Reducing pond maintenance

We are a nation of DIY enthusiasts, – Don’t take my word for it, ask Mr B & Mr Q. We are keen to impress others by how well we can tackle a problem, eager to roll our sleeves up and get stuck in. Part of the appeal of koi keeping are the many DIY skills we can use as we master any number of different materials.

There often comes the time though, after the initial explosion of effort and enthusiasm, as the pond has had a year or two to mature and the dust of construction has well and truly settled, that what was once a novelty has now become a chore. It’s at times like these that it is tempting to cut corners in pond maintenance and koi care, looking for time saving opportunities when once you could delight in cleaning the filter, you now look for an opportunity not to do sol

You are in the minority if you cannot identify with the above, and with the ‘chore factor’ in mind, it would be prudent to plan for the day when the chore factor arrives at your koi pond. – Such planning should start at the construction stage.

We should aim for both an effective and an efficient koi pond, where effective means ‘doing the right thing’ and efficient means ‘doing the thing right’.

Bottom Drain

This is a real time saver. Linked directly to the submerged multi-chambered filter, it works 24/7 to remove the waste that settles in a pond. To be effective, a bottom drain must be fitted efficiently. This will include placing it (or them – depending on the size of the pond) strategically along the pond bottom to encourage solids to be taken away to the filter. To aid this, consider giving the pond bottom a slight concave profile, helping the debris to pass into the bottom drains. Bottom drain efficiency can be improved even further by ensuring there is no raised lip around the circumference of the bottom drain. This is easy to achieve in a concrete pond, but is almost unavoidable in a lined pond where a flange is required to sandwich the liner onto the bottom drain unit beneath the liner.

Construct a drain in each filter chamber for easy cleaning.

A drain in each chamber will allow you to purge a chamber at the pull of a slide valve. Each separate chamber should have its own independent 4 inch drain to waste, installed flush with the chamber floor to allow rapid and unaided cleaning of the chamber. Even a minor protrusion of pipe from the floor will impede the complete purging of debris from each chamber. A useful tip when cleaning out chambers constructed with a drain, is before filling the cleaned chamber to allow clean water to run down the drain pipe to avoid any sludge being retained in the pipe.

Filter Media

Filter cleaning is one of the most time consuming chores of keeping koi pond. This is due to the time taken to empty or clean filter chambers, removing any residual filter media, cleaning that, reassembling the media in the chamber and topping up the pond.

Real time gains, without losing efficiency can be achieved when using filter media such as flocor or other plastic media. If each piece of media is threaded onto lengths of inert, nylon cord, (forming a media necklace), then potentially, hundreds of pieces of flocor can be removed with ease, cleaned, and replaced in minutes. More difficult to find are inert net bags, but which can also achieve the same effect.

A similar trick is possible with brushes, where they are threaded onto horizontal rods, removing six or so silt-laden filter brushes at a time.

Build your pond as large as possible

Initially, this appears to contradict logic, – surely a larger pond will produce more waste? Well, the waste is proportional to the number of koi (and the amount of food they eat) but the stability of the water quality is far superior in a larger body of water. A larger pond will require fewer water changes and as it has a more stable temperature, is less likely to develop nuisance algae or koi health problems

Automatic top-up

All koi ponds, large or small will lose water through evaporation, splashes or even minor weeps through waterfalls. Brick or stonework adjacent to the pond can also act like blotting paper, drawing water up and away from the pond. In any instance, the lost water will need replacing on a regular basis, particularly during our long hot summers! In a pond where plans for such a regular eventuality have not been made, then topping up will soon become a chore. A simple DIY task involving a feed from the mains water supply (ideally through a purifier), will soon solve the problem so efficiently, that you may soon be forgiven if you believe that your pond does not suffer from water loss. A ball cock concealed in a chamber will soon solve the problem.

The previous time savers are all best put in place during the construction of a koi pond. There are a number of other time savers that can reduce the ‘chore factor’ of a pond which can be installed even once a pond is up and running:

Dedicated Hose

Why not take a leaf out of golf courses or country parks and have a dedicated tap concealed but close to the filter. Golf courses are able to maintain lush greens by tapping into a concealed water supply at each green, rather than reeling a hose out from the club house. Even unravelling a hose from the garage can be a disincentive to carry out much needed filter maintenance and the prospect of rolling it up again is sufficient deterrent for most. Water close by and literally on tap will prove to be so much easier to use that time maintaining the filter should drop significantly.

With Blanket weed on the increase, much of a koi keepers time can be spent removing or otherwise dealing with this plague. Besides using one of the more mainstream algae controls or killers, other DIY methods can prove effective. As algae require a combination of sunlight and nutrients to thrive, a long term, passive method of controlling blanketweed growth can be achieved by erecting shading over a pagoda. This can dramatically cut the light that algae thrives on, – thus reducing its growth and saving your time from removing its beardlike growths.

Take a break

Progressively more koi keepers are looking to heat their ponds over winter, but if you want more free time and fewer chores (but can still survive a few months without meaningful koi interaction), then heating your pond is not a wise move. Many still believe (and I am one of them), that koi benefit from a period of colder weather through which they will lie in a quiescent state. This also is beneficial to koi indirectly by causing populations of their pathogens and parasites to decrease in the pond. If you offer your koi a season-less year by heating the pond, you too will be active throughout winter, feeding, cleaning, spending money and at times, worrying.


This is a time each day when you can become fully interactive with your koi. However, it can prove a little tying at times, making you feel that you should be back at the pool side each day to feed your koi, (even though they can manage very well on a limited feeding regime). To overcome this, an autofeeder can be installed and used to dispense a day’s (or weekends) feed at regular intervals, freeing you to have at least a weekend off koi duty.

Play it safe

If any number of your koi are struck down with disease, koi keeping can soon see your pond turning from a pleasure pool to a pond of despair. In this instance, in addition to your koi demanding more time, they too can soon cause you stress through worry and concern, especially when contemplating the value (both economic and sentimental) of those koi that are under threat. Follow the golden rules of quarantine (where possible), stocking gradually and from reputable sources followed by careful feeding and regular water quality monitoring and you should be rewarded with health koi. It is worth noting that in an article on making koi keeping less burdensome, that important activities such as testing water and watching koi behaviour cannot be replaced by short-cuts.

Time Saving Top Tips:

As most time consuming activities are maintenance-related, try to reduce these first without compromising koi health.

Spend time koi watching. Use them to identify any problems quickly so you can respond to them quickly.

Select a set of dedicate cleaning equipment that can be stored close to the pond. This will reduce the need for you to gather equipment from various different places, speeding up the cleaning process.

Continue to carry out water changes and test water quality. They will save you time in the long run by maintaining healthy koi.

Kill blanketweed and string algae.