Inherited Pond - Clueless!


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Hi, we bought a new house this winter in southeastern PA that came with a small lined backyard pond. It is approx 12’ x 6’ and ~1ft deep at the center. It has a large root plant with small lily pads sprouting, a waterfall feature with pump, 2 mesh bags with pond ribbon and approx 30 goldfish. There were 3 submerged potted plants that didn’t survive the winter. The guy we bought the house from also inherited the pond when he bought the house and says he didn’t do “anything” to maintain the pond in the 6 yrs he lived here. There are lots of dead leaves at the bottom of the pond & a good amount of muck. There are also thousands of American Toad eggs recently laid. The water is not particularly clear (seems muddy), especially when it rains. No smell. We are not looking to be fanatic about the pond (ie - we’d like to create as much of a self-sustaining ecosystem with as little maintenance required as possible). I’ve read that as long as you get the ecosystem balanced correctly, the pond shouldn’t require water changes, chemicals, even a pump...Speaking of the pump, ours died this weekend and while we waited for the new one to come in the mail, our biggest fish was almost dead floating on his side... finally got the new pump installed & the fish seems to have recovered. This seems to indicate to me that we do not have enough aerating plants. So, I’m looking for advice on what plants to get for the best balance, because this seems to be what is lacking the most at this point. What kind & how many? Any other advice would be great. See pics!
 

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brokensword

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Hi, we bought a new house this winter in southeastern PA that came with a small lined backyard pond. It is approx 12’ x 6’ and ~1ft deep at the center. It has a large root plant with small lily pads sprouting, a waterfall feature with pump, 2 mesh bags with pond ribbon and approx 30 goldfish. There were 3 submerged potted plants that didn’t survive the winter. The guy we bought the house from also inherited the pond when he bought the house and says he didn’t do “anything” to maintain the pond in the 6 yrs he lived here. There are lots of dead leaves at the bottom of the pond & a good amount of muck. There are also thousands of American Toad eggs recently laid. The water is not particularly clear (seems muddy), especially when it rains. No smell. We are not looking to be fanatic about the pond (ie - we’d like to create as much of a self-sustaining ecosystem with as little maintenance required as possible). I’ve read that as long as you get the ecosystem balanced correctly, the pond shouldn’t require water changes, chemicals, even a pump...Speaking of the pump, ours died this weekend and while we waited for the new one to come in the mail, our biggest fish was almost dead floating on his side... finally got the new pump installed & the fish seems to have recovered. This seems to indicate to me that we do not have enough aerating plants. So, I’m looking for advice on what plants to get for the best balance, because this seems to be what is lacking the most at this point. What kind & how many? Any other advice would be great. See pics!
First, it would be good to know; is this a liner pond or preformed? From one pic, it seems like a preform. When you listed the depth at 1', that's alarming in that the pond must freeze up pretty deep in Pa. A good person to also ask would be @poconojoe as he's a neighbor of yours. Typical ponds are more like 18" to a more workable 3-4'. You'll have to watch that it doesn't freeze all the way down. Since you say the previous owner didn't do anything, he probably didn't tell you if the pond ever froze solid. Goldfish are tough and can survive being frozen (not ideal and certainly not 100% proof of survivability).

First thing I'd do is get yourself a kiddie pool large enough to hold enough water and get the goldfish out. This will make taking all the muck out a lot easier. Normally we advise to just run a net slowly along the bottom and fish it out but in your case, I'd just remove the fish and then clean the muck. Seems a lot easier and quicker. I'd fill the kiddie pool with the top layer of your pond water--you want this as the water has cycled.

Now realize, the sides and bottom of your pond have bacteria on them that is valuable--it'll help re-start the nitrogen cycle which may keep you from getting an algae bloom. If you can lift the fish, siphon out the water, clean the muck and then refill in a timely fashion, you can hopefully keep the situation from magnifying. Put the fish in buckets and float them in the new water (which also has the kiddie pool water put back in) and acclimate the fish relative to temp. If you're filling using city water, don't forget the dechlorinator as fish can't handle the chlorine/chloramine that's in municipal water). I'd float for 30 minutes or so. If you're lucky, your new water will be close in temp to the kiddie pool water and you'll not stress them much. Again, goldfish are tough.

With all that said;, ideally you want more depth and can consider replacing the preform with a liner pond in which you'd dig deeper to a better depth. That's one option and the one I'd consider as 12" is just too shallow, imo. It'll work, but there's lots of limitations.

Now, once that is initialized, we can talk filtration. Without even knowing what you have, and it won't matter unless you already have my suggestion, consider creating a bog filter. This can be done before you even do the cleaning described above. A bog, more appropriately called 'upflow wetland filtration', is a structure (or side pond, if you want to dig) that houses at least 12" of gravel (pea gravel; round edged stone) and has pipe buried on the bottom whose supply comes from a pump located in your pond. You could also get an external; just more plumbing. I like the submersibles.

This piping from the pond via the pump sends water to the bottom of your bog where it'll rise up through the gravel and pour back into the pond. This creates a waterfall for aeration (something you want to battle algae and help the fish thrive) and allows all the bacteria colonizing your new bog pea stone to break down the bad elements in your pond water. You'll put plants on top and they take out the third bad element; nitrates. Get yourself some floating plants to place in the pond to go along with what looks like your water lily and you'll be set.

With what looks like your waterfall, you'll have a pump that supplies water to it; it may or many not be strong enough to Y off of so you get that bog feed. If not, get another pump or buy a larger one that will feed both.

With all that said, once you clear the pond of the muck, change out the water, provide excellent filtration (once built, you'll not have to do anything again except thin plants now and then in the top of your bog) as it'll give you water clear enough that now the predators can more easily see your fish. You'll consider a net now as this is the only real way to protect them. Or not; it's your pond but once a heron finds it, the fish won't last.

Okay, lots of info. Any questions, fire away as there's lots of good knowledgeable people here to help. And don't let the above scare you; it seems like a lot but you can knock most of this out in a weekend and you'll reap many years of benefits. Do a search re 'bogs' here and you'll find a lot more info to help you learn about such filtration and if such is something you're interested in.

Welcome to GPF!
 
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Welcome to the GPF! @brokensword covered a lot of ground there, so I'll just add this - "aerating" plants are somewhat misnamed. They add oxygen to the pond in the daytime - like any plant - but the process is reversed at night. Your best aeration is your waterfall or one or more airstones with an air pump.

Another thing you'll need to address is your overgrown waterlily. If that thing is loose in the pond, it may take some real effort to remove it. But get it out and let's talk about cutting it down to size and getting it into pots. Otherwise you may as well just sign the deed to the pond over to the plant!

Good luck with your clean out - you'll learn to love your pond once you've done all the work to get it looking good again!
 

addy1

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Welcome to our forum!

Great advice up there. ^^^^ Most preforms, esp one of any size are 2-2.5 feet deep. If I am remembering right mine were that deep. I removed them years ago. Yours might be that deep once you get the muck out of the pond.

Btw nice looking pond!
 
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your lily will probably be able to be split into 2-3 plants. there are some good videos on youtube.
 
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Great advice so far.
You mentioned you want as little maintenance as possible, that's where a bog filter comes in. With a bog filter, the only maintenance you'll need to do is maybe thin out some plant roots. There won't be any filter pads to rinse out every week.

The bog, as mentioned, will be filled with pea gravel. Plants are grown directly in the gravel, no pots. As the plants mature, the bog will just look like another planter.

A bog can be any size. It can be made from a simple window box plant container, stock tank or dug into the ground covered with a liner.

1 foot is quite shallow, as mentioned. At least half of that most likely freezes, probably more. That obviously doesn't give the fish much room.

Any splashing on the water surface will help with oxygenation.
 
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First, it would be good to know; is this a liner pond or preformed? From one pic, it seems like a preform. When you listed the depth at 1', that's alarming in that the pond must freeze up pretty deep in Pa. A good person to also ask would be @poconojoe as he's a neighbor of yours. Typical ponds are more like 18" to a more workable 3-4'. You'll have to watch that it doesn't freeze all the way down. Since you say the previous owner didn't do anything, he probably didn't tell you if the pond ever froze solid. Goldfish are tough and can survive being frozen (not ideal and certainly not 100% proof of survivability).

First thing I'd do is get yourself a kiddie pool large enough to hold enough water and get the goldfish out. This will make taking all the muck out a lot easier. Normally we advise to just run a net slowly along the bottom and fish it out but in your case, I'd just remove the fish and then clean the muck. Seems a lot easier and quicker. I'd fill the kiddie pool with the top layer of your pond water--you want this as the water has cycled.

Now realize, the sides and bottom of your pond have bacteria on them that is valuable--it'll help re-start the nitrogen cycle which may keep you from getting an algae bloom. If you can lift the fish, siphon out the water, clean the muck and then refill in a timely fashion, you can hopefully keep the situation from magnifying. Put the fish in buckets and float them in the new water (which also has the kiddie pool water put back in) and acclimate the fish relative to temp. If you're filling using city water, don't forget the dechlorinator as fish can't handle the chlorine/chloramine that's in municipal water). I'd float for 30 minutes or so. If you're lucky, your new water will be close in temp to the kiddie pool water and you'll not stress them much. Again, goldfish are tough.

With all that said;, ideally you want more depth and can consider replacing the preform with a liner pond in which you'd dig deeper to a better depth. That's one option and the one I'd consider as 12" is just too shallow, imo. It'll work, but there's lots of limitations.

Now, once that is initialized, we can talk filtration. Without even knowing what you have, and it won't matter unless you already have my suggestion, consider creating a bog filter. This can be done before you even do the cleaning described above. A bog, more appropriately called 'upflow wetland filtration', is a structure (or side pond, if you want to dig) that houses at least 12" of gravel (pea gravel; round edged stone) and has pipe buried on the bottom whose supply comes from a pump located in your pond. You could also get an external; just more plumbing. I like the submersibles.

This piping from the pond via the pump sends water to the bottom of your bog where it'll rise up through the gravel and pour back into the pond. This creates a waterfall for aeration (something you want to battle algae and help the fish thrive) and allows all the bacteria colonizing your new bog pea stone to break down the bad elements in your pond water. You'll put plants on top and they take out the third bad element; nitrates. Get yourself some floating plants to place in the pond to go along with what looks like your water lily and you'll be set.

With what looks like your waterfall, you'll have a pump that supplies water to it; it may or many not be strong enough to Y off of so you get that bog feed. If not, get another pump or buy a larger one that will feed both.

With all that said, once you clear the pond of the muck, change out the water, provide excellent filtration (once built, you'll not have to do anything again except thin plants now and then in the top of your bog) as it'll give you water clear enough that now the predators can more easily see your fish. You'll consider a net now as this is the only real way to protect them. Or not; it's your pond but once a heron finds it, the fish won't last.

Okay, lots of info. Any questions, fire away as there's lots of good knowledgeable people here to help. And don't let the above scare you; it seems like a lot but you can knock most of this out in a weekend and you'll reap many years of benefits. Do a search re 'bogs' here and you'll find a lot more info to help you learn about such filtration and if such is something you're interested in.

Welcome to GPF!
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out for me. I am so grateful! My husband and I read over your directives and we are wondering, could it be possible to make the upper waterfall area (which currently houses the ribbon) into the bog filter as you described? It is deep enough to place the 12" of pea gravel as you described and the water fills from bottom up from our pump.
 
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Great advice so far.
You mentioned you want as little maintenance as possible, that's where a bog filter comes in. With a bog filter, the only maintenance you'll need to do is maybe thin out some plant roots. There won't be any filter pads to rinse out every week.

The bog, as mentioned, will be filled with pea gravel. Plants are grown directly in the gravel, no pots. As the plants mature, the bog will just look like another planter.

A bog can be any size. It can be made from a simple window box plant container, stock tank or dug into the ground covered with a liner.

1 foot is quite shallow, as mentioned. At least half of that most likely freezes, probably more. That obviously doesn't give the fish much room.

Any splashing on the water surface will help with oxygenation.
We had very long freezes this winter - the longest we've had in years around here and much to my surprise, all the fish survived. They are all pretty small, so I'm not sure how they would fare if they were much larger though...
 

brokensword

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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out for me. I am so grateful! My husband and I read over your directives and we are wondering, could it be possible to make the upper waterfall area (which currently houses the ribbon) into the bog filter as you described? It is deep enough to place the 12" of pea gravel as you described and the water fills from bottom up from our pump.
you can but the basic premise here is to have 30% of your pond surface = to your bog surface. You'd have to re-engineer and attempt to get near that percentage if you want to be effective. Most store-bought filters are pretty small and need regular routine maintenance. That's why we tend to love bogs here; they're more effective and a lot less laborious. Once in, you'll not do much at all. Search 'bog' here and you'll get a better idea if you can alter what you have enough to get what works for your pond.
 
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Hello and welcome.

You mentioned fish. What kind and how big are they?
I really don't know what kind exactly since we inherited the pond, but I'm assuming some common variety goldfish. The guy we bought the house from didn't mention that they were any fancy kind. They are all completely orange, with the exception of the small young ones that are darker with some gray, black...?
 
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brokensword

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We had very long freezes this winter - the longest we've had in years around here and much to my surprise, all the fish survived. They are all pretty small, so I'm not sure how they would fare if they were much larger though...
That's the thing; large fish will die first as their oxygen needs are greater. I'm just surprised they lasted at all as I'm pretty sure Pa gets cold enough to get decent ice depths. As addy said; you may indeed have more depth after you begin removing the debris on the bottom. Plus, removing all that will really help any water health issues.
 

brokensword

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I really don't know what kind exactly since we inherited the pond, but I'm assuming some common variety goldfish. The guy we bought the house from didn't mention that they were any fancy kind. They are all completely orange, with the exception of the small young ones that are darker with some gray, black...?
sounds like goldfish to me. As you get more in tune with your pond and begin researching goldfish and koi via pictures, you'll see koi have barbels by either side of their mouth. Young goldfish are often darker and some never change but a lot will. I have 9 year old fry that never changed and some that are JUST changing now. So, ymmv...
 
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Welcome to the GPF! @brokensword covered a lot of ground there, so I'll just add this - "aerating" plants are somewhat misnamed. They add oxygen to the pond in the daytime - like any plant - but the process is reversed at night. Your best aeration is your waterfall or one or more airstones with an air pump.

Another thing you'll need to address is your overgrown waterlily. If that thing is loose in the pond, it may take some real effort to remove it. But get it out and let's talk about cutting it down to size and getting it into pots. Otherwise you may as well just sign the deed to the pond over to the plant!

Good luck with your clean out - you'll learn to love your pond once you've done all the work to get it looking good again!
That is interesting. I didn't realize that aerating plants are a misnomer. I'm happy we have the waterfall to provide the aeration, then. However, I keep getting confused about this issue because this guy seems to think you don't need a pump to have a healthy pond. https://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/garden-and-yard/backyard-pond-zm0z15onzmar That being said, the pond he built is significantly larger than mine, so maybe that plays into being able to have enough plants to do the work and his specific design...

Regarding the overgrown waterlily. I had no idea that it was overgrown. Can you tell just by looking at it? I'm also confused about this because I was under the assumption that plant life is good since it takes in the extra nutrients. Wouldn't cutting it down reduce this?
 
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What is the "ribbon"?
I love my no maintenance bog and my water is crystal clear.
Water gets pumped through a PVC pipe that's covered with 12 inches of pea gravel. The PVC pipe has slits cut in it. I made my slits every 1-1/2" apart. The water rises up through the gravel and returns to the pond.
Plants are grown directly in the gravel, no pots.
 

brokensword

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What is the "ribbon"?
I love my no maintenance bog and my water is crystal clear.
Water gets pumped through a PVC pipe that's covered with 12 inches of pea gravel. The PVC pipe has slits cut in it. I made my slits every 1-1/2" apart. The water rises up through the gravel and returns to the pond.
Plants are grown directly in the gravel, no pots.
I think it's akin to indoor media for filters, probably plastic bits of sorts. At least, that's how I took it; a bioball alternate.
 
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What is the "ribbon"?
I love my no maintenance bog and my water is crystal clear.
Water gets pumped through a PVC pipe that's covered with 12 inches of pea gravel. The PVC pipe has slits cut in it. I made my slits every 1-1/2" apart. The water rises up through the gravel and returns to the pond.
Plants are grown directly in the gravel, no pots.
I think the ribbon in there is this stuff. https://www.pondandgardendepot.com/springflo-pond-filter-media-bio-ribbon/
It was here already when we bought the house, so I don't know for sure, but it looks like it's the same stuff. It's submerged at the top of the waterfall feature.
Your bog sounds great. How big is your bog surface area compared to your pond surface area? Brokensword says it should be about 30%. I haven't measured yet, but wondering if there is any wiggle room on this.
 

addy1

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Brokensword says it should be about 30%.
That is the guide line, I have a planter bog on my hot tub pond. It is not 30% but it still keeps the water clear. That pond has only fantails in it so not a huge bioload.
 
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I have indeed seen ponds without mechanical filtration, pump or waterfall. They do tend to be larger bodies of water, which are easier to sustain once they are in balance. And they do often go through some extensive "green" periods during spring or really hot weather. The fish don't mind it, but the humans often don't find it desirable!
 

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