The decision to include a koi pond in your landscape is a big one. We’d like you to be as informed as you can be about the essential elements of koi pond design and maintenance before you make that decision so that you get it right the first time. Investing in a koi pond can bring many joys if it is designed and built correctly and maintained regularly.
As they were building the pond, I saw piles of boulders, big trucks rolling through my yard and this huge, huge hole. I’m thinking this is crazy and it’s going to be a waste of money. Carolyn, koi pond design client
Frozen Fish: A Koi Pond Design Glitch
When Andy and Carolyn bought their Vienna, Virginia home, it came with a koi pond that, as they found out, wasn’t so well designed. Every winter the pond would freeze, and the fish would die because the pond was too small and shallow. It wasn’t much to look at either. Two murky bathtubs connected by a piece of PVC pipe, that’s how Andy described it. Even so, he liked it: “I always found it peaceful, and I liked the fish.”
This scenario is all too common says Gary Cryer of GC Tek, a koi pond equipment provider: “People build the pond too small. They fall in love with it, and they love the koi. Then they decide they would like to add more fish, but they can’t due to the limited size of the pond and filtration system.“ Cryer says much of his business comes from homeowners who love the koi pond experience so much that they are willing to tear out an existing pond to install one that will accommodate a much larger koi fish population.
Such was the case with Andy and Carolyn. After a few years, Andy persuaded Carolyn to invest in improving the pond environment. They asked Surrounds Landscape Architects to redesign the pond and add a waterfall.
Now the koi pond is vast (16,000 gallons) and the centerpiece of their landscape. It’s the main attraction, especially for the kids. Carolyn says, “The kids all want to do their play dates here and want to be outside the whole time. Even in winter. In spring and fall when fish need to be fed we’ll hold off on feeding if the kids are having friends over so that they can do it.”
Carolyn’s youngest child, Audrey, names all the new fish. Her favorite is Kohr Brothers–named after a frozen custard stand on the Jersey Shore that is known for its orange sherbet/vanilla ice cream swirl. Kohr Brothers isn’t the only fish named after a dessert. There are Cider, Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla, Orange Juice, and Sugar.
A Source of Joy
“Peaceful.” “Relaxing.” “A private retreat.” This is how some of our clients describe their koi pond experiences. The murmur of a waterfall, the stillness of the pond and the liquid movement of fish make a particular kind of magic for them.
Keeping a garden koi pond can be a great source of joy. At the same time, it is important to understand that a koi pond is different from a standard garden pond. A koi pond is specially designed and equipped to provide a sustainable habitat for the fish. It is a big responsibility. It also provides respite from the daily grind. For those who’ve made the investment, peace and relaxation that come with keeping a koi pond can provide a treasured respite from the daily grind.
I am a busy person, but I have never used a backyard like this one. We are always out there—ten times more than we ever were before. –Carolyn
Koi Pond Art and Artifice
Ponds and waterfalls go together. That’s why, when we design a pond, we usually combine it with a waterfall. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, is aesthetics. The waterfall makes a beautiful focal point and contributes pleasing sound to the pond environment. The music made by falling and moving water is integral to all garden water features such as fountains, waterfalls, and ponds.
Another reason is that a waterfall naturally provides circulation and some of the aeration that pond fish need. But this alone can’t keep water clean enough. For a koi pond, water clarity is essential to the health of the fish. An appropriately sized filtration system is required to clean debris from the pond water and control algae growth. Regular maintenance is needed to ensure proper Ph levels and water temperature.
It’s just a great place to sit out on a rock have a cup of coffee, listen to the waterfall, watch the fish. It is a living, breathing thing. It’s constantly changing. I’m thrilled that we have it. –Andy
Koi Pond Maintenance
Tom Kniezewski of Surrounds says, “The best maintenance is to have a properly constructed koi pond.” Here is Tom’s pond design and equipment checklist:
- Minimum depth for healthy fish is 2.5 feet. Four feet is preferred.
- Pool shell. Walls drop straight down from the sides and curve toward the center at the bottom.
- Bottom drain. The negative pressure created by the drain pulls fish waste and organic debris off the bottom of the pond.
- Smooth surface. A smooth bottom surface free of pebbles or stones prevents debris and waste from snagging on objects.
- UV filter. Ultraviolet light kills harmful bacteria and controls algae blooms
- Filtration system. This can be a two-part or multi-part system depending on the pond size. A skimmer basket floats on the surface and at least one of three types of filters that trap debris ranging in size from rough to fine particles. A large pond would have all three filtration levels.
Keeping a koi pond is not a “set and forget” endeavor. You can be as involved as you wish, but you have to be involved. Andy and Carolyn do a limited portion of the routine pond maintenance. Surrounds Garden Management and Blue Ribbon Koi maintain the filtration system and monitor fish health.
It’s good to know you’ve got someone who is keeping an eye on the pond. They keep track of water Ph and control of algae levels—the kinds of things you don’t have time or energy to take care of. Andy, koi pond maintenance client
How to Care for Your Koi Pond
Koi fish need regular care to ensure their good health and longevity. Maintaining clean, clear pond water is the most critical part of your koi pond maintenance program. For a small koi pond with a small fish population, a homeowner could opt to do the maintenance themselves. For ponds of more than 3,000 gallons, professional service is recommended.
Koi pond maintenance can be scheduled weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on your needs. Filters and skimmers require cleaning on a weekly basis to assure clean, healthful water for the fish. It is also important to periodically inspect all equipment to make sure it is operating properly.
For ponds with a large fish population, we frequently partner with John Bianchi of Blue Ribbon Koi. Bianchi offers specialty koi fish care that includes physical inspection of fish for health issues, partial pond water change and water testing for ammonia, nitrites, alkalinity, and chlorine.
How to Care for the Koi Fish
Bianchi recommends physically examining the fish all season long. It’s quite a process to watch and can take most of a day. Using a seine net that is weighted at the bottom with floats on top, he corrals the fish in one area where he guides them one by one into a sock net. Then he drops them into a bowl to do the inspection.
He examines the mouth and the belly, looking for any sores or scrapes. If they go into the winter with a sore, he says, it will get worse during winter dormancy because their immune systems are down and they can’t fight infections.
If a fish isn’t behaving normally, he will take a scraping from its slime coat and put it under the microscope to determine if parasites are causing the problem. Once he is able to identify a specific parasite, he can recommend a suitable treatment.
And finally, Bianchi says it is important to feed the fish high-quality food all season because they will be going four or five months without eating during their winter dormancy. He recommends a product called Dainichi. What sets this food apart from other types on the market is that it contains potent vitamins.
Preparing your pond fish for winter
In autumn, a few weeks before the water temperature drops to 50-degrees, we advise changing their diet to a light wheat germ-based food that’s easier for the koi to digest. Once the daytime water temperature settles at 50-degrees, stop feeding—and it is important that you do not start up again. For example, if there is a warm up a few weeks after you’ve stopped feeding, the fish may come to the surface looking for food. Do not feed them. Their bodies have started to shut down and go into the dormancy state, so they won’t be able to digest food properly.
While Fish Sleep
Although the fish are off to sleep for the winter, there are still equipment maintenance tasks and periodic visual checks that need to be done to protect your fish until they wake up in spring. It’s best to rely on a garden management specialist to winterize your koi pond.
People enjoy keeping koi fish for various reasons. For some, they are collector specimens; for others, they are pets. Most people say that keeping koi is a source of stress relief and visiting the koi pond provides them refuge from the daily grind. Whatever the reason, proper design and maintenance of your koi pond is essential to the enjoyment of your experience because koi aren’t just garden decoration.
If you have a pond and feel it isn’t getting the attention it deserves, call to set up a meeting with one of our garden management specialists to discuss a koi pond maintenance plan.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.