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Spring Startup Tips for Backyard Koi Ponds

aqua ultraviolet uv clarifiers displayed over a pond image

Spring is a time for new beginnings, for new possibilities and for a renewal of our happy place—our ponds. Opening up our ponds is cathartic, and the art and passion for nurturing our space comes back to us as natural as a conversation with an old friend does.

As we enter this season, we wanted to share our top tips for opening your pond as well as a few fun ideas to set the stage with inspiration. As usual, all tips on this page should be scrutinized for their application to your individual needs.

1. Remove Debris from Your Pond

First, any seasoned pond owner will tell you to examine your pond and it’s perimeter for debris that has settled in or around your pond over the winter—and to come up with a plan to remove it. Even if you have a netting over your pond, it’s likely some leaves and debris found their way into your water and have settled at the bottom. Leaves left in a pond can stain your water as they release tannins, and extra debris lead to muck and pond sludge. Both can make water unsightly and also use a lot of oxygen to break down which can be harmful to your fish (essentially competing for oxygen).

Begin removing unwanted leaves and debris with manual removal using rakes around the pond and nets to pull easily accessible debris out of the pond. If you own a pond vacuum, grab it from storage and use it to remove debris as well. You'll need to continue to use cold water bacteria until your pond reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can address any remaining residual debris on your pond bottom with Microbe-Lift Spring/Summer packets. These packets don’t have a temperature restriction and are great at breaking down leaves, small branches and other organic waste. Tidying up around the pond is important, too, so that accumulated debris doesn’t wash into the pond with rain later. The goal is to get rid of as much debris, sludge and muck as possible to prevent water quality issues down the road.

Microbe-Lift packets displayed in front of bottle

We highly recommend the Microbe-Lift Spring Summer Packets for removing residual debris.

If you have fish and you’d like to refresh your pond water, we suggest no more than a 25% water change after you’ve cleaned up all of the debris. Substantial drainings or water changes are best reserved for the fall when fish are at their hardiest. Anytime you do change water or even top off your pond make sure to use a declorinator to eliminate chlorine and other contaminants that will enter your pond through the new water.

2. Re-install and Check Your Equipment

If you put any of your equipment up for the winter, now's the time to get it back out and reinstalled. Examine your equipment for loose and/or cracked fittings and tubing. Tubing and some replacement fittings are available on our site.

Submersible Pumps

For submersible pumps, first clean the pump pre-filter or replace it if it appears worn. Then clean the pump in-take, and check the electrical cord for cracks or cuts. If you do find any cracks or cuts contact a qualified electrician to repair the cord or have it replaced. Round out your pump cleaning by removing the impeller/rotor, and scrubbing it with a brush and mild acid such as white vinegar or lime and rust remover. Test run the pump in shallow water before you submerge it in deep water. Never hold the pump by the electric cord and never lift it by its cord.

External Pumps

For external pumps, check for debris around the impeller shaft. Clean strainer basket and lubricate o-ring seal on strainer basket. Check for loose fittings and strainer basket for wear or cracks, replace strainer basket if needed. Check electrical cord of pump for cracks or cuts—contact a qualified electrician for repair if needed. If drain plug was removed, reinstall.


Clean filter, bio-balls, beads, foam replacement pads, filter cartridges and/or brushes. Replace if worn. You can find replacement parts here.

After your pond averages at least 50 degrees for a few days, add Beneficial Bacteria to jump start your filter. For filter pads and filter cartridges try Microbe-Lift PL/Gel. This formula puts the bacteria right where you want it and it stays there. For bead filters use Microbe-Lift Super Start Bead Filter Bacteria. This reduces buildup of residue in the filter, decreasing maintenance and improving filter by avoiding 'channeling'.

UV Light

If you have UV lights, check for loose fittings and look for cracks in the sleeve. A cracked or broken sleeve will ruin a new uv bulb, so make sure to replace it if you find any. On average, your UV bulb itself needs to be replaced every 12-14 months, so the start of the season is a great time to replace. See Replacement Bulbs and Quartz Sleeves.

Oase BioPress at a pond

The Oase BioPress UVC about to be re-installed at a pond.

3. Treat Your Water According to Need & Temperature

Pond water testing should generally be done weekly and all year round (no matter what kind of climate you live in). If any of your testing shows unfavorable results, reach out to our pond techs for assistance. Specific issues will need specific remedies.

In general, after you open your pond you should begin adding beneficial bacteria to your water as soon as it reaches an average of 50 degrees, for a few days. Try our bestseller, Microbe-Lift PL.

We also suggest adding barley early in the season as it's a great preventative and a natural way to keep your pond water healthy. Barley comes in several forms (liquid extract, pellets, bales and flakes) and all are suitable for spring application as barley has no temperature restrictions. Choose the form that you most prefer. If you go with bales, they typically last 6 months. Our lead pond tech Joe, advises to put a new barley bale in once your current bale reaches 5 months (as they typically take a month to start working). At 6 months take the old bale out, and your new bale will be one month in already and working at its prime, so you'll have no gap in performance.

4. Check In on Your Fish

It's time to say hello to your favorite hibernators! After a long winter, it's always exciting to see koi active again. Here are a few suggestions we have for your fish come spring.

Do a Koi Health Check

First, give your koi a health check. Look for the following indications of potential health problems :

  • Not feeding in season
  • Gasping
  • Fins close to body
  • Isolated
  • Rapid gill movement
  • Flashing
  • Change in fins
  • White covering skin
  • Gray/White film
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Red streaks on skin
  • Pop eye

If you spot any of these issues with your fish reach out to us, and we will provide you with advice.

Take a Fish Inventory

Spring is also a great time to make sure that your pond can support your fish load. Calculate both the number and size of the koi in your pond. New ponds can have one inch of fish per sq. ft. of pond surface, established ponds can have two to three inches per sq. ft. of pond surface with proper filtration.

Feeding your Koi

Always go by the water temperature when deciding what to feed your fish. If you don't have one already definitely grab a pond thermometer.

Here's a quick temperature feeding guide:
  • 50˚F: Stop Feeding. The nitrifying bacteria are starting to sleep.
  • 50-60˚F: Feed cold weather wheatgerm food.
  • 60-85˚F: Feed summer protein growth and/or color foods.
  • 85-89˚F: During a hot spell feed wheat germ food again, and cut back on feeding. Fish have difficulty metabolizing protein foods at this temperature.
  • 90˚F: Stop feeding. Any uneaten or unprocessed food will add to organic load and oxygen depletion in the water.
four photos from pond owners

A healthy koi finds his lunch. Thanks for sharing Susan S.

In the spring and late fall it is best to feed your fish Wheat Germ or other low protein food because it is easily digested. During the summer months fish food should be high in proteins. Never feed your fish more than they can eat in five minutes.

5. Review Your Structure

Take some time to analyze the stones and your liner to make sure your pond structure is in good shape. Stones can often shift around the waterfall, and some could even fall into the pond during the winter. It's important to have solid rock walls for both safety and pond viability. Look and make sure they're snug and not allowing any leaking (around your waterfall especially). Also check for any low spots where liner may have shifted, and adjust as needed.

6. Time to Get Your Plants Back Out

Once spring hits (and the risk for freezing has been eliminated) grab your pond gloves and gardening tools because it’s time to get your plants flourishing again.

Reposition any hardy plants that you over wintered in the bottom of your pond back up to their normal shelf or position in your pond.

Bring tropical plants that were overwintered inside back out to the pond, and if you saved any lily tubers replant them as well.

The majority of the time your underwater oxygenating plants will come back on their own, but if you overwintered them in the pond keep an eye on them as they are not fully hardy. Replace any that do not grow back as expected.

And finally, unless you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you likely had to discard any floating tropical plants during winter closeup, so you’ll want to repurchase these for the season.

After you get your plants resituated, we recommend fertilizing with tablets or temperature activated spikes and then continuing fertilization on a monthly basis through the open season.

7. Get Creative & Have Some Fun!

As you startup your pond and plan your season make sure to get creative and have some fun. Try your hand at growing a new aquatic plant or even just growing a plant you already have in a new way. Add some new lighting or seating to enhance your time around the pond. Look into adding another species of fish. There's so much you can do! To round out these ideas, and give you some visuals here's some inspiration from pond owners just like you!

four photos from pond owners

Clockwise from L to R: Comanche water lilies shared by Mike N., Lovely pond with waterfall equipment strategically covered by rock lid and plants shared by Karin K., Amazing deck and seating overlooking pond shared by Paul K., and Wonderfully blue lit pond shared by Bob W.

Article Posted: 03/16/2022 05:56:07 PM

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