Opening your pond for the first time in spring or summer is an exciting occasion for any water feature enthusiast. Not only is this the best time to introduce new additions to the pond environment, but you also get to take a close look at how things have changed since it was closed. At Big Al’s, we help all kinds of pond-keepers prepare their spaces for the first time – or just for the first time this season. We have a little bit of everything to help you keep your pond and its inhabitants happy and healthy!
Step 1: Address Structural Concerns
Take some time to examine your pond feature and its immediate surroundings for damage. Winter weather conditions can cause a surprising amount of damage even to relatively durable elements such as rocks and paving cobbles. Repair or replace any damaged items such as pond liners. This will ensure that the environment is safe for plants, animals, insects, birds, and people.
Step 2: Clean your Pond Environment
Even if your pond and its immediate surroundings have simply been under snow all winter, a lot of cleaning will need done before any new features can be added. A thorough cleaning will remove any dirt, bits of trash, natural debris, and any decaying matter that can produce toxic ammonia as temperatures rise. Cleaning is also important because it discourages activity by pest species that might damage the pond in its sensitive early stages of life. Pond vacuums are very helpful when cleaning the environment after winter inactivity. Small ponds can be manually cleaned without much difficulty. Many pond owners also use natural enzymes and bacterial additives to assist with cleaning, but we'll get to that shortly.
Step 3: Service & Start your Pump
The pump is essentially the heart of your pond, pumping vital oxygen-rich water and making sure that your fish and plants get the circulation and aeration they need to thrive. Making sure your pump is running in tip-top shape is vital for the health of your pond. Select a time when you will be home for several hours so you can keep an eye on the pump during its initial period of operation. A little time is required to ensure that the water is being moved when it needs to be. This is the best time to detect any problems, so it is worth setting aside an afternoon to run the water pump for the first time. Before you plug the pump in, it is best practice to open up the pump and service the impeller, shaft, and well. The impeller assembly can become quite dirty from the previous pond season, collecting films and debris around the impeller that can cause the pump to run slower, run hotter, or stop running all together. A quick cleaning with a filter brush kit, or replacement of a damaged impeller will insure that your pump runs smoothly all season long. If for some reason your pump is no long working at all, it may be time for a new pump.
Step 4: Start your Filter
First, you will need to open up your filter and replace the old mechanical media such as sponges/foam blocks and floss pads; having a new mechanical media will ensure that your filter has optimal flow, and that no detritus or waste is being re-circulated into your pond. Be sure to also clean the biological filter media if your system has not been used in a while, so that the beneficial bacteria has the most clean surface area possible to colonize.
Step 5: Boost your Beneficial Bacteria
Once this is done, you can boost the health of your bacteria colonies. In fact, this should be done even if the pump has been used all winter. There are several great products available that can be used to boost the effectiveness of your beneficial bacteria. Biological cleaning agents help prevent the growth of harmful or excessive entities. The right additives will help maintain an optimal balance of microbes to ensure a healthy pond environment. Some pond owners like the convenience of automatic dosing systems. This can be a good solution for periods of time when you have to be away from home. Dosing your pond environment with the right biological additives is an important part of maintaining its health throughout the year.
Step 6: Begin Testing your Water
Once your water pumping and filtration systems have been repaired and cleaned, and your pond has been prepped for the season, it's time to test the chemistry of the water. Use your preferred water testing kit to monitor levels of nitrite and ammonia. Your tests should indicate zero nitrite and ammonia. If the test displays an amount of either of these substances, perform a partial water change and redo the test. Repeat these steps until ammonia and nitrite are both absent.
Step 7: Add Fish & Plants
Once your water system is operating optimally, you can begin thinking about the fish and plants that will be added to the environment. Conditioning animals and plants to the environment takes a little additional time, so be sure to anticipate this when determining your spring pond opening timeline. It is important to make sure that your pond's water chemistry and temperature have both stabilized before you move forward with stocking (65 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit is an ideal range). You'll also want to make sure that you have the appropriate foods on hand for your new fish and plants, along with the tools needed to move them into the pond. Don't overstock, and be sure to test your water 1 - 2 times per week after stocking to ensure safe conditions for your pond inhabitants. If ammonia and/or nitrite levels test above safe parameters, doing 25% water changes and adding beneficial bacteria cultures is recommended. Lastly, if you're planning a vacation, be sure to invest in an automatic pond fish feeder to ensure that your fish are taken care of while you're away.
Step 8: Add the Finishing Touches!
The final step of opening your pond is to give it some character by adding some decorative finishing touches. These can include ornaments, spitters, fountains, and pond lighting kits.
Step 9: ENJOY YOUR BEAUTIFUL BACKYARD OASIS!