Spring Reminders for Water Gardeners
By Josh Spece
Spring is an exciting time of year in any garden, including a water garden. The lilies are starting to grow, the fish are becoming more active, and the early-blooming Marsh Marigold is at its showiest. Before the season really gets underway, there are a few things you can do to make sure your water garden looks great all summer.
Probably the most important spring task is giving the water garden a good cleaning. Throughout the year dead leaves, grass clippings, fish waste, and other debris have been collecting in the bottom of your water garden. By now all that trash has turned into a layer of black goo. The muck gives off toxic gasses that could harm your fish and it is a nutrient source for “pea soup” water that so many water gardeners complain of. The easiest and most efficient way to clean the pond is to drain all the water and remove all the plants and fish. It is then just a matter of scooping the muck out, being careful not to damage the liner. Work as fast as possible so the plants don’t dry out too much and the fish aren’t stressed more than necessary. The clean out can be done as soon as the weather is warm enough to work outdoors. Ideally, it is best to get it done before the lilies and other plants begin growing too much.
While you have easy access to your fish, it gives you a chance to weed out any excess fish you don’t want. It is very common for goldfish and koi to reproduce in water gardens and it is a good idea to thin out the fish population regularly to prevent over crowding. Too many fish is a disaster waiting to happen. A good guideline is one inch of fish for each ten to fifteen gallons of water.
As the days warm and your fish become more active, it is tempting to start feeding them. Fish can not properly digest food when the water is cold, so don’t begin to feed your fish until the water temperature stays above 55*F day and night.
Spring is also the ideal time to repot overgrown plants. If your marginal plants are breaking their container or growing out the drainage holes and if your water lilies are growing over the edge of their containers, it is time to repot. When repotting, you have two options. The first is to move the plant into a larger container. This is the preferred option if the plants are in small pots (6” or less). Larger plants are stronger and able to produce more flowers than small plants. Large clumps of plants also look better when landscaping the water garden than a lot of smaller plants. The second option is to divide the plant into several smaller plants. This is the way to go if a larger pot would be difficult to handle or you want more than one plant.
Some plants take their time waking up in the spring. Don’t give up on that “dead” plant too soon. Wait until the water is warmed up and all other plants are growing well. If in doubt, look at the plant closely…if the roots and crown are firm and healthy looking don’t throw it out. If, however, they are black, mushy, and smelly…the plant is probably dead. Usually the last plant to show growth is the lotus. They like warm water and a pond is very slow to warm up. To give your lotus a jump-start set it out of the pond and into a smaller container of water in full sun. The smaller container will warm up much faster than the pond, giving your lotus a boost. Once the lotus is growing strong and the pond is warmed up you can put it back in its regular spot.
If you grow tropical plants like tropical water lilies, taro, and water hyacinths, wait until the air and water temperature remains above 70*F before adding them to the pond.
If you have a filter, now is the time to clean it up and begin using it. At the same time, get a head start on the algae by adding beneficial bacteria. They come in liquid and powder forms and will seed your filter so it begins working sooner. Adding bacteria early probably won’t prevent green water completely, but it will shorten the time it is around.