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Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Posted by mownie 7 (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 10:40

Dear pond experts:
We are getting anxious to move into our new (to us) home.
The home features a water garden pond.
We have never owned any kind of ornamental pond and so we must be considered complete idiots, at a loss to know the first thing about how to keep this pond in good order and what is needed to prepare it for winter etc.
So far as I can tell, the pond has 2 levels (pools).
The upper level features a waterfall emanating from a stacked rock formation. There is a second waterfall at the spillway between the upper and lower pools.
Pond appears to be roughly 10' X 20' and I have no idea of the depth.
Please post any/all comments and concerns you may have about how I should approach maintaining this pond.
They realty agency called this a "Koi pond" but I am not sure it is a genuine Koi pond replete with fish. We did not see any fish during any visits to the house, but there are no open spaces in the vegetation where that might have been possible either.
I will try to answer any questions to the best of my ability, but we still are waiting to move to this house and only have a tentative closing date around 7/17 at this time.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Nice healthy looking pond plants! Tell us about what your winters are like. We will be able to help you more once we know more about the depth etc.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

The plants do look fantastically healthy, although a bit overgrown perhaps. If there are fish, you will want to be able to see them. So I would suggest you start by thinning those out.

How about the current owner - are you able to talk to to them and see what their schedule is like for caring for the pond? If they are like most pond owners they will enjoy knowing you want to keep the pond in good condition.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Nice, very nice. Your pond is pretty and your plants are healthy
looking.
My bet is that the koi are small. The first year we had our pond
and the koi were small, they hid and we never saw them or they never
saw us as well. Then in the fall when we took out all the vegetation
to salt the pond, we realized how much we missed enjoying the fish cause we had so much vegetation in the pond.
The following year, they got bigger and we're able to see us and recognize us,
thus,we saw them all the time. When they get big it is harder to keep
so many plants in the pond as they love to dig in the potted plants and nibble
on the roots, especially hyacinth.
As Lisa said, ask the current owners about how they go about their pond maintenance, it would be a good place to start, as it looks like they have been successful at it.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Talking to the current owner is not an option, the story we hear is that he now lives in Arizona (we and our new home are in Tennessee) and is in poor health.

The winters here are usually not extremely frigid. Usually our temperatures only drop to the mid teens F or in the 20s F on cold nights. Daytime temps will vary from the mid 30s F to the low 60s F.
Some nights will remain in the 30s F or 40s F.
The occasional "cold snap" might drop the temps to a low of near zero F and if it is a strong system, we may have 1 or 2 days where the temps will not climb above 32 F.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

You have many options. How to maintain the pond should be driven solely by what you want to do. Keep it like it is? Make into more of a fish pond? Make it a pondless water feature which is safer for kids and very little maintenance.

There is a big problem with getting pond advice in that almost everyone gives advice based on their pond. One person will tell you plants are the worst thing a pond can have, while another person will say a plants are great. Both people will be 100% right, but for different kinds of ponds. This is true for everything except water. All ponds need water and the only thing everyone agrees on.

Just as a heads up about what you're about to have....

What you have is indeed a Water Garden. Lot's of people refer to all ponds as Koi Ponds, but that's not what you have. There may be koi in there but that's not what makes a Koi Pond. Water Garden just means plants are the primary focus, there can be fish.

You don't have to worry about any fish in there unless you want to. They don't really need to be fed although the fish would disagree.

What's under the water is kind of important and hard to tell. Given the plants are very compartmentalized I'd guess the plants are in pots rather than planted directly into soil or gravel beneath the water. If you're brave you can stick your arm beneath the water and feel around when you do the home inspection. Look at the water edge to see what kind of material is there, what lines the pond. Cement? Rubber? Plastic? Look around the pond for mud, could be a leak. Find out where the pump(s) are by following the electric cord. Make sure the pump(s) are plugged into a GFI circuit. If not the seller should pay to fix that, your home inspector should catch that. I'd also make sure I understood what circuit the pump(s) are on. Sometimes a bathroom has a GFI circuit along with outdoor plugs and the pond is run off of that. The easiest test is to take a 1500 watt hair dryer to the inspection and plug it into a bathroom plug and run it for say 5 minutes while the pond pumps are running to see if it trips a circuit. If it doesn't I'd say you're OK.

At some point in the next year or two you'll have to pull out all the pots and divide the plants and/or maybe toss some pots if you want more open water. Depends on what you want.

If left alone the plants could bust out of their pots and spread and get more dense. That can be more difficult to deal with, but not impossible.

It looks like the plants were highly fertilized, they're very dense.

You can probably hire pond dudes to deal with the plants and pond if you live in/near a city. Costs probably around $200-500 and takes them about 4-8 hours, done once a year. Most pond dudes don't know a lot about plants but that's OK if you're also not into the plants. They will make the pond more like a standard pond, what they're used to. They'll want to sell you filters and stuff in bottles. This stuff isn't required, but most people who hire pond dudes just say yes...just part of the pond dude experience.

Worst case is to fill the pond in and make it into a planter. To pay someone to do that might be around $500-1000 including materials, depending on area and material selected. To do it yourself would be around $100-200 for material and some wheelbarrow work. Can be done in a full day, maybe two for a single man.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Thanks for the replies and tips thus far.
That gives me some basics to ponder.
When we first saw the house, I was sort of ambivalent about having/maintaining an ornamental pond (maybe even a bit fearful). But now that the house is actually going to be ours, I am getting more at ease with the idea of enjoying its beauty and less apprehensive of maintaining it.
I will check out all the points brought up as soon as we get past the initial "moving in" stage in this drama.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Good attitude. Ponds are kind of funny. They can be extremely complex or extremely easy. The choice is made by the owner. Enjoy it, see how it changes. If things start heading in a direction you don't like you can jump in and start changing stuff.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Hello I am also in Tennessee and have a pond mine is more of a Koi pond though more fish less plants but it is still nice i have been tending to it for 4 years now and i love it if i can be of help just let me know.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

We closed the deal on the house today.
And, it appears that we do indeed have fish in the pools.
I saw a fleeting glimpse of one in the lower pool and my brother in law saw one in the upper pool.
I'm presuming they are Koi. Both were orange in color. Looked to be about 6" long.
Any suggestions for feeding? Would feeding them at one spot be a reasonable way to do a "census" of the population?
What should I feed them?


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Congrats.

At 6", color, and guessed age of the pond my bet is the fish you saw are goldfish. Koi can be stunted, but 6" is pretty small. Goldfish can get pretty big.

Any fish food will do. Don't want huge pellet size though. Flake food can be easier to find, smaller sizes, and it's easier to find in any pet store. Goldfish and koi are omnivores so any kind of fish food is fine to start. If you ever wanted to feed a lot then it's worth narrowing down the kind of food you want to use.

There can be an issue with the fish not being used to being fed. You put the food into the water and they have no clue it's food. Fish that are used to being fed will normally come to the surface whenever people are standing near the pond. So sounds like these fish aren't used to being fed.

To train fish I like the flake food. I swish some in the water so it sinks which looks more like food to the fish. Once they figure it out they'll follow the trail to the surface. When others see fish feeding at the surface they will follow. Training normally only takes once or twice. If you feed them regularly they will soon come to the surface whenever you're around.

Don't add too much food, just what they will eat. There's no risk of them overeating (old myth) but no sense wasting food and it adds waste to the pond. That's another reason I like flake to start with. A bunch of flakes = one pellet.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

That is encouraging to know about the food.
I believe the fish have been getting fed because there is a half full bag of fish food pellets I found today in a store room.
I tossed maybe a half a cup into each pool and I did not see any immediate response, but after a few minutes I did see some fish come and nibble.
I also got my arm wet today.
I plugged up the electric cord that seemed to go to the pump and I heard a lot of "commotion" under the pump enclosure cover, but water never did begin rolling off the waterfall in the upper pool.
So I unplugged the cord and pulled off the pump enclosure cover to see what was up.
The main discharge hose (1-1/2" hose) had come off of the hose barb fitting on the pump. I fished around in the pump sump for a hose clamp that might have fallen off, but found none, so I surmise it probably never had one, just was pushed on over the barbs and installed like that.
I picked up a hose clamp and put the hose back on the pump (after cleaning the pump strainer grill) and I now have the 2 waterfalls back in action.
I also discovered that there is an ultra violet cell with its own pump that is on the same circuit as the waterfall pump, and it seems to be working too (at least its pump is working).
I guess I need to post up some updated pics. The plants have really grown since we first looked at the house.
I already know some of the Cat Tails are gonna have to be thinned out, right now they are so thick they block most of the view of the upper waterfall.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Score finding the food. 1/2 cup sounds like a lot if they're just nibbling. I would do just a few pellets and wait for them to start eating and then I could give them some more. Less waste and that trains them to see food is coming from you. Pretty soon you'll be greeted whenever you're around the pond.

Cool you were able to get the pump working. It's a valuable lesson...most ponds are built pretty poorly. I also assume there never was a clamp. On the up side Water Gardens are pretty bulletproof. Even a poorly built Water Garden can be rather trouble free. Like not having a pump working in a Koi Pond can be a big deal with fish maybe dying...in a Water Garden it's no issue, just an aesthetic feature.

A 1.5" hose is bigger than I expected, which is good. At some point down the road you might want to check to see exactly what kind of pond you have. Some can use a lot of electric. And/or if the waterfall is bigger or more noise than you like you can get a smaller pump. Or you might not want to run the pump 24/7. There are options. Depends on the type of person you are. I'm pretty cheap and there's the whole saving the planet thing so I like to scale back electric use when I can. But running the pump 24/7 is easiest and a plus for the pond and fish. Unlikely a requirement, but a plus.

Cool you found a UV. The bulb in UV filters should generally be replaced once a year. Depends on the type of bulb, but once a year is a general guideline. However, I've betting your water is pretty clear, or at lease not green. UV is only to kill algae that makes water green, the suspended type. So if you don't have green water there's no reason to run the UV or get a new bulb. Many ponds clear on their own and stay non-green forever. UV filters can help that happen initially, but after that the UV isn't needed. BTW, this business of replacing bulbs has to do with the amount of invisible UV rays it produces, not that it burns out. The bulb will appear to be "on" but that's just visible light. There's no easy test to tell if a UV bulb is emitting enough UV rays. The best test is if a pond is green with a UV it means there's a problem with the UV. Working correctly they clear a green pond in 3-7 days 100% of the time.

Sounds like you're already a pond keeper. Good deal.

One last thing and I think by far the most important thing about ponds...be very careful about advice and info. Water Gardens are pretty bulletproof. That has a downside. Because they're so bulletproof it means people can do all kinds of strange nonsensical things to their pond and not see any harmful effect which leads them to think what they did was a stroke of genius and they want to tell the world. Most of the time it isn't genius. If you think every single thing you hear about ponds is completely wrong you will be right more often than not. A lot of advice comes from different hobbies like Koi Pond where the advice is valid, but can be harmful in a Water Garden. If you go to any store that sells pond supplies they will have something you must buy and a pretty good story about why this thing is so important. Magic stuff in a bottle or a filter. Not only are most of these things worthless some can harm your pond making your life more complicated than it needs to be. Fellow pond owners will tell you lots of things to "fix" your pond...meaning to make your pond just like theirs. That's because they only know about one kind of pond, theirs and think all ponds have to be the same. They don't.

It really is amazing how little effort and expense a Water Garden requires if you can not get sucked into other peoples' worlds.

Would be cool to see some pictures, before, during and after.

If you're interested you could consider posting an ad on Craig's List to sell or give away some plants. Beats composting them. And you get to meet fellow pond keepers in your area. All that I've meant this way have been very nice people and worth knowing.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Thanks wbg, right now I'm in crisis mode trying to get stuff packed, moved and set up. Lots of good suggestion/advice there, and I'm absorbing. I actually did a typo on the hose size, it was intended to be "1-1/4". I am also not satisfied with the union that piece of hose makes after it leaves the pump hose barb nipple. That specific piece of hose/tubing is only about 2' long and it joins to a PVC pipe just outside of the pump enclosure. The offensive union has been made by INSERTING the hose into a rubber coupler which in turn also fits OVER the cut end of the PVC pipe.
The part about that which I don't like is that the hose is a piece of braid reinforced semi flexible, clear vinyl tubing. I don't like the idea of a rubber coupler with worm drive hose clamps compressing the coupling down onto a piece of vinyl tubing. My concern is that should the vinyl tube slip out of that coupler, the pump could empty the lower pool in a matter of 15 minutes or so.
The pump would run dry when the lower pool emptied and about half the water for the ecosystem would disappear into the yard, leaving only what was left in the upper pool.
I have not gauged the depth of the pools yet, but unless the pump intake level is sufficiently higher than the bottom of the lower pool, it would spell doom for the fish in the lower pool. Gotta go and haul some more stuff now, good thing we're only moving about 6 miles away.

This post was edited by mownie on Thu, Jul 17, 14 at 19:58


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

The common way to prevent pond draining is to have the pump intake moved off of the bottom so that sufficient water remains. One of WBG's examples of BAD 'expert' advise was when one of his ponds was redesigned by the new owner's expert who killed all the fish etc. by moving the pump to the bottom of the pond. Of course, you can also add a float switch that shuts the pump off if the water drops too far, but floats can stick etc.

I'm not sure I understand your pump connection, but I would think that the addition of a compression clamp that I gather is squeezing on rigid pvc would improve things especially assuming nothing existed before and presumably it already mostly worked in the first place.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

mownie, I must say for a newbie to ponds you understand ponds better than most pond keepers including professions. The risk of a pump emptying a pond, and how fast it can, is a concept that many people fail to gasp...even people with very expensive ponds and a lot of experience (experience volume isn't the same as quality experience).

Like chas045 said something that makes me mad to this day is when new owners hired a "pond professional" moving a pump to the bottom of the pond which lead to the pond draining and killing the fish.

Stuff happens. Pipes break, come loose, or whatever. IMO a pump should never be placed on the bottom of a pond. There's no reason for it to be down there any way. Plus harder to maintain the pump.

As to improving the hose deal...I don't like hoses myself fro several reasons. One thing to keep in mind that if the failure (leak) happens inside the pond you'd be OK. So if a hose is needed (some pumps require a hose) I keep that inside the pond and transition to PVC for all runs outside the pond.

Wish I was closer so I could help you move. I'm not sure where you live...just that I'm not wherever that is.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

If for some reason someone wants a pump on the bottom of their pond they can also protect the pond from draining by placing it inside a bucket. If the water level drops below the top of the bucket the pump runs dry. It is easy insurance in small ponds that are not very deep to start with and don't have external pumps. You mean common sense isn't so common any more? ;)


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

When the water level falls below the top of the bucket wouldn't the pump then pump out the water inside the bucket which would cause the bucket to float and I assume tip over and then drain the pond?


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

OK, I have a series of photos. I guess I'll do a separate post for each pic since I don't know of a way to post multiple files.
First photo shows the ponds as they are on 7/19/14.
You can also see the pump enclosure cover is off of the enclosure.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Photo #2 shows the pump enclosure configuration.
I did not notice the other day that the pump enclosure has a gated inlet that is about 16 inches above the bottom of the pool.
This is good because should there ever be a breach in the pump discharge piping, once the water drops to the level of the inlet, no more water flows into the pump enclosure....pump runs out of water and fish live.
The enclosure has a divider insert creating 2 compartments. The left (in pic) compartment has a "fishnet" exclusion device which I presume is to keep the pump from eating small fry.
Underneath the fishnet is a stack of filter mats.
The pump is in the right side compartment.
Right now I think I need to clean the filter mats because the pump is actually "outrunning" the ability of the filters to flow enough water to ensure the pump inlet stays submerged.
It goes through an endless cycle like this.
Pump empties the pump compartment and sucks air into the inlet.
Pump loses its prime and stops pumping water.
While pump is unprimed, water level in pump compartment rises.
Pump regains it prime and begins emptying the pump compartment.
Pump sucks air.
Repeat ad infinitum.

This post was edited by mownie on Sat, Jul 19, 14 at 20:41


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Photo #3 shows where I added a hose clamp where none was present before, which let to the discharge hose coming loose from the discharge hose barb fitting.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Photo #4 explains what I don't like about the way the pond builder connected the pump hose to the PVC piping.
A rubber coupler has been slipped over the vinyl tubing and over a PVC hose barb fitting (I first thought it was a cut end of PVC pipe, but you can see a couple of barbs in the photo).
My thoughts on how it should have been assembled are that a PVC hose barb fitting of the PROPER diameter for the vinyl tube to slip directly onto. Then the vinyl tubing should be secured to the hose barb with a hose clamp.
I still may do that at a future point.
Tell me if I am off track with my idea that I need to clean the filter mats to restore adequate flow to the pump, or does the pump simply have too high a flow rate?


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to ask.
How much thinning out do I need to do on the plants?
And is there a proper way to go about it?


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

I see what you mean now about the clamps in photo #4. The rubber coupler with the 2 clamps...the clamp over the PVC barb fitting is kind of OK...the rubber coupler is suppose to be used on just pipe, not a barb, but that's not a huge issue. The other clamp is worst because there's no rigid pipe. A hose going into the coupler isn't right because the clamp can't really get tight enough without collapsing the hose...at least that's the idea. In practice this is holding...but always hard to tell how well. Come fail tomorrow. The pump vibrates the pipe/hose a tiny bit so things can loosen up over time. I prefer standard construction when possible.

I don't know what's after the gray barbed fitting. Could be threaded to PVC, could be glued slip to PVC, could be another barb and hose. If there's PVC I'd remove the barbed fitting and glue on a PVC 90 or a electrical conduit sweep. A sweep reduces friction which can increase water flow...but really depends on the pump flow GPH and the fitting size. Just using a regular PVC 90 is sure not the end of the world. The 1.25" barb fitting you have now has an inside diameter (opening for water) of 0.995" where a sch 40 1.25" elbow has an inside diameter of 1.360". So just switching out the barb is a huge improvement flow/friction wise. A sweep can be difficult to add because of the fixed location of the pipe and pump housing.

Anyway, I'd then glue a short PVC pipe to get into the housing. I like to run PVC all the way to the pump if the pump can take a PVC thread. Somewhere inside the housing I use that same rubber coupler (generally called by the common brand name Fernco) so it can be undone to remove the pump when needed.

Mats
The fishnet stuff is more to stop leaves, sticks, algae, but does stop fish. Most people wouldn't mind fry getting sucked in to keep the population down. This is called a "slimmer basket" and is removed daily, weekly, as needed, and dumped out. A skimmer's primary use is to reduce the amount of organic stuff that settles on the bottom. But in your pond, with all the plants, a skimmer isn't super functional, but that's OK. I always like skimmers.

The mats are worst than useless. They're only there so the seller of these things can call this a "filter". So when originally sold the package said something like "Combination skimmer and bio filter". These are sold to newbies and they sell very well. But the deal is they don't actually work as a bio filter at all and actually add waste rather than remove it unless they're cleaned daily. No one ever clean these daily because that would be a huge pain. Instead they're only cleaned when they clog in most cases. So they serve no purpose other than to make your life complicated. I'd remove them and throw them out.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

Plants
You have a lot.

I'm not on site so hard to tell, but from the pics I'd probably remove all the plants from the pond and vacuum or scoop the bottom with a swimming pool leaf rake.

When removing the plants note how deep they are. Moving them to deeper water might be an issue. For everything other than lilies moving plants to more shallow water, or even above the water is almost always better for the plants, so that would be OK if you like.

Then I could assess the plants and pond better. Pots, baskets, directly plants? Can pots be reused? I can now see the pond without plants. How's it look to me? Were some plants hiding something that I want to continue to hide? I come up with a plan. Buy replacement pots? Maybe reduce the number of species returned to the pond.

If the plants are planted directly in soil, not pots, you really have to empty the pond and deal with the plants. Fish have to be moved. That's a whole deal I won't get into now.

Most (all) the plants will have to be divided. Depends on when last done. I just made a post on this.

Most of dealing with plants just has to be learned with experience. But here's some things you may not know...

When removed from the pond the plants can stay out of water for a really long time. Weeks, even months. The leaves may die back but the roots (rhizomes) last a long time out of water. Keeping them in water can actually cause rot. You can also plant them in regular garden pots with dirt, same as a regular garden plant, and just keep them well watered and they grow great. This is true for every plant except lilies, floaters and plants that grow completely underwater.

Some times if you look up a plant on the web or printed on the label when buying a plant it will say 6" of water, or 12" of water, or whatever. Many people think that means the plant must be in that much water. This is actually the maximum depth the plant can take. Most of these do better the less water. Even planted in the yard many of these plants will do well. Here in Phoenix many kinds of "pond plants" are used in yards. This is because "pond plant" isn't really a very good term... "vernal pool plant" would be better. They've adapted to living in standing water and also dry periods when there's no water which is what a vernal pool is. So knowing this can make your life easier, more options.

Plants inside the pond = more work. So reducing them will be less work in the future. You can put some of these into pots around the edge of the pond, or in the ground, or switch to other kinds of plants around the edge. Gives you the same lush look with way less work and the pond appears much larger.

Here are some pics of a pond I built in San Jose CA to demonstrate. No plant is inside the pond.



And here the pot on the left is a "pond plant" called Horsetail Rush. It's a foam pot with no drainage hole, soil from the yard. This plant, like most "pond plants" can be very invasive, but no problem in a pot. And no drainage holes means no straining from leaking water (the pot on the right need drainage and therefore a catch pan under it). Go on vacation for a week or two the pot is fine with no watering. When it's time to divide it's no big deal.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

OK, probably the most immediate thing I will do is to pull the mats out.
Would it be harmful to aquatic flora/fauna if I fashioned an additional screen type barrier divider to separate the skimmer basket from the pump compartment out of 1/4" mesh hardware cloth?
My concern being the galvanized finish on the hardware cloth.
I'm glad photo #4 clarified my concern about having a rubber Fernco clamped over a piece of vinyl tubing.
I will have to pull some more of the vegetation aside to see what is below the PVC 90 ell.
I am awaiting arrival of some friends at this moment and then we will start pulling furniture of of our old house (where I am right now) and moving it to the new digs.
We are going to have our internet service transferred to the new residence ASAP so there is likely to be an interval where I am completely off line (and also probably off my rocker, I feel like I'm headed that way).


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

No problem with galvanized hardware cloth. The only common metal goldfish and koi are sensitive to is copper so most pond keepers stay away from copper and brass. However people do tend to go overboard in their fear of copper, thinking even a little is deadly. It isn't.

I don't like to use steel in the pond only because it doesn't last. They make a lot of different plastic hardware cloth and other plastic mesh which I like to use. Some of it can be formed easily with a heat gun. Heat the edge and fold it over on itself a few times to build a stronger frame type deal. Gutter guard is (or used to be) such a plastic.

They also make plastic coated hardware cloth which I use to make baskets like for my Silt Vac.

I've never used this material inside the pond 24/7 so I don't know how long it would last.

I assume the barrier is to stop the net skimmer basket material out of the pump area? Might not be needed. I'd check first, simpler is better.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

OK, I'll check out available plastic covered mash.
Yeah, my main objective with wanting a screened partition is to make certain the fish net does not shift towards the pump, which it might when I take away the solid plastic divider there now.
My wife will kill me if I side track away from our primary goal of getting moved and set up in the new house, so I will just have to watch the pond and make sure it stays "as is" until I can risk aggravating her.
Thanks for the input. I feel more confident already that it will work out.


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RE: Pond maintenance tips/advice wanted

I don't remember if I mentioned this already...for the type of pond you have you can turn off the pump if you like, or only run it when you like. So no reason to sweat it if it's clogged and you can't get to it right away.


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