The first warmer days of spring have you itching to get out in your pond again, but you know you can’t just rush out and buy fish until the pond is prepared. Adding fish too quickly can cause losses or cloudy pond water. So be patient, follow these steps carefully, and your pond will be ready for the coming season in no time.
- Early in the spring, start checking on water temperature daily. Using a pond thermometer on a string will keep your hands dry (and warm). Once the temperature stays above 55ºF for a week straight it’s time to start feeding the fish again. You’ll want to start them on a spring formulation, which is easier to digest after their long hibernation. You’d want a bland meal if you hadn’t eaten in 3 months, right? Look for wheat germ in the ingredients, and start offering food slowly. Feed a small amount once a day until the water is averaging 65ºF. Until they become fully active, the fish only need a pellet or two per fish per day.
- Once you hit the 55ºF mark, it’s also time to restart your pumps and filters. Replace any foam media, rinse your biological media, clean your pump impellers, and get everything running smoothly. Inspect tubing for wear or age cracks, and replace it if needed. Tubing gets brittle and stiff after a few years outdoors. It’s better to replace it early rather than have a hose burst later in the summer. Start your UV sterilizer now to ensure that green water never gets a foothold in your pond. Sterilizer bulbs are only good for one year, so now is the time to replace yours and clean the quartz sleeve it is in. When preparing your sterilizer keep in mind that the bulbs should never be handled with bare hands. The oil on your skin can harm the bulb. You also should never look at the bulb when it is lit. The UV rays will harm your eyes. Your filter bacteria have also been dormant all winter, so now is a good time to add a bacterial booster to get those colonies active again. If you didn’t have a net over your pond last fall, you will also need to remove those leaves from the bottom at this time. A long-handled net will let you skim them out without getting wet. After you skim out as many as you can get, add a bacterial digester to break down the rest so your filter can clean them up. Remember to rinse the filter foam often during this process. You should also be checking your pond liner for leaks or cracks at this time. These are easier to fix when they are small.
- Once all danger of frost is past—usually around the first week in May—you can add your live plants. Aiming to cover 1/3 of the pond surface in spring allows for good growth and ample shelter for your fish, as well as preventing much of the algae growth that might otherwise trouble your pond. Water hyacinth is a great floating plant for this purpose, and as a bonus displays fragrant blooms throughout the spring. You should also add several bunches of oxygenating plants at this time. Anacharis or hornwort are great for this, and will grow very quickly in the springtime pond. Lily bulbs can be planted at this time too. Fill a basket with planting media and place the bulbs of dwarf lilies, or the tubers of full-size lilies in the basket on a shelf in the pond. Lily pads will grow up to the top by the time your tadpoles are ready for some land. Dwarf lilies do not usually flower, but the full-size lily has beautiful blooms if you have a large enough pond for them.
- When the temperature is staying over 65ºF, usually around early May, you can add new fish! Whether koi or any of the many varieties of goldfish, these multicolored gems are really why we keep ponds. You’ll want to add your fish in small batches about a week apart to avoid overtaxing your filter bacteria. You can also add tadpoles, snails, and algae-eating fish like the garra pingi pingi at this time. Make sure you get your tadpoles from a store; the ones you could catch in the local creek can carry disease and may not be legal to collect in your area. Remember to allow goldfish 20 to 30 gallons each and koi 100 to 200 gallons each. When you get them home, float them in their shipping bags for 15 to 20 minutes. Once they are acclimated to the temperature, open the bag and net out the fish. The bag water should be thrown away; after traveling it is often polluted and should not be added to the pond. When the fish are released, add a stress reliever and bacterial booster. Make sure your pond salt level is adequate, and feed your existing fish so they are distracted. Your new spring fish will be settled in no time.
Taking these steps will make sure your pond in spring is ready to provide you with much enjoyment throughout the rest of the season. Taking it slowly and putting in a little extra effort will give you bigger, healthier, and more colorful fish year round.