Spring is potentially the most important season of the year for your pond or waterfall. This is the time of year that you set the stage for how your pond will treat you over the summer. I understand that it is still cold out and maybe you aren’t thinking much about your pond, but maybe you should be.
First things first, it’s been a long cold winter for your fish, so you should, at the very least, take a look at your pond and see how it looks. Does the water look dark and murky? Are there thick mats of leaves in your pond? Does the water just look a bit slimy? You can tell a lot by just looking at your pond. Sure, you could buy a fancy test kit, but I have found them to be a waste of money and they seem to do more harm than good. I think the idea that you should be testing your pond water has come from the companies that are trying to sell you water treatment additives. So, many people test their water and then proceed to dump a bunch of treatments into their water that aren’t neccesary. Remember, this is not a swimming pool. We really don’t need to test the water. I have been building and maintaining ponds for many years and I never use a test kit. Sure, I bought one years ago and used it a few times to see how it worked, but that’s it. I never ever test pond water, I never have sick fish and I rarely have any water qualtiy issues. It all goes back to the idea of keeping it simple. Mother nature has no test kit, keep it simple. Give them fresh water, not water treatments. Just like how humans thrive on pure water and natural foods, your fish really need clean and pure water and natural food. They certainly don’t need chemicals. If you’ve got the water turned on to the outside of your house, simply run the hose into your pond for a few hours (depending on the size of your pond). You don’t want to do a huge water change, but adding some new water to the pond will typically help out the fish and buy you a little bit of time while you procrastinate about getting out there and getting the pond going for the summer. I would suggest no more than a 25% water change, so for the average sized backyard pond, certainly no more than a couple of hours with the hose on should do it. You can just let the pond overflow into your landscape, unless of course your pond is right up against your house. By adding some more water, you are giving your fish some nice clean and aerated water to help make their lives a bit easier as summer rolls in. The warmer that stale old winter water is, the less oxygen it will hold, so new water is a simple way to help. If you are on city water, you might want to add a bit of dechlorinator to the water to get the chlorine out so it doesn’t hurt their gills.
When it is still early spring and still fairly cold outside (40 degrees or so), I don’t recomend chasing the fish around the pond and netting out a bunch of leaves unless you are going to take some time to get most of the debris out of your pond and do a big water exchange. Stirring up the mess will just make it hard on the fish. When we do our clean outs, we remove all water and fish, pick all of the debris, pressure wash everything, pump out the muck and then refill with fresh water. The fish are a bit weak coming out of winter, and stirring up a bunch of debris in already dirty pond water while the temps are still cold will be harder on the fish than simply adding some more water. If you want to do your own clean out and you aren’t up for the full pump down, you could do it a couple of different ways. You could pump the pond water down to about one foot and then hand pick out all of the debris, which would be less troubling to your fish, because you won’t be stirring up a bunch of mess. Or, you could pump the water down a bit and try to net out all of the debris. The netting technique will take a bit longer, and stir up more mess, but you might be able to keep your hands dry. In any event, you will want to clean out any filters, baskets and pump or waterfall boxes that your pond may have and exchange a good portion of the water. Once your cleaning is done, it is important to give your pond a good healthy dose of bacteria and put a few barley bales into the pond. The earlier that you get this done, the easier it will be on your fish and pond plants and the more time that you will have to enjoy your pond.
Feeding your Fish?
Remember not to feed your fish until the water temperature is consistantly above 50 degrees fahrenheit. Notice that I said water temperature. Believe me, I spend a ot of time in ponds this time of year and it can be 50 or 60 degrees outside but the water temperature will still be very cold, We need at least a week or two of really nice warm weather with no temps down in the 30’s at night to get your water temperature consistently above 50 degrees. I would guess for Southeastern Wisconsin it would be late April to mid May before we should think about feeding our fish. If you feed them too early, it will just make them sick. Their bodies need time to wake up from the long winter and what they need is some fresh water, not food.