Five Tips for a Healthy Pond

Many earthen ponds have problems with algae, nuisance wildlife, or water quality. This video provides a few simple tips to help solve or prevent these common problems and ensure a healthy pond.
Five Tips for a Healthy Pond - Videos


Ponds and small lakes can be wonderful sources of recreation for swimming, fishing and wildlife viewing. But surveys show that more than 75% of pond owners have problems with algae, nuisance wildlife or water quality problems. This video provides some simple tips to prevent or solve these common problems to ensure a healthy pond.


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More by Bryan Swistock 

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- [Bryan] Hi, my name's Bryan Swistock.

I'm a water resource specialist with Penn State Extension.

I'd like to talk to you today about a few simple steps you can take to maintain or create a healthy pond that is enjoyable for fishing, swimming, and other recreational uses.

There are hundreds of thousands of earthen ponds in Pennsylvania, ranging from an eighth of an acre to five acres in size.

Many of these ponds were built decades ago for animals, irrigation, and fire protection.

But over time, a lot of them are reverting to recreational ponds used for fishing, swimming, and wildlife viewing.

While ponds can be very enjoyable to own, 77% of pond owners surveyed by Penn State University had at least one problem.

These include excessive algae and plant growth, nuisance wildlife, or water quality problems that lead to fish kills.

Many of these problems can either cause or result from an unhealthy pond ecosystem.

Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent or remedy an unhealthy pond.

The first tip to improving any pond is to make simple pond measurements.

The most important of these measurements are water quality tests.

Issues with fish kills or poor fish growth, animal or human illness, or excessive algae and plant growth are usually related to various pollutants in the water.

Pond water testing can be done easily and inexpensively for many pollutants using kits, meters, or test strips purchased from pet or swimming pool stores.

More detailed testing for parameters like bacteria and metals is best accomplished using a state-accredited water testing lab.

Penn State's water lab has developed a pond and water testing program to test for some of the most important water parameters.

These kits are available from most of your county extension offices.

Some water quality parameters, such as water temperature, must be measured at the pond site to provide accurate results.

The most important temperatures to know for your pond is the highest water temperature during the middle of the summer.

Dissolved oxygen should also be measured at the pond site using a test kit or meter.

Both water temperature and dissolved oxygen are critical to the survival of fish and other aquatic life in the pond.

The second tip for a healthy pond is identifying problems early, when they can be more easily fixed and before they cause serious harm to the pond's health.

Two-thirds of pond owners fail to routinely inspect their pond to identify new problems as they develop.

Watch for small trees that need to be removed from exposed banks before they cause leaks.

Outflow pipes should be inspected for debris, which could clog the pipe and cause damage to the pond structure.

The banks should also be inspected for signs of erosion that can introduce sediment and nutrients to the pond, both of which can cause excessive plant and algae growth.

Other components of a pond inspection include looking for early signs of leaking ponds, such as dropping water levels or soggy grass around the exterior of the pond dam.

Also, watch for new plants either in or around the pond that you've never seen before.

If you find a new plant, make sure to get it identified to ensure that it's not a non-native invasive plant.

These invasive plants are much easier to eradicate if they're found and treated early.

Finally, make sure fences around the pond that are in place to keep horses, cows, and domestic animals out are in good shape.

Animals that directly access a pond can cause severe damage, including sedimentation and nutrients that will create an unhealthy pond.

The third tip and perhaps the most important to the overall long-term health of your pond is to prevent and control sources of sediment and nutrients from entering the pond.

Nutrients and sediment control start with understanding the pond watershed or the land area that contributes water to the pond.

Activities in the pond watershed that cause sediment from erosion, such as housing developments, or the addition of nutrients to the pond from agriculture or yard fertilizers cause the pond to become shallow and choked with algae and plants that can lead to reduced oxygen levels.

Perhaps the easiest method to control nutrients entering the pond is to establish a riparian buffer strip of unmowed grass and shrubs around your pond.

Even a simple buffer strip of grass that is only mowed a few times each summer is beneficial.

Buffer strips can capture nutrients before they enter the water, control erosion, and remove sediment from the water by slowing water velocity.

Limiting fertilizer use on the land area around the pond is very important to prevent nutrients from entering the pond, where it can grow plants and algae.

This also includes being careful when you mow around the pond.

If you mow grass clippings into the pond, like in this picture, you are in effect fertilizing the pond because the grass will decay and release nutrients into the water.

Aeration is another method to reduce the availability of nutrients in the pond.

Aeration provides oxygen to the deeper water, which keeps nutrients tied up in the bottom sediments, where it is less available for plants and algae to use.

While solar and wind-powered aeration units are available, the best aeration comes from electric-powered fountains or diffuse air stems.

The fourth tip for a healthy pond is to properly manage aquatic plants and algae in the pond.

Surveys have found that about 40% of pond owners routinely attempt to manage pond plants and algae, but these same surveys have shown that they often make critical mistakes that can actually create an unhealthy pond.

Many pond owners assume that any algae or plants in their pond are bad.

To the contrary, moderate levels of many pond plants and algae are beneficial or even necessary for a healthy pond ecosystem.

Microscopic planktonic algae, which may make the water look a little murky, provide critical food for small fish.

Emergent plants growing around the edge of the pond, like cattails, sedges, reeds, and grasses, filter sediment and nutrients and provide needed habitat for small and large fish, along with frogs, toads, and other wildlife.

Finally, various types of native submerged plants, like the elodea bed shown here, provide habitat for fish while also oxygenating the pond water.

If plant and algae levels do reach a nuisance level, explore all of your options to properly manage the plant with the least damage to the overall pond health.

Where possible, physical removal of plants can be ideal because removal of the plant also removes the nutrients in the plant and prevents them from being used to grow more plants or algae in the future.

If you have aquatic plants that are among those favored by grass carp, you might consider obtaining a permit and stocking these fish to control the plant growth.

In cases where nuisance algae are a problem, loose bags of submerged barley straw have been shown to be effective in preventing the growth of algae if they're installed early in the spring before algae become established.

Many pond owners immediately choose to use aquatic herbicides to control plants and algae, but they often make serious mistakes that ruin pond health.

Proper use of herbicides includes identifying the plant, choosing the right herbicide, making the necessary calculations, obtaining the permit, and following the label instructions carefully.

A final tip for a healthy pond is to properly manage the fish and wildlife living in and near the pond.

Fish management can be critical to create a healthier pond.

This involves measuring and actively managing the fishery by stocking or harvesting fish as needed.

Avoid the urge to stock many species of fish.

Most ponds do best with just two species.

And completely avoid species like carp, koi, pike, and walleye, which do poorly in ponds.

Also, keep in mind that pond fish should not be feed.

This adds nutrients to the pond that may reduce the overall health of the pond water quality.

Various habitat work can be done around the pond to either attract wildlife you want or deter wildlife you don't want.

Nest boxes can be installed to attract birds, but make sure you purchase or construct a box that is suitable for the bird you want to attract.

A layer of large rocks above and below the waterline, known as rip rap, can be used to deter muskrats from denning in the pond and possibly creating leaks or erosion.

The same buffer strip of grass or plants that we discussed earlier can also be helpful in reducing Canada geese by making harder for them to enter and exit the pond.

Ponds can be wonderful resources for family recreation and enjoyment, but they often fall into disrepair.

The five tips provided in this video will help you ensure that your pond is healthy and enjoyable for you and everything living in the pond.

For more information on the topics introduced in this video, visit the Penn State Extension pond management website.


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