Here at Modern Design Aquascaping Inc. we are always getting calls from people who want to know, “What is the proper way to clean a pond?” In this article we will cover what are the different types of ponds are and how to properly clean each type. We will go over the "basic" tools needed and we will teach you how to properly handle your wildlife to ensure a smooth, systematic clean out for your pond.
Let’s begin with differentiating between the most common types of ponds. A traditional koi pond is only about the fish. The purpose of this pond is to raise & display champion-grade koi. This style of pond will be smooth lined with an external filtration system. By using bottom drains to capture sediment, waste, and debris, the traditional pond normally has no rocks, gravel, or other sharp objects that your fish may hurt themselves on. These ponds are normally free of aquatic plants as well. The filters will include external pumps, U.V. sterilizers, sediment chambers, and biological chambers. Cleaning of this type of pond is done by a routine of filter cleanings done by agitation and/or backwashing the system to remove the collected organics. Additional cleaning may be done using a pond vacuum or similar tool to push debris into the bottom drains.
The next type of water feature is an ecosystem pond. This type of pond is what we specialize in at Modern Design Aquascaping Inc. An ecosystem pond is an extension of the landscape that brings the sound of water and the beauty of fish and aquatic plants into your garden. Its purpose is to be simply enjoyed as a relaxing destination. The liner is covered by stones and gravel so there are no visible man-made components. Everything should just resemble a beautiful, natural ecosystem. This type of pond is filtered by multiple things. There is a skimmer, which resembles a pool skimmer, and its purpose is to capture large solids and to hide the submersible pump. There is also a biological filter disguised as a waterfall! The rest of the pond is the rest of the filter. The fish, plants, and beneficial bacteria all live together, as they do in nature, to create a natural habitat. Routine maintenance on this feature include weekly addition of beneficial bacteria, cleaning of the skimmer basket and filter pad, and pruning back of aquatic plants as needed. We recommend a once a year cleaning on the feature to be done in the spring time. So here is the low-down on our clean out process for the ecosystem pond. Let’s begin with the goal of the work to be done.
The goal of our clean out is simply to remove 90% of the accumulated organic debris from the previous year! We do not want to sterilize or sanitize your pond, that is too hard on a balanced ecosystem. We just want to get it in great shape to set you up for a successful year of easy-maintenance! Be sure that your equipment is cleaned and sanitized before you begin. Bad bacteria and pathogens can spread from one pond to the next so keep it clean! The cleaning begins with setting up a holding tank to house your wildlife. Fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, crayfish, and whatever other life has populated your pond will all need a place to relax while you’re cleaning house! Set up the proper sized tank(s) in a nearby, shady spot or under an umbrella. Be sure to have a net to secure the top of the holding tanks so your fish don’t jump out! The clarity and quality of your water, combined with the amount of fish you have, will determine how much of your existing water you can keep. The more of the original pond water you can keep the better because the animals are already acclimated to the chemistry and temperature of the water they are in. Put an aeration system in the holding tank and add a detoxifier that removes ammonia and lightly sedates the fish. If the water is extremely dirty, you can add an external pump and filter to the holding tank to pull out some of the sediments while you are cleaning the pond.
Set up a clean out pump with a 1 1/2” - 2” hose and begin filling the holding tank with the cleanest water from your pond, right off the top, without stirring anything up. Again if your water is very polluted, you can draw the holding tank water in through fine filter pads tied around the pump to help remove solids from the water on the way to the holding tank. Once the holding tank is as full as you would like, or if you have run out of useable water, pump the remaining pond water away to an appropriate location. We use 1/2” or 2” fire hose and an additional clean out pump. As the draining of the pond nears completion and you get to the bottom of the pond, climb in and carefully catch the fish in large bags and relocate them into the holding tank. Avoid nets so you're sure that you don't tear fins, tails, etc. The holding tank MUST have a net over it to keep fish from jumping out and something that floats for frogs to perch on while they wait! Once all of the animals have been moved, it is time to begin cleaning.
Start cleaning with filters. If you are cleaning the pond when it is warm enough that the beneficial bacteria are active, try to save any biological filter media like filter pads or bio-balls that are live filters. These filters need to be lightly swished or rinsed in pond water to remove the large solids and then put into the tub with the fish. The live bacteria colonizing on these items can't be seen but they're there, and they require oxygen to survive the clean out. Once the filters have been cleaned, begin on the rest of the feature. Gather large debris is by hand and remove it from the pond. Minimal pruning should be done to the aquatic plants that are actively growing in the pond but now is the time to remove excess-unwanted plants and to divide and re-pot lilies or lotus.
Next break out your pressure washer & pressure wash. The goal is to get most of the junk off the rocks and loosen the sediments so they are easier to flush out during the rinse phase of the clean out. Be sure not to let the debris dry out between phases of the clean out, it rinses away much easier if it stays wet. By pressure washing from the top down, you allow a second person to begin the rinse phase in the streams and waterfalls while the pressure washing continues in the pond.
Once the pressure washing is complete, rinsing can commence in the pond. Again remember to go top to bottom on the walls. Once you finish wall washing, gravel is rinsed and swished around to remove that 80-90% we are looking for. Clean out pumps are running in the lowest part of the pond bottom to keep the dirty water moving out at all times during the entire clean out process.
When you are good on the cleaning, take the time to check out all of the light fixtures for functionality and to be sure lenses are clean. Pumps and check valves should be removed, inspected for debris, damage, etc. and then replaced. Stones are re-stacked and gravel is spread around as necessary to cover up exposed liner areas at this time. Skimmer filters and pre-filtration pads are washed and re-installed properly. It is time to put the animals back.
The water in the holding tank should now be pumped back into the clean pond. If you didn't get to keep much of the original pond water, you can use a garden hose to add fresh water SLOWLY into the tank during the entire clean out process just be sure to add extra detoxifier to the holding tank before hand to neutralize the chlorine and heavy metals. You want to have enough water to put back in the pond to ensure the immediate return of the fish. Again this allows you to use the bags and slip them right back into the pond. No need for acclimating them into new water, the process is smooth and easy on the fish. Always do whatever it takes to make sure this can happen.
You are done with the major portion of the cleaning at this point. Leave a hose trickling in the pond, add the proper dose of detoxifier and starter bacteria to the pond, return the filter media to its proper locations, and clean up the mess. When the pond is full, plug in the pumps and double check everything is working properly.
We recommend that our pond owners add the normal weekly dose of bacteria daily for the first week. Each day the filter pad in the skimmer should be removed, bacteria added into the skimmer to seed the biological filter, and the pad should be cleaned and put back. Do not put bacteria into the skimmer with the pad in, you will only wash it back out when you clean the skimmer pad! Future maintenance will include cleaning your pad and basket in the skimmer and adding your beneficial bacteria weekly. You will most likely also use something for string algae, there are many products to choose from. Please don't over-dose as many of those products can be harmful to your fish if you add too much. To determine pond gallons go (Average Width) x (Average Length) x (Average Depth) x 7.5 = Gallons Approximate.
If you are interested in a quote for a pond cleaning, either simply call Modern Design Aquascaping Inc. @ 865-995-1234 or follow this link, http://www.mdaquascaping.com/contact.html fill out our form and we’ll contact you!
If you would like to have some more information on how we price our pond clean outs, please follow this link!
Thanks & Happy Pondering,
John G Adams
Modern Design Aquascaping Inc.
John Adams is a professional pond artist and builder.