Gardening Specials "Fish Ponds"

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By Alan J Hartley



After going to the expense of buying a pool some people are inclined to throw in one or two plants, a couple of goldfish and then leave them to fend for themselves. After a year or two the fish may be dead and the plants a tangled unsightly mess, whereas with just a little attention for a few days in the spring and the autumn the pool can be turned into the focal point of interest for the whole garden.

Whether your pool is neglected or not, Spring is the time to give it a clean. Carefully catch any fish and place them in clean buckets or bowls, (NOT GALVANISED) remembering that the water absorbs oxygen through the surface of the water, so a deep receptacle will not hold any more fish than a shallow one. You may also like to save a little frogspawn, if any visiting frogs have obliged, as it can be a useful addition to the pool. The frogs spawn itself is good fish food and any tadpoles that hatch will provide valuable nutrition for the larger fish as they start feeding in the warmer waters of the spring. The tadpoles also clean the pool eating any dead vegetation and decaying fish food.

Next remove all the pots of plants and keep them out of the sun while the water is siphoned, bucketed or pumped out. There is no point in scrubbing the pool spotlessly clean because in a few weeks it will be green again anyway, but do remove all the foul smelling sludge before refilling with tap water. The tap water will contain chlorine and may contain flourine that can harm the delicate membranes in the fishís gills. This problem can be removed by adding a chemical that is designed to neutralize all halogens and is widely available from aquatic retailers. Alternatively the pool can be filled and the water left to stand for a few weeks before adding the fish. However, in practice if plants are added to the pool, the fish can be introduced straight away with no real harm, as the chemicals and organisms in the pots of plants will naturalise the water.

After cleaning your pond your attention may turn to the plants that should now be starting to shoot. Clean off all the dead vegetation and trim back any untidy foliage. Some of the larger clump forming plants may be divided and potted to increase the number of plants or simply put into a larger planting crate. The easiest way to divide lilies is to use a large sharp knife or even a spade.

Special planting crates are available that are perforated to allow the roots to leave the pot and obtain the necessary nutrients from the water and the sludge that accumulates at the bottom of all pools. Planting crates come in a wide range of sizes from small round marginal baskets to monster lily baskets and contoured ones that will hold 2 or 3 plants. The newer designs of baskets have a very fine mesh that is said to stop soil seepage, but lining them with Hessian or cloth of some sort is always advisable as is a top dressing of pebbles.

Specially formulated fertilizer packets are also available for pond plants along with liquid and granular feeds. Aquatic compost is available but any compost such as well rotted turfs is suitable as long as it hasnít had any chemicals, such as weedkiller or fertilizer added to it, because these will harm the fish and ordinary garden fertilizer will turn the pond green as well.

After the plants have been repotted they should quickly be returned to the pool so that they donít dry out. This is easiest done when the pool is empty, but can be done afterwards if great care is taken. Then all you have to do is get a nice cold drink, a deck chair and sit back and watch the life returning to your pond.


Scented Fish Ponds

The family fish pond may be a part of the garden that you donít normally get involved with but it can with a little thought bring some pleasure to all. Perhaps the main aim of the pond was to keep fish for the children, but it can also become part of the flower garden. More and more plants are being added to the list of those available to plant in ponds all the time. New hybrids are constantly bred with new colour cultivars and some of them not only add a splash of colour to the pond such as Marsh Marrigolds, Forget-Me-Nots, Pickerel Weed, Water Mint, Lobelia, Veronica and so on but some of them are scented as well bringing a new depth to water gardening. 

Perhaps the most striking flower is that of Lysichiton or Skunk Cabbage. There are two varieties, a white and a yellow that both have a very large flower. Unfortunately as the name suggests the powerful scent from the flowers is not very pleasant as it is highly reminiscent of rotting cabbages!!!

Water lilies can be very showy but not many are scented and most are very expensive to buy. There is one exception to this and that is the Nuphar Lutea. The Nuphar is the common European water lily and can be a little vigorous for a small pond, but they have the advantage of being tolerant of moving water which most lilies do not like. Nuphars have large lily pads that are a lighter shade of green than Nympahaeas and the flower of the Nuphar is less spectacular than a conventional lily looking more like a large marsh marigold flower floating on the surface of the pond. However it does have one thing that is lacking in so many flowers today and that is a scent. The popular name for the Nuphar is the Brandy Bottle because it has a heady scent that reminds you of brandy. What more could you ask for whilst sitting next to the pond in the afternoon sipping a cold lemonade than to imagine you had a bottle of brandy next to you as the scent wafts over you from the lily in the middle of the pond

Bright Colourful Ponds

When you have a late night barbecue and all your friends come around to admire your patio lights why not bring life to your pond at night as well by installing lights around the pond. External spotlights can be mounted in a high place such as a tree to shine down into the water or on the ground to shine up on to the fountain. For safety all garden lights should operate off a transformer which gives out low voltage, so that if anything goes wrong there isnít enough power to cause any harm.

The only drawback to low voltage systems is that the transformer has to be kept near the lights and kept cool and dry. A nearby garage or shed is ideal, but not a greenhouse. This is because the transformer may overheat. Another alternative is to build a small brick box, to house the transformer and then place a slab over the top to keep it dry and make a seat out of it.

Nowadays an alternative to mains powered lights are those that are solar powered. This may seem a contradiction in terms because there is no sunlight at night when you want the lights on. They work by the sun charging them up in the day and then they can be switched on and operate off their batteries at night. The drawback with this sort of lighting system is that they are very low power and are best used for marking out the edges of dark paths which can be a good safety feature.

Well placed lighting on a fish pond can have a quite magical effect especially on a sparkling fountain. Lit properly the fish pond will become the focal point of your garden in the evening and the envy of all your friends.

If in any doubt over installing lights in your garden consult a qualified electrician because water can get into badly fitted systems and cause a danger of electrocution. Furthermore cables should be buried in metal conduit to prevent accidental piercing with forks and the like or even being chewed by pets.



When Winter comes there is little to do to the fish pond as all life has slowed down with the cold and the fish just lie on the bottom of the pool. Even with global warming and the milder winters we have had the last few years we still get one or two nights of hard frost which can freeze the pond over with a thick layer of ice. If the ice lasts for a day or so it will not cause any problems because the water will hold enough dissolved oxygen for the fish to live on, but if it lasts for any longer then steps should be taken to make an air hole. This should not be done using a hammer to break the ice as the shock waves may harm the fish. Nor should a fork be used as this may puncture the pool liner. The best way to keep a hole free is with a pool heater. These are very low power and only need to be turned on, on the coldest of nights. Typically they use the same power as a light bulb. They do not heat the whole pool but just raise the temperature in a small patch of water a degree or two so that it does not freeze.

You can buy low voltage pool heaters that run off a transformer for added safety, but these are less popular. One of the newer ideas for preventing the whole pond from freezing over is to use a large air pump to blow bubbles into the water. The constant agitation of the water keeps a patch free of ice. If you have a pond pump you could leave it running with just a pipe feeding the water back into the pool. The problem with this is that if it freezes solid it will ruin your pump.

If you have not got an electricity supply close to your pond then you can buy a polystyrene dome which will keep a hole free of ice or you can resort to the old tried and trusted kettle method. This involves boiling some water and then pouring it onto one spot on the ice to melt it. It may need to be done several times a day in very cold weather as the water will chill and quickly refreeze.

Some people place a large ball on the water before it freezes and then remove the ball the next morning leaving a hole in the ice, but if it is very cold this soon freezes over. In the Winter the pool should be left alone and not cleaned out or disturbed until the Spring comes around when the fish will once more become active and start to feed.