Please help me--Keeping a small pond healthy without a filter?

foodfiend_gardener(6a)May 19, 2011

I had decided on a filter system for my 1200 gallon pond, but have decided to look for other options that would not require either running extension cords or hiring an electrician to add an outdoor outlet to the porch behind the pond.

Is it possible to maintain a healthy and nice-looking pond without running a filter?

We have several small goldfish and some plants.

The water lilies are quite small this year (most likely root-bound), and I hope to repot them in the next couple of days.

There's a lot of algae, but I am reading that adding a lot of plants (water hyacinth and water lettuce-- are there others?) will take care of this.

I can keep the leaves out with a net, and buy one of those suction-vacs to help keep the bottom clean-ish (the pond runs from 8" deep at one end to 20" at the other).

My Dad bought me a small fountain pump in a surplus store and, while it is small, it would aerate and I'd run it for a couple of hours a day in the warm months.

I've also read about products from Pond Logic (Oxy-Life Defense, Nature's Defense, Clarity Defense, and Muck Defense) and am thinking that using these would help. Has anyone used them with success? How about Barley Straw?

I also found a product online that may be an all-in-one:

PondCare 146B Pond-Zyme+ Enzymatic Pond Cleaner Barley

⢠Heavy duty pond cleaner

⢠Cleans and clarifies pond water

⢠Eliminates troublesome organic sludge and debris to create and maintain sparkling clean water gardens

⢠100-Percent natural

⢠Treats up to 16,000 U.S. gallons (60,560 L)

*sigh* There are simply a lot of products out there, how am I supposed to make a decision?!?!

The fish have been in this pond for over 10 years and are doing fine. I was thinking about adding a filter to cut down on the amount of work needed to keep the pond looking nice (after many years of outdoor work on our landscaping, my back is finally rebelling against any effort), but don't want to get involved with installing something that will need to use electricity.

I realize that this is a rambling post, but I would appreciate any advice or knowledge which any of you can give to me. THANK YOU. :)

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Rather than use the small fountain pump, why not go to Wal-Mart/Meijer/Target and get a indoor aerator/bubbler for a fishtank? I use one year round in my pond. I buy the big one and it costs about $25. With additional tubing and the aeration disk total cost will be around $30.

I put mine under a toad house to shield it from the rain etc. Runs 24/7 and draws a tiny fraction of the power of a even a small pump.

I have to replace it yearly as the cold weather plays heck with the diaphram, although the one I bought last year is still going strong. Kept working even when the cold dipped to -5F!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 2:05PM
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There are solar pumps on the market that have battery back-up for nighttime and cloudy days. At least one regular here uses one for a pond she has. That would eliminate the need for electrical connections yet give you a working pump.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 6:11PM
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It is much more possible to keep a pond without a filter if you don't have fish, but having fish means a great deal more maintenance in general.

I think a lot of those products like Muck Defense are meant as a one or few-time treatment, not for ongoing maintenance.

If you got rid of the fish and added lots of plants, you would have a much more maintenance free pond.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 9:37PM
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If you are going to have a pond without a pump or aeration then I would plan on small frequent water changes to help keep the water fresh. Add water (with dechlor) and overflow the pond every week or so. Add a couple inches of fresh water and keep the bottom clean. Running water prevents mosquitos from breeding. Your pond will be not have a waterfall to keep things running so don't forget to add mosquito dunks.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 9:11PM
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A filter is pretty essential if just to keep the water moving. Mine also helps remove all kinds of floating muck.

The simplest filter you might get away with is called a sponge filter: it is a piece of sponge at the pond bottom. You run air into a tube inside the sponge so the bubbles pull water in the sponge and out the top of the water. I use one in my 5 gallon aquarium you would need a larger on for 1200 gallons.

They work by giving the bacteria a place to live; your fish need them to process waste. Also air is always a good thing for fish.

If you winter over your fish air is absolutely essential!

I use Tetra Whisper air pumps in my pond, the largest one has 2 outlets. Try 2 sponge filters as big as you can get, one on either end.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 11:32AM
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Thanks for the advice. I never realized that solar-powered pumps are available (although, as I think about it, why not?!).

I have to keep the fish. I've had them for years and I like to think that they like me... ;)

Now, I wouldn't be adverse to adding a pump at this point, even hiring an electrician to run an exterior power line, but I have to ask you all if I should, or just simply leave well enough alone.
Here's why I ask this(with more details on my pond than I have written about earlier):

As I mentioned, I've had this (filterless) pond for over 10 years. In winter, I keep a hole in the ice at all times. We have a pump (attached to an extension cord) which pumps water from the main pond up to a smaller area and spills over to create a waterfall. But I only run it for a couple of hours per day in the spring through fall, then take it in for the winter.

I have one major concern at this point.

If I add the filter and new pump (the current one uses too much power) do I have to run it all of the time? And what happens when I cannot do this?

We go away for frequent long weekends, and in the summer go on vacation for 2-3 weeks. At those times I will not run it because, although I have a friend who comes over to check on the house, she is only here for a few minutes each day (she feeds them, and sprays the garden hose on the surface for 10 minutes or so to aerate and refill a bit). I am afraid that during the weeks which we go away, when the pump/ filter would not be used, it would hurt the fish somehow since they would be accustomed to the filtered water instead of, well, the sometimes stagnant pond which I will clean out and do a partial water change just before we leave and then again immediately upon our return.

So, the question is-- if I filter the water, and get the fish accustomed to frequent aeration, would that cause problems when I do not run the filter/ pump for a few days (or a few weeks)?

I apologize for the long post, but I want to be certain that after we go through the expense of buying the filter and having an electrical line installed, this is something that we will not regret. I know that adding a filter would make the water look nicer, and the fish may be healthier (although they seem fine now), but should I leave well enough alone?

Thank you all, so much, for your comments and advice. :)

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 10:08PM
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The fish will stay healthier with well oxygenated water that a pump provides. Your fish will do better to have it most of the season even if you do not run it while you are on vacation. When you go on vacation you can use an air bubbler instead of a pump. Your fish will still have oxygen and you can use it in the winter to keep a hole in the ice.

I actually did the outside electric for my pond. It is seriously very easy. I had an electrician friend check it out and everything was well. Research it a bit and research your city codes too. All in all I had mine done in less then a day and it was way cheap to DIY it. Just make sure you use a GFI outlet or breaker.


1 Like    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 10:28PM
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You don't need a filter as you can see from using the pond for 10 years. We raise fish and the tanks we raise them in don't have pumps or filters. Just fish and plants. We only use filters in the selling tanks because filters are to keep the water CLEAR so people (and predators) can see the fish. The combination of fish and plants is what makes the water healthy. The fish don't care if they can see through it or not.
Forget about all the chemical garbage. Just let the fish be happy. Unfiltered ponds mean the fish don't need to be fed as often because the pond supplies their food.
As long as you keep the debris cleaned out and the water surface opened up (like not 100% covered by fairy moss or duckweed) they will be happy and healthy. Ammonia eating bacteria don't live in the filter....they live in the WATER

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 5:55PM
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eyecndiggit, I know what you say to be true. I am just beginning to populate my pond (see photo; 5' long and 2.5-3' deep; kidney shaped); no fish yet. What plants do you recommend for a healthy environment? Thanks.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 3:44PM
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I'm unclear on your situation or plan. You don't want power out at the pond but you somehow do have power out there to run things for a couple of hours. Obviously, things already work since your pond has been functional for 10 years. From your second post, it appears that the real concern is the variable treatment, but again your experience shows that variable treatment works.

My own experience shows that various things work ok. I have a pumped ~800 gal stream-pond system that runs all year every day and I also have a larger no pump water storage pond in the woods, filled from our french drain, that has become filled with water plants. The pond-stream started with 3 comets that stabalized at ~17 fish and I moved a few into the storage pond for mosquito protection. They turned into ~30-40 fish that are only occasionally fed but a few of the original group have grown larger than those in the pumped, attended pond.

These ponds have sometimes frozen solid, so that the stream-pond could be stood on. One year, the pump appeared to fail and I eventually turned it off. It had actually blown its hose off and was circulating water around the pond. Anyway, the pond 'appeared' to be totally sealed but the fish were fine.

So: I think you can do whatever you wish. To support goodkarma, running power is easy. You may want to find a neighbor/friend with experience to do it for you. You need a little trench or perhaps an above ground installation (if there is a deck or other established structure) using some plastic conduit that is essentially glued up plastic water pipe to contain/protect the wiring from dampness or abrasion.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 11:43AM
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Hydrogen peroxide is cheaper than all other pond treatments, it kills bacteria (algae) is safe for ants and fish and breaks down in full sunshine, so add to pollinate do at night.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2015 at 1:45PM
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kashka_kat(z4 WI)

Im confused too - your first sentence reads you've decided on a filter, then you've decided to look for other options. So basically it sounds like you're wanting to cut down on the work? The skimmer filter would be the way to go IMHO - which removes plant debris before it settles to the bottom. All those chemicals cost $$$ so really, youd come out ahead by putting in the filter- plus you get the benefit of the circulating water/oxygenation.

Also, what filtration does (besides filter stuff out) is provide place for the beneficial bacteria to grow that converts plant debris and fish waste (ammonia) to nitrate which your plants use to grow - (Biosteps 10 is a great filter for this purpose.) All things considered I guesss Im not understanding why you would consider an aerator but not proper filtration?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2015 at 9:06AM
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Read up on the oxbow effect. It is how a natural pond is made. Patience and time is all that is needed. I have 5 ponds of differing sizes and none of them have pumps or filters. Just plants and fish. They went thru a small adjustment as they settled, but now are clear and nice.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2015 at 5:26PM
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Uh oh. Why a hole in the ice? Is that only necessary on ponds with no flow? I hope!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2015 at 5:53PM
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