Diarmuid Gavin: Perk up your pond with a timely deep-clean
Free your water features of pond weed and excess algae
When my daughter and her friends were old enough to properly understand the dangers of water, I felt safe to install a pond in the garden. In fact, over the past few years we have created three on different levels, with the intention of one day linking them though falling water. The top pond is the one nearest the house and from the kitchen glinting water can be seen. It's surrounded by a grove of tree ferns and is a wonderfully cool spot on a hot summer's day.
Water in a garden is wonderful, once you're aware of the potential for accidents and have taken precautions. It adds a splash of movement and reflection, and it can become an intriguing feature or a refreshing focal point. It may be calm or vigorous, and often will become a wonderful habitat for all types of creatures.
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The first of our ponds is 400mm deep and has been planted up with pots of water lilies, umbrella grass and pontederia. To delight the children, we added a shoal of goldfish to dart among the pink lily flowers. That was until last year, when they were spotted by a heron flying overhead. It took him a week to empty the pond of the by then quite large goldfish - we only spotted him on the last day as he flew off with a full belly. Next time we get fish, we'll set some slabs on bricks in the water to give them a good hiding place.
In the last month, we have a new member of the family - not a fish but an adorable and occasionally troublesome pup. In his first few weeks with us, he ended up squealing in the pond. He probably thought the blanket weed which had covered the entire surface was a lawn and, stepping into it, Bowie got the fright of his life.
Our bigger dog, Roxie, regularly drinks from the pond and while the water wouldn't have been appetising to me, she seemed fine with it. However, looking at the water with fresh eyes after Bowie's dip, I realised that there had been a few years of neglect and, at the very least, the pond weed should be removed. I also needed to remove completely the sludge that has settled in over the past years.
I decided that it was time for a big clean-up and to empty out the pond completely. I put on the wellies, waded in and began to explore the pond life. First, I removed all potted plants and set them aside with a view to dividing some of those that have become congested over the years. Waterlilies in particular will benefit from division.
In warmer weather, you would need to put the deep-water plants in containers of water to keep them fresh while they are out of the pond, and if you have fish you will also need to put them in a holding container with some of the pond water. If the water isn't too cloudy, you could retain a few scoops to put back later into the clean water to help quickly re-establish the ecosystem.
Next, using a submersible pump, I pumped all the water out onto the flower beds - they will get a great boost from this nutrient-rich liquid. As the pond emptied, I used a powerhose for the final clean.
Finally, I refilled the space with clean water and put back the aquatic plants. I also threw in a few bunches of oxygenators - these are your best ally when it comes to keeping the water clear, as they absorb carbon dioxide and in doing so slow down the formation of algae. You need to use a couple of bunches per square metre.
It's a big, messy and filthy job but at least it'll be another five years before I need to do it again!
When is the best time of year to empty out your pond for a thorough cleaning? From a wildlife perspective, autumn is ideal, as the creatures that live in it will be less active.