A koi pond is a different sort of backyard water feature. Fish require feeding as well as a carefully controlled aquatic environment. Unlike most backyard projects, this one requires on going effort after the installation is complete. But the extra effort can be quite rewarding. While not quite like a new puppy, taking care of koi and the pond they live in is a great hobby for many people. The pond and the fish are great additions to nearly any backyard. A koi pond is always beautiful, as are the fish. They are fun to watch and the care is not overwhelming by any means. Just be aware that this is not a "build it and forget it" sort of a project.
A water garden is a pond that emphasizes plants, although goldfish are often added. A koi pond emphasizes the fish. Koi are brightly colored fish that reach two feet or more in length. The most common varieties are white and reddish orange but there are black, yellow and even green varieties. Koi were originally bred in Japan.
Careful planning is especially important if you are considering a koi pond. You need to design it to blend into and beautify your backyard, but you also have to keep in mind that you are designing a biological ecosystem. Your fish will thrive if the pond is designed and installed correctly. If it isn't...well, adios fishy.
Large fish need room to swim. So plan the size of your koi pond accordingly. Determine how much of your yard you can dedicate to a pond, and determine how much money you can budget to the project (including filtration, pumps, fish, plants, etc.). Then build the largest pond you can build within those parameters. A minimum should be 1000 gallons with a minimum surface area of about 140 square feet. Some portion of the pond needs to be at least 3 feet deep, although 4 to 6 feet deep is better. It is recommended that a minimum length of 12 feet be used. You may be able to make a slightly smaller size work, but it is not ideal. Koi growth is not limited by the size of the pond. They will still get big, even in a small container. If they don't have adequate room, their health will suffer.
What about plants? Koi eat plants, so be careful with your choices. Floating plants as well as underwater grasses are likely to become fish food. Still, plants are important for the overall health of your pond, and they make the area much more appealing aesthetically as well. You will have better luck with certain plants in locations that are not as easily accessible by the fish. That's one of the reasons that a shallow shelf around the edge of the pond is a good idea. The use of gravel weighted aquatic plant baskets may also make it harder for the koi to eat your plants. You can also have an area of heavy foliage in a part of your pond that is separate from the fish area if you have room. (TIP: Be sure you can reach the entire surface of your pond with a net - for cleaning leaves off the surface)
A koi pond should be located in partial shade. Note the partial part. Your pond will need some sun and some shade. However, avoid placing your pond too close to trees, especially hardwoods. You'll have to contend with falling leaves in autumn. Also, large trees have large roots and those large roots can cause large problems with your pond. If necessary, you can create some of your own shade with an arbor or a trellis. If you can't avoid falling leaves, a leaf net over your koi pond will help in the fall. You'll need a net to remove any leaves or other debris that falls into the pond at least daily during that time of the year, in addition to keeping the skimmer filters cleaned off. Leaves that decay in the water will adversely affect the nitrogen balance in the water, potentially harming your fish.
Your filtration and pumping systems need to be part of your planning, meaning before you start digging any holes. Your pond will require both mechanical and biological filtration. Bigger is better, but your mechanical filtration system should be capable of filtering no less than 10% of the pond in water volume. A mechanical filter is simply a place where the water is passed through various barriers of different sizes that block solids from passing through. Different chambers may contain gravel, sand, beads, pads, or brushes. The chambers will contain progressively smaller barriers to trap progressively smaller particles. Since plants will be limited (remember, the koi will eat most of them), a phyto filter is an excellent addition. This is an area of water separated from the fish area - where plants can be used as a natural filtration method. This area should be at least 10% of the size of the koi pond, but one third of the size is better. Plants naturally remove nitrites from the water. Excess nitrites will be present because of the natural digestive process of the koi. Without getting too technical, I believe the Latin scientific term is "fishy poopus". Decaying plant material will further add to excess nitrites. There are other forms of biological filtration available if a phyto filter is not an option. Styles vary, but they all involve the creation of a biological media containing bacteria that remove the harmful nitrites from the water. If you don't have some form of biological filtration you will need to change out large portions of the water regularly.
Your pump should be capable of circulating 100% of the water in one hour (double the requirement for a water garden). There are two basic types of pumps. One is submersible and the other is mounted near the pond but outside of the water, usually called a recirculating pump. Submersible pumps are quieter, but don't typically move as much water as their "land based" counterparts. Submersible pumps are usually better suited for smaller ponds. Recirculating pumps are better for larger ponds, due their higher water movement abilities, as well as their increased efficiency and longer life.
While not a requirement, an ultraviolet sterilizer is a good idea. The UV rays will kill the algae and help to keep your water crystal clear.
There are two critical areas of concern for a koi pond. First is water quality. Fish can live for weeks without food, but poor water quality can kill them overnight. Make sure your filtration system is done right. The second concern is nutrition. Your fish must be properly fed in order to maximize their size and development as well as to protect them from disease. Fortunately there are plenty of readily available and easy to use options that will keep your fish healthy.
As with all aspects of your overall backyard design, planning is critical for a successful koi pond. Take the time to plan carefully and you and your family will enjoy your pond for years to come.
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