Resources and advice for maintaining a koi pond?
June 23, 2013 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Just moved into a house with a really nice koi pond. It has a waterfall, rock bridge...the works. But I have no idea how to do anything with it. I don't even seem to have the right language to search the web for detailed advice.

Really, I need a very basic but detailed walkthrough of issues. The stuff on the web I've found is very light on details. I think I'm missing the go to forums and sites. I'm sure professional assistance is available and probably warranted, but I'd like some education first. Recommendations for stores, clubs, and professionals in Fort Worth, TX would be appreciated too.

I don't even know the relevant details to provide for y'all to give me some good advice.

The previous caretaker pointed me to the several containers of "stuff" and explained a little bit about how the pump works. In the week that I've taken over, algae has started taking hold. The pond is built-up on an inclined yard. Over the years the lower end has shifted lower, cracked, has several repairs. Thus it the whole pond doesn't fill like it should because one side is lower than designed.

posted by GPF to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have a koi pond that goes along with a house I take care of and the big stuff is pretty mysterious to me but I've put together a lot of small stuff that has been helpful. If there is a local aquarium place that sells fish, they likely know more about this or more likely know someone with this sort of experience. Here were a few things I had to look out for. I am in the northeast so our experiences will likely differ

- the pump system was pretty finicky which was a total pain since pumps are expensive. Mine would get clogged with pine needles because the pond was put in a pretty dumb location. There is a pool skimmer that goes with it to get the pine needles out.
- the biggest threat to koi where I am is birds, herons and stuff. We had a fake heron out there to keep real herons away. Seemed to work okay.
- mosquitos are also a big problem. We use mosquito dunks which will not kill off fish or birds but keep the larva from turning in to mosquitos.

This guy really wrote the #1 book for learning about ponds. His are more focused on more rural ponds but you can learn a lot about things like the slope issue you're dealing with and maybe find some other good stuff in his links section.
posted by jessamyn at 6:26 AM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: I have never found online resources for pondcare that I've really liked. We've borrowed books, asked friends, and taken advantage of local pond supply stores (we're lucky to have several within an hour, 2 hours, and 3 hours) to work through issues. In my experience, if you walk in to a dedicated pond supply place (also search under water gardens) and say to them: "I just bought a house that has a koi pond. The previous owner left me a lot of supplies, but I'm clearly doing something wrong. Could you help me?", they will help you. Bring a list of what you have, and your pond shape and measurements Pictures would be great for them to help you. They will help you because they will want your future business.

We have goldfish ponds, instead of a koi pond. Goldfish are much cheaper to replace, slightly hardier, spawn like crazy, spend a fair amount of time on the surface, and eat mosquito larvae. We also try to make it as frog-friendly as possible, who also enjoy eating bugs. Our ponds (we have one big 12x30 rectangular one, with a shallow watery bog running along side it where the frogs spawn, one smaller triangular lotus pond, and lots of smaller pots holding water and aquatic plants) have about 90% coverage of the pond surface by vegetation. Most of it is lily plants whose leaves spread out, but we also have a variety of other aquatic plants. We haven't had algae bloom issues, so I don't know how to help with that, and we found the pump to be more trouble than it's worth (then again, I don't know what koi's oxygenated water needs are). We have aerating floating water plants that help up the oxygen flow in our pond.

We are also okay with the water not being crystal clear. If you have Koi and want to see them lurking on the bottom, you probably will want to do what you need to keep the water clear. That means the pump and the "stuff" and the regimen.

Plant coverage will help cut down on the algae but get in the way of viewing the koi. We do get some accumulation of algae on the sides of the pond below the water (and some little suspended in the water; our goldfish actually eat some of the algae that's produced); We actually empty the big pond every 18 months or so, scrub the sides (our wood and earth-based ponds have a thick poly liner that is easier to clean with a scrub brush and water than concrete), see which lilies have outgrown their pots, split 'em, repot some others, and do a fish census (we have lots of big containers for the fish).

It sounds like your pond is made of concrete and rock. Is it earth-bottom or concrete/rock bottom (the answer to this will impact some of your solutions)? If you do have pool liner over earth or concrete, you'll want to check to make sure it's not leaking (they're tough, but it will rip under the force of scampering deer hooves or from a sharp rock that worked up under the surface, for example) if you notice more water loss than you'd expect from evaporation and the tilted nature of the pond. If your ponds is one or more of those pre-formed plastic ones, the good news is that they are easy to clean and should make it easier to stabilize it on the incline land. It also will limit the number of fish and pump sizes.

I would recommend finding a way to stabilize the land around the pond. I would expect that the unbalance of the land around it is adding stress to the pond, and you'll have to repair it again at some point.
posted by julen at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: I had a good koi pond going for a few years in my last house. Here are some key notes.

1) Circulation is essential in smaller ponds, you must keep the water moving and aerated so the fish don't drown.

2) The best filtration is "biofiltration" which means the water is pumped over/through a loose filter media that is allowed to get coated in algae. The algae process the ammonia from the fish waste into free nitrogen and other good stuff, which is used by the...

3) Pond plants! You can get floating plants as well as bed plants; the key is to have lots of plants that will convert the nitrogen into plant material that the fish can hide in and gives a home to ...

4) Insects and snails and frogs, some of which the fish eat and some of which just adds more life to your pond.

Really, with a well balanced pond, all you need is a reliable pump that sucks water out of the bottom of the pond, runs it through your algae biofilter, then lets the water trickle back into the pond over a waterfall thus refreshing its oxygen. If your pond is balanced, the water will be crystal clear and not stinky at all, and your fish will be healthy.

Note that most pond designs have the biofilter media be "off stage" in a big tub or bucket or something because honestly it's a bit grody looking, though it doesn't really smell bad. (I created my own biofilter with a big Rubbermaid tote with a couple cookie racks in the bottom on top of which I put a bunch of polyfill quilt batting; PVC pipe fittings glued into the sides of the tote allowed water to be pumped in the bottom under the racks and exit through the top to spill over the waterfall. We put plantings around the tote to hide it.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay I wanted to add that "balancing" is not something you have to actively do. If you set up the mechanics of the pond correctly, which is essentially 1) pump, 2) biofilter, 3) waterfall, then you a) have fish, b) allow algae to populate the filter, and c) add enough plants, then the pond will balance itself. The only thing you might need to do would be to remove plant overgrowth occasionally, which would indicate that the system is running a bit "rich" in terms of too much food and/or too many fish.

(I used bladderwort as my main plant, and true story when I went out to a canal to harvest some as it is a terribly invasive plant, was stopped by a wildlife officer who was going to ticket me for redistributing an illegal plant [seriously how does this happen on a nearly deserted rural Florida road, he was just there BOOM in the 30 seconds I had pulled over], but he let me slide when I explained I wanted it for my koi pond and there was no chance it would escape into the waterways.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:17 AM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: The botanical garden in Fort Worth contains an elaborate Japanese garden, and within that there is a huge koi pond. I would think there's a good chance that they will be able to point you towards local resources.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:18 PM on June 23, 2013

Best answer: You can ask specific questions if you go to --> Forums --> Ponds.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:12 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gah, I don't know why I said bladderwort. Total space-out. It was water hyacinth. (Though they do have little air-filled bladders that keep them afloat.) Okay I know this is really irrelevant but I don't want to just let an inaccuracy go.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on June 24, 2013

Response by poster: Focusing my searches on "water gardening" is much more more effective. That helps loads. Best answers all around, because this is all very helpful!
posted by GPF at 12:04 AM on June 25, 2013

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