..


Senior Biologist


Choosing a Good Contractor for Your Project


How is it that with all of the data on the internet……

All of the potential for continuing education and training….

All of the professional advice….

All of the watch-dog websites and government bodies….

That there are still shady characters out there that will take your money knowing that they aren’t going to provide you with a top notch, solid, professional final product?!

I guess it’s up to all of us to weed out the charlatans and get the good contractors out to the property to show off their expertise.

Here’s something to look for in all of your potential contractors:

Check their credentials:

If you are digging a pond or need your subdivision’s retention pond maintained, make sure the contractor you pick has a degreed biologist on staff.  Just about anyone can spray a pond, or get certified to handle chemicals and whatnot.  A degreed Biologist will bring a more nuanced approach to the project.  The strategies recommend by one who is educated in his/her craft will, most times, be more effective and last longer.   Instead of applying a band-aid to the symptom, we will look to solve the underlying problem.  Find out who you are dealing with and what they know.

This holds true for all fields and trades.  Make sure your contractor has the necessary experience, education, and certifications to pull-off the project you have in mind.

Whether it’s landscaping, plumbing, or pouring concrete…. make sure the outfit you choose is comprised of the pros they say they are.

See if the contractors are involved with any contractor associations or larger communities that promote further education.  For my industry, it’s the MAPMS (Midwest Plant Management Society), the WLCA (Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association), and the USFS (US Fishery Society).  All of these organizations look out for each other and their industry.  They also provide continuing education opportunities and conferences. We gather periodically to learn from other contractors and experts from all of our suppliers.  We also stay up-to-date on all the research coming from academia; we all know that the future solutions to common problems will come from a combination of university research and practical experience.  ANY contractor worth his/her salt will be a part of these groups.  Nobody has all of the answers.  If they tell you they know it all…..Choose a different company.

If your a contractor reading this please consider the opportunity that these types of organizations offer.  The networking alone makes it worthwhile.  These groups are full of people who face the same challenges and pitfalls that you do, and a little commiseration goes a long way in improving your mental health.  Oh yeah, and you’ll probably learn something too…..So that’s nice.

Take your time:

Don’t pick out your contractor after the first phone call.  Ask a ton of questions, see how long the company has been in business.  Get bids from at least 2-3 contractors, and get to know the guys/gals that you are trusting with your property/home and money.

Ask to see some referrals:

See what other people have said about the contractor you’re about to pick.  As a contractor myself, I do not enjoy the third degree I sometimes get from potential clients. I know, however, that they are just doing their due diligence, and they usually end up being some of my best customers because they truly care and are involved in the project from day one.  So get to know your potential contractors, find somebody you trust.  It’ll be a better experience for all involved.

Meet with the contractor face-to-face:

We are all better judges of character when, while talking to someone, you can look them in the eye.  This is a bit old fashioned (all you young’uns, with all your Gameboy video games and rocket scooters). I just figure it’s harder to get away with half-truths and deceptions when you’re standing toe-to-toe.  This isn’t a license to be defensive, or worse, aggressive.  Being too mistrustful is a good way to get the pain-in-the-ass tax (usually 15{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822}) added to your bid proposal.


So, be wise when selecting a contractor.  Ask good questions, and check on the answers you are given.

Once again, feel free to ask questions in the comments section.


Until next time…….



Senior Biologist


Growing Big Healthy Fish in Your Pond

Why do fish behave differently in ponds than in large natural systems?

Excellent question. Let’s explore that, shall we…….

Whether it’s gamefish like bass or walleye…..

Or Watergarden friends like goldfish and koi….


Freshwater fish (and marine fish too) behave differently in small spaces than they do in their natural, much larger, native habitat.

There is stress that comes with living in close proximity to not only your fellows of the same species, but your food, and potential competitors.  This creates special challenges that we, as responsible managers of our resource, get to deal with.

If your pond is larger than 3 acres or so, these stresses are easier to handle, as there’s usually enough space to go around.  Alas, when things go wrong in these larger systems, they are much harder to fix….. In most cases, they require years to balance out and can be labor intensive and/or expensive.

For the rest of us, we need to manage just about every aspect of the fish’s life cycle in order keep them happy and healthy.

I often come across ponds that have stunted fish, or way too many fish.  Here are some indicators that I have seen that tell you, you need to change your management strategies to bring your pond back into balance.

Roaming packs of predators:

Normally, solitary predators like Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass and Northern Pike do not travel in groups.  If you walk around your pond and see marauding packs of bass, that means there is not enough food in your pond, or you have too many fish.

Stunted fish & Overabundance:

I hear customers comment everyday that they only ever catch/see small fish. It is up to you, the property owner, to keep the size structure of your pond in balance.  This means: harvest small fish so that you can grow a few larger ones.  You should almost never be able to catch a fish with every cast.  If you can, you have too many hungry fish.  Your pond can only naturally provide so much forage. Even if you feed them or stock forage (minnows) on a regular basis, most any pond can get out of whack in terms of how many small fish reside in the system.

Small ponds are fantastic incubators for small fish. These small habitats lack the natural predation and other factors that cull young fish in lakes and rivers.  The problem lies in the lack of large fish to control the reproduction of small fish species.  For example: you need a 16in Largemouth Bass to eat a 3in Bluegill.  If you do not have any large bass, or very few large bass, too many Bluegills will survive to reproductive age.  This will continue until there are too many sunfish for your pond, and their growth will stunt due to shortages of food and habitat.

Remove the less important fish from your pond so that the rest may become larger and healthier.  Take out a bunch of 8-12in bass and 3-5in sunfish so that the food they would have eaten is now available for the larger fish in the system.

In watergardens, too many fish looks a little different.  In these very small systems, overabundance presents as algae blooms and disease problems.  Koi and Goldfish like to school up.  They are both related to forage species (minnows) and are comfortable in large groups.  The potential issue resides in the lack of habitat and water volume.

If your pond is 20×20 the above picture represents WAY too many Koi.

The problems for Koi ponds are very similar to those found in professional aquaculture (or fish farming).  When population densities are very high, disease and parasites can run rampant.  The aeration system and filtering waterfalls cannot possibly keep up with all the fish waste, so your nutrient levels get too high and oxygen levels drop. This all leads to vulnerable fish susceptible to infection and death.

Lack of Good Habitat:

Most small ponds never have enough good habitat.  BFR’s (big fu&$ing rocks), coarse woody debris (stumps and large branches), and submerged vegetation are the best and easiest ways to give your fish a place to relax and ambush their next meal.  You need to provide habitat that closely resembles what your fish would find in their native range.  These creatures have evolved to live and utilize a variety of structures.  When they cannot find suitable habitat, they will constantly look for it. This search leads to stress, and no one likes to be stressed (kind of like when someone removes the coffeemaker from the break-room, productivity suffers…everybody’s stressed out).

Long story short, make your pond resemble a natural waterbody.

I think here is a good time to talk about Mother Nature.  She is a colossal bitch!  She is undefeated and stubborn as all get-out.  Cross her at your peril…..  Any waterbody that is managed not in concordance with Her will, will be summarily punished.  These punishments come in the form of costly weed and algae treatments, sick/dead fish, and little joy to be taken from a pond that is trying to run outside of the rules set up by a tyrant that’s been operating since time in memorial.

I’m SURE Ms. Nature will make me pay for these comments, so I hope you all appreciate the hit I am taking for you! (Tell Mom that I love her….)

Mother Nature has set up her fish minions to live, grow and reproduce in environments best suited for their needs.  Most of the ponds I know about fit only some or none of those needs naturally and therefore need to be managed properly in order to produce large, healthy fish.

What does that mean for you?

Aeration, habitat, and population control.

Properly aerating your pond will triple the carrying capacity of the system.  Among plentiful other benefits that a good air system brings, it creates an oxygen-rich environment that is the base to any good, stable food chain.  This high oxygen environment can also reduce the mortality of our scaly friends due to improved vigor.  That is, a healthy, strong fish can fight off disease and is less susceptible to parasites because it has a less stressful environment with plenty of food and habitat.

Aeration can also help out a Koi pond.  Aeration systems are cheaper to run than your filter falls (though running falls as much as you can will always be the best option) and will provide oxygen to the very bottom where it is needed the most.

Here’s some good aeration systems:

Large pond Aerator

Koi pond Aerator

Aerating Fountain


There are many other strategies that produce big healthy fish, and I will delve into those on a subsequent article, so stay tuned.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this.  I have only been able to graze the surface of a lot of these topics here on this blog, so please ask questions in the comments section. I will be able assist you more specifically with whatever your current issues are.

Just remember, when in doubt………


Senior Biogist



Pond Design : A Crucial Component of Pond Health

If you build it…They will come.



The pond… Build a pond, and they will all come to fawn over the splendid brilliance on your property…….and perhaps take in a ballgame!

Constructing your pond correctly will increase its effective lifespan and make maintenance cheaper and less time-consuming.  A little forethought goes a long way towards creating a waterbody that you can enjoy for years and years.

This article will address the construction of both backyard watergardens and large ponds.

I plan to delve into more detail in forthcoming posts……

Watergardens/Koi Ponds:

Small backyard ponds are versatile and flexible enough that just about any shape you come up with is do-able, assuming you create space for proper filtration and water movement.

The object here is to construct your pond so that your filtering system moves the entire water volume of the pond.  Avoid slack-water areas.  These parts of the pond will be problem spots moving forward.

This simplistic design illustrates the flow of water through the entire system, leaving no slack-water areas.

This image is illustrates a pond with a stagnant area.  Water flows across much of the system, but leaves a portion un-mixed. This area will become a high maintenance zone over time (i.e. nuisance algae, poor oxygen saturation).  A simple fix lies below.

Adding the second waterfall will not only improve the flow of water through the system, it will add a secondary feature or focal point.

Watergardens need ample filtration. Be sure to design in abundant space for plants. Plants are your friends; they will be the cheapest and hardest working filter your pond has.  As soon as you think you’ve planted enough plants…… plant some more.  Rule of thumb: 40{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822} of the pond’s shoreline should be vegetated for good results. Please see my article on plants for more info. (Aquatic Plants Article)

Create planting shelves around the perimeter of the pond, ideally varying in depth from 7-12 inches. This will accommodate different planting depths for different aquatic plant species and create more diverse habitat for all the critters in the pond.

Something like this:


I am not a huge fan of submerged plants (oxygenators) in watergardens as they have a tendency to take over the pond.  The best designs integrate several species of aquatics with different growth forms and blooming periods.  I’ll be going over my favorite species in an upcoming article, so stay tuned…..

Make sure to protect your fish from predators by adding fish caves.  All you’ll need is a large flat piece of bluestone or slate.  Place the stone so that it creates a place at the bottom of the pond where your scaly friends can take refuge from predators.  Constructing a refuge for your fish also reduces stress during normal conditions.  Having abundant plantlife in the pond will provide cover for your critters too.

Make sure to have at least 2 feet of water depth in the deepest part of the pond (deeper is preferable).  If it freezes in your neck of the woods, you’ll need an aerator or circulating pump to keep your fish alive through the winter months.

koi pond aerator

Large Ponds:

Large pond design is different ….. and the same as designing watergardens.  Thinking about water flow and habitat are crucial to the longevity and health of the water column and the critters that live within.  Designing a large pond with these thoughts in mind will lead directly to happy fish/wildlife and a positive resource for you and your family.

1.) Dig it as DEEP as you can as FAST as you can.  The deeper the water, the more water your pond holds (super complex right?).  The more water your pond has in it, the more fish it can carry, the more ecological change it can resist, the less weeds and algae issues it’ll have, the clearer the water will be, the larger your fish can get, the more habitat you can create, AND the more fun you can have as a pond owner. (Deep breath.) You need to research the soils in your area to determine the slopes that you will be able to maintain with out sloughing or collapsing into the pond.  As an example: clay soils will hold a much steeper slope than sandy soils.

2.) Islands are dumb.  (But Joe, they’re so pretty, and like, I wanna have a golf hole out there or maybe a gazebo…)  NO, stop it!  BAD pond owner!

Islands limit the maximum depth you can achieve in any pond, and they are the bane of water-flow and mixing.  These bumps of turf add nothing of value to a system unless it is truly large (over 4-5 acres).  I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to maximize the water volume of your new pond.

Islands also attract geese. These vile, honking, spawn of a goat mixed with a rat mixed with a turkey are my personal nemesis and should never be allowed at your pond. An adult Canada Goose can defecate (that’s a delicate word for sh$t) up to 3lbs a day when it is not migrating.  3 POUNDS!!!!!!!! Shoot them, scare them away… sick the neighborhood 8-year-old and a Back Lab on them…. just make sure they don’t stick around.

3.) Hey…. Which way is the wind blowing?

Always design your pond knowing that the prevailing winds will push leaves and other debris to one side.  Our westerly winds will push all of the junk to the east/southeast side of the pond (here in the Midwest).  Therefore, do not put your beach on the east side of the pond. In fact, place the beach/dock/patio/most used areas of the pond on the most windswept side to keep maintenance to a minimum.


Notice how the winds will clean your beach for you?  Sweet, right?

4.) Dig a hole….Check for water.

The water table is not always where we expect it to be. Before you dig a mammoth hole in the ground, dig several test holes to see where the water line of your new pond will be.  If the water table is well below the grade of the surrounding land, you will have a difficult time excavating it out to a suitable depth and an even harder time landscaping it into your property as there will be a very nice pond at the bottom of a very steep hill.

If you don’t find water, or if the water table is too low, a liner is your best bet.  This will likely triple the cost of your project, but you will be able to hold whatever waterline you desire. These ponds have their own special challenges but are well worth the investment if designed correctly.

5.) Habitat, and Preventative Maintenance

Mother Nature has set up her fish minions to live, grow and reproduce in environments best suited for their needs.  Most of the ponds I know about fit only some or none of those needs naturally and therefore need to be designed and managed properly in order to produce large, healthy fish.

What does that mean for you?

Aeration, habitat, and population control.

Properly aerating your pond will triple the carrying capacity of the system.  Among plentiful other benefits that a good air system brings, it creates an oxygen-rich environment that is the base to any good, stable food chain.  This high oxygen environment can also reduce the mortality of our scaly friends due to improved vigor.  That is, a healthy, strong fish can fight off disease and is less susceptible to parasites because it has a less stressful environment with plenty of food and habitat.  (You may recognize this last paragraph from a previous article on fish growth, so please refer to that article for more….. Fish Growth)

Aeration is my single best tool for keeping ponds young and vital. Always budget for a good system when designing your pond. Here’s are some good systems, or please search our website for several others that will fit your project.

Aeration systems

Once again, this is a much bigger topic than I have space for here. If you are thinking of putting in a pond and need some advice, please ask.  I will answer all questions in the comments section, or feel free to email anytime ( Thanks so much for taking the time to read my articles.


Senior Biologist



My Favorite Pond Plants…. A guide to choosing the best plants for your aquatic environment

(Don’t get this plant….this plant BAD!) Thanks, “Little Shop of Horrors”.

Plants are vital!  If you choose to have no plants in your pond or watergarden, you will spend a great deal of your time (and a whole bunch of money) keeping the pond clean and clear.  Plants elevate your pond’s habitat and improve its filtering capacity.  Aquatic plants are your most efficient filter for most any aquatic environment.  They are working 24hrs a day and (if you choose correctly) will wake up every spring to begin the fight again.

What fight, you say?

Why, the fight for ecological supremacy! The only true battle of value any self-respecting freshwater steward may undertake in the long struggle of pond ownership.


I can help!


Here are a few plants to get you started.  I have added descriptions and some comments for where/how to plant them into your pond.  All of these plants are hardy for the  Midwest and the northern climes of our great land (US and CAN).

Pond Lilies (many genra and species available be sure to check hardiness for your region):



These plants come in a wide variety of colors and are very versatile.  Most can grow in as little as 6in of water, and some can thrive in up to 8-10 ft of water depth.  Our native lilies here in the upper Midwest are white and yellow and can sometimes grow out of control if left unchecked.  I therefore recommend the cultivars that are not from around here and that tend to grow more slowly.  My advice in selecting your pond lily is to check out your local nursery and see what’s available and/or peruse the selection that online growers offer.  Make sure to select varieties that are hardy to your region so that you can enjoy the plants next year as well.

There are tropical pond lilies that have wild colors and some that bloom at night (SUPER COOL).  These lilies will have to be either boarded over the winter inside your home or treated as annual plants in your pond.

Arrowhead (sagittaria latifolia, and others):


These are my favorite!  These are native aquatic plants that grow in water from 6-8 inches of depth all the way to above the waterline in wet soil, and range from 14-24 inches in height.  Arrowhead reproduces mainly by tuber.  They produce a marble to golfball sized starchy “potato” that resides under the soil line.  These tubers are edible too (though they do not taste very good), and are the most nutritious aquatic plant that is native to our area. “Why is nutritional value important?”, you ask. Arrowhead is the most efficient filter of nutrients in our aquatic environment. It sequesters more nutrients per unit mass than any other aquatic plant native to the Midwest.  Deer, rabbits, geese, ducks, and muskrats will gladly dine on these guys whenever they get the chance. You will have to protect new plantings, but once they become established, they will be able to survive a certain amount of herbivory.

I get the best success planting Arrowhead in soil.  They prefer highly organic media, but I find that they do just fine in whatever soil is present in your natural pond. If you are planting them in a watergarden or koi pond, make sure they have 4-6 inches of pea gravel in which to grow.  You can also sink a pot in 6-8 inches of water with pea gravel mixed with a small amount of peat moss.

Expect these wonderful plants to spread themselves out in your pond, as the tubers float. These plants also produce flowers…and therefore seeds…so you may get some reproduction through the spread of the seeds as well.  If they land somewhere they are not wanted, they are easily transplanted or pulled out.

Blue Flag Iris (iris versicolor):


Ok, these are my favorite!  A native flower, Blue Flag Iris stands from 24-36in tall with long slender lunate (or spear-like) leaves. It will grow in water 4in deep to damp soil.  This iris (like most irises) blossoms in spring, exhibiting the delicate blue flowers you see above (Blue Flag will bloom more in full sun, but does not require full sun to grow).  I love this species for its robust nature and great habitat potential for the pond’s edge.  Clean it up in the fall by cutting down the foliage, and wait for spring.  Every 3-5 years you can split the clump to encourage new growth.

Other aquatic irises (like Yellow Iris or pseudacorus) are also great.  Most states have them listed on their invasive species lists due to their ability to spread into native waters.  They grow and spread readily by seed, and I must admit they are non-native, so that is a concern to all of us looking for a groovy natural landscape. BUT!!!!!! If you promise to keep them confined to your pond, I won’t tell anybody.  They grow larger than the Blue Flag and produce more blossoms in the spring, subsequently producing abundant seed pods.  To control the spread, just clip off the seed pods as they form and you’re in good shape.


Soft Rush ( juncos effusus):


Ok… These are my FAVORITE! Soft Rush is the coolest! It grows spiky dense clumps about two feet tall and it is awesome.  Soft Rush grows slowly by adding several new spikes every year, slowly expanding the clump of awesome.  This is a versatile plant that will grow in 2 inches of water, but prefers living at the waterline.  Soft Rush can be divided at any time.  It is also excellent habitat for the insects, birds and amphibians that frequent your pond.


Alright…… These will get you going. there are MANY more species out there that are suitable for your pond.  I try to keep these articles short so you all come back to read another one. 😉 I will describe many more aquatic plants in subsequent articles, so stay tuned.  If you have questions or comments, please ask in the comments section. Thanks for taking the time, and get out there and enhance your pond with some plants!


Senior Biologist 

Pond Design II: 3 Pro Tips to Make Your Pond the Best It Can Be.



Or maybe watergardens are your thing…..


In a previous article, I discussed the basics of pond design (please refer to Pond Design).  During this episode, this intrepid blogger will discuss some finer points of pond design.

Large Ponds:

1. Create habitat using relief and structure:

In my article about basic pond design, I lean heavy on the concept of maximum water volume.  More water=better water. This remains true, but adding a bit of irregularity to the pond’s bottom will both give fish a place to gather and allow for diversity of habitat.  Creating humps and irregular shoreline areas allows the plants, animals, insects, and other biota to find their preferred niche.  These design features do not have to be drastic.  Humps that change elevation 1-2ft create a subtle change in habitat.   Small changes in slope of the shoreline, or shallow areas designed for plantings at different depths are fantastic for different species of fish and forage.  The more diverse your habitat, the better overall health of your system.

Drop in some structure for gold star habitat.  Rock piles, big rooty stumps, sunken pallets, and Christmas trees are all examples of excellent habitat augmentation for your pond.  Placed at different depths, these management tools will hold different species at different times of the day/year.  Once again, this abundant choice of living quarters for the critters that reside within your pond will lead to healthy, large fish that are sustainable for a very long time.

2. Stock the right fish in appropriate sizes and quantities for a balanced fishery:

Adding too many fish – or the wrong fish – when you first start off your pond can lead to problems and/or disappointing fish sizes in short order.  For example, if you have a 1/3 acre pond that has a maximum depth of 12ft and an average depth of 6-8ft and you stock walleyes…… you will have unhappy, unhealthy fish that grow slowly.  Most will be dead before they reach any desirable size.

Research fish species (or ask me) before you stock fish.  Find out which fish will do best in your system, or if you want a certain species of fish to thrive, design the pond according to their needs.  There are too many scenarios to go into here, but the above 1/3 acre pond would be a great Largemouth / Bluegill system.  Stock 30-40 Bass and 200 Bluegill (or so…depending on the sizes available), and the two populations will grow together.  The Bass will control the Bluegill abundance, and you (and Mother Nature) will control the Bass population through harvest.

Be sure to stock a forage species!  If you ever want to have a solid fish population, they will have to have abundant food.  The above pond will need 50lbs of minnows (Fathead, Bluntnose, Shiners, Redtails…whichever is plentiful in your area) at LEAST every other season to maintain good growth in your predator species.  Unless your pond is perfectly designed and balanced, it is too small to maintain a reproducing forage species for a long period of time.  There just isn’t enough space.  Too many predators in too small an area means that the vast majority of the minnows stocked will not live long enough to reproduce.

3.  Aeration, aeration, aeration:

This is a must!  The single best tool to maintain healthy aquatic systems is a good aeration system.  The benefits of aeration are abundant.  Not only does it benefit fish, but every living organism that lives or frequents the pond will directly benefit from the enhanced water quality that a good aerator brings.

Pond aerator        Aerating fountain

Different Pond aerator


The design aspects for the backyard koi pond/watergarden are legion.  These small features allow for maximum creative expression.  The very best part of owning a watergarden is: It’s 100{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822} yours.  You designed it.  You maintain it. You made it AWESOME!

Name your koi, adjust the water flow across your various waterfalls by adding a single strategically placed stone….. The nuance of the spectacular is in your hands, so be creative, be brave and bold…… Create a resource that is the envy of the neighborhood and a feature of your home that you can be truly proud of.

1.  Vary your water depth to encourage diversity:

I covered planting shelves in my first article on this subject (pond design). The attention to detail on the elevation of your planting shelves not only will determine which plants can thrive there, but what other organisms will frequent the area.  These other creatures include but are not limited to your fish.  These areas will attract amphibians, insects, and visiting creatures from the neighborhood to come and take a drink.  Water on these shelves will be slightly warmer than the bulk of the rest of the water volume, so during the spring and fall days when the water is cooling down, your fish will spend as much time as they can in these areas that are easily warmed on sunny days.  Put some habitat on the shelves that’ll make the scaly critters feel at home.  This means aquatic plants, boulders, gravel, a piece of driftwood, a cantilevered piece of outcropping stone which creates a shallow water haven.  Once again… get creative.

When you’re digging your pond, use a string-line and a yardstick/tape-measure to set your elevations.  This is tricky, but you will thank me when the project is done.  It is a rare event when all things work out as planned if you do not measure early and often.

2. Use a variety of materials in your construction:

Let’s do a thought experiment…. Picture in your mind a pristine alpine brook with a small pool teeming with fish. What else is in that picture besides water and rocks?

In my vision, there are abundant plants and some shrubs and stuff that approach this bucolic scene.  In the stream, there’s an old moss-covered log laying across it…… OOOOOOOH…. AWWWWWW… or maybe a hollow log with water running through it, wait…what…. THAT IS SOOO COOL!  OK, before I get too carried away, you get the idea.  Use materials that are handy to create a truly unique pond/stream.

You don’t have to be limited to wood either.  I’ve seen pottery, statuary and old milk cans used beautifully.  For more formal pools, the colorfalls and other engineered block elements look pretty cool.

Colorfalls Wier 

3. Light it up like a Polish church!

Lights bring a fantastic element to the pond atmosphere.  I go into some detail in a different article (pond lights) so I’ll give some more tips here.

The LED systems that are on the market now are fantabulous! There are an infinite amount of combinations that you can come up with.  Bonus: they use next to no electricity to illuminate your pond/stream to the point of signaling in the mothership.  Furthermore, if you feel like you want to add more…. go nuts!  The ease of install and power flexibility allow for you to be as luminary as you’d like.

Use lighting both below the waterline and above.  This will expose two environments to your eyes.  I personally like using a submerged light to project a rippling water image on the wall of a building, or through a window into your bedroom, you know, in case that image will help improve the atmosphere in there….ahem.

Formal features must have the color-changing LED system pictured above. You can control it with your phone, or set it to change with music….SUPER COOL!


Hey, thanks so much for taking the time to read this article.  As always, please ask questions in the comments section or contact me through the website if you want to talk things over.

Have a spectacular day, everybody.


Senior Biologist


Winterize your Pond: Keep your Fish Alive and Make Springtime Easier



Greetings from the Great White North!

Moving into the late fall and winter months, one must adjust our management strategies and prepare for drastically different conditions. Colder water has different chemical and physical characteristics that native fish and other aquatic organisms adjust to readily.  It is way easier for a koi/goldfish or bass/bluegill to adjust to cooling water temperatures than the reverse in spring.  This is due to higher oxygen levels in cold water and the mechanisms fish have evolved to slow their metabolism during cold water periods.  Still, there are a few things you have to do to make sure your scaly friends survive until the warmth and sunshine return in spring.

Large Ponds:

Large waterbodies slide into winter fairly easy.  If you have an aerator (and you should have an aeration system installed), it’s time to shut it down for the winter.  Another option is to reduce the system down to a single diffuser, which keeps a hole open in the ice.  This negates the risk of winter kill due to de-oxygenation and/or the build up of toxic gasses under the ice.

I find that the best strategy is to move a single diffuser into shallow water near shore.  This way, the hole created by the mixing water will be contiguous with the shoreline.  This is helpful for two reasons:

1.) The pond does NOT need deep water mixing during these times. Freshwater at near freezing temps (33-40deg F) holds 10 times the oxygen as warm water.  The hole allows bad gasses like nitrous oxide, methane, and sulfur dioxide to escape to the atmosphere.  These gasses are mostly released from decaying sediments and are usually only an issue in old ponds with deep soft sediment (or muck) bottoms.  The exposure to the atmosphere will also turn in abundant oxygen to prevent oxygen depletion from a high fish load or those same soft sediments.

2.) Open water during the winter months will lure in wildlife in droves.  Liquid water is scarce in winter here in the North, and every creature that is wandering (of fluttering) about needs it to survive.  So keeping the hole near shore will allow said wildlife to utilize the pond while remaining safe.  If the critter has the misfortune of falling through the thin ice near the edge of the hole, the water is shallow enough for it to scamper out.  (I have several experiences trying to fish out deceased critters from a hole open out in deep water.)

You can use aeration or de-icers/watermovers to eliminate the need to remove your dock/pier.


Kasco de-icer



Oxygen depletion is a real concern for shallow garden ponds.  The gasses released by decomposing organic material and respiring fish can accumulate rather quickly underneath an opaque layer of ice.  Leaving a hole open in the ice is crucial for the survival of your fish.

There are several ways to accomplish this:

If you live in an era of the world where ice doesn’t get to bad, go ahead and just run your system as normal.  Beware of ice buildup on your waterfall/stream as ice-dams can appear and begin pumping your pond dry.

Notice how the ice is forming on the sides?  This blockage can create a path for water out of the pond…. that is bad…. we want water in the pond…. where the fish are….. cuz fish need water.

Pond heater:

Pond heaters come in two forms: floating heaters, and submersible tank heaters.  Both of these products work very well.

These products use a fair amount of electricity to keep the desired open water.

Aeration system:

Adding (or continuing to use) a small aerator during the winter will keep a hole open under most circumstances.

Koi Pond/Watergarden aerator

These systems are great! They use less electricity than the pond heaters and should be used during the summer months as well for the betterment of the pond.  Be sure to move the diffuser to a planting shelf or other shallow area to reduce the risk of super-cooling the pond.  Super cooling is when the temperature of the entire water column decreases to freezing (these are rare, unique events).  Over mixing during extreme cold can super-cool the water, allowing ice crystals to form in your fish’s gills (which is bad).

When conditions get super cold (below 0 deg F), an ice dome can form over the hole.  This will usually subside in a day or two, or you can break the shell ice to keep the hole open until the temperature warms slightly.  Aerating can increase evaporation loss as well, you may have to add water as the dry, cold air will be constantly stealing water from you.

Submerged water pump:

Simply use the pump you already have to circulate water to keep an area open in the pond.  Either plumb the water from the skimmer area, or remove the fountain nozzle from your filter pump.  This moving water is great for keeping the pond in good shape until spring.  If your pump is too big for this operation, purchase a smaller filter pump to sit in the pond over winter.

Aquaforce Pump

Fielding pump

There are a bunch of these to choose from.  Pick the brand and size that will work best for you.  If you need help picking one out, just let me know.

If you are not using your main pump through the winter, store it inside in a bucket of water so the seals don’t dry out.

Keeping your fish alive and well throughout the winter is easy with a little bit of prep.  So brace yourself for the cold weather and think warm thoughts…….

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments section, or contact me directly.


Thank You,

Senior Biologist

Pond Management: Sometimes You Fail! Keep the Faith!



Friends….. Sometimes our best efforts lead to results that are less than favorable…. There are times when even the professionals screw the pooch and have to admit that they have failed. These lessons are important for all pond owners.  Big ponds, watergardens, lakeshore properties….. All waterbodies can lull us into a false sense of security, be wary fellow limnological enthusiasts, as the environment can often throw curveballs that are unforeseen.

I am no exception to this.  Mother Nature is a fickle mistress, she giveth…. and she taketh away (and boy, when she wants to taketh, she can taketh very aggressively).  These unfortunate occurrences usually rear their ugly heads when conditions rapidly change, when you miss a key characteristic of the resource (physical, chemical, cultural, or environmental), or when you don’t notice a subtle change in the environment that has been building up for a while.

Allow me to take you on a trip through some of my tribulations so you may learn to be better managers for your particular water bodies.

1) Rapid condition change:

There once was a municipality that contracted me to manage their community swim pond.  Beautiful place: clear water, good circulation, and a good balance of fish….. Usually this system was a breeze to manage.  Swing by once in a while, add some bacteria and enzymes to help out the micro-biota, maybe some phosphorus reducing agent if I felt the need…… no problem.  Welp, then something strange happened.  Mere minutes after I left the property, the wind died and the ambient temperature rose 10 degrees to about 90-95 degrees F. The enzymes that I added are catalysts for rapid respiration in any aquatic system. Normally this is good…. nutrients get chewed up by the microbiotic community and all’s well…. This time however, the rapid rise in temperature resulted in a drastic reduction in the pond’s ability to hold oxygen.  So, my treatment with 100{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822} natural additives proceeded to suck all the oxygen out of the water column, killing the vast majority of fish in the pond.  As you may be able to determine, the park manager was a bit shocked to see all the dead fish and had to send all of his lifeguards around with nets clearing up the mess, as no one from the community wanted to swim in a pond with a bunch of dead fish (weird…right?).

This problem is impossible to anticipate, but it teaches us to be uber vigilant when gauging conditions before we initiate any management action.

2) Overlook a key characteristic of the resource:

There once was a customer who wanted a backyard pond installed.  It was beautiful! They lived on a ridge overlooking field and forest…just serene.  Welp, it turns out that after everything was installed, the pond water was green……and I mean REALLY GREEN.  I had no idea what was wrong.  This pond was constructed with a liner and a custom designed filtering system over and above what should have been necessary to keep the pond clean.  Then I tested the source water. (This is Joe’s shame face.)  The landowner’s well water was contaminated with agricultural runoff. The Nitrate levels were 10 times the average levels (for groundwater in that area), which led to runaway algae growth.

The lesson here is: ALWAYS know the conditions at your site.  If I would have tested the water beforehand, I would have seen that I need to incorporate a Goliath of a filter bog/system to mitigate the excess nutrient issues present in the source water.

3) Condo Pond Issues:

So, there once was a condo that had a nice pond for the residents to enjoy.  Good fish, pretty fountain, jovial pond manager who swung by every so often to see how things were going.  Welp, over the course of several seasons, the pond began to degrade.  The water clouded up, and new weeds and algae started to slowly become an issue.  This intrepid water resource manager wrote it off to natural aging and just went on his way.  Well, unbeknownst to the pond manager, the residents of the condos let some goldfish go into the pond.  Furthermore, another resident started dumping the remains of their supper and potting soil from their potted plants into the pond.  The combinations of these two things wrecked this pond.  The goldfish multiplied and dug up the bottom sediments, turning the pond an ugly mud color.  The slow addition of nutrients and soil caused a slow increase in nutrient issues that then led to nuisance weed and algae issues.

The moral of this story is CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Tiny changes can have LARGE impacts over time in any aquatic system.  To this day, this condo pond is not back to the state it was in before the problem started, and it will be a long, expensive trip back if the community wants to spend the resources to rectify the issues.

This same pond has had an influx of exotic Apple Snails (probably from aquariums).  These critters are actually helping the pond as they are filtering out a lot nutrients and sediment.  Alas, they are an invasive species and will most likely spread to other waterbodies unless they are removed from the system.


Every pond (large or small) can be affected by these oversights.  Backyard watergardens/koi ponds are especially susceptible to change due to their small size/water volume.  So, beware!  Learn from my misfortunes and please ask questions in the comments if you are noticing change in your pond.  Change is not good (normally) in an aquatic system.  We’re looking for balance and stability in the watery world that we oversee.

Thanks for reading,

Senior Biologist