Pond Start Up - First Steps

Pond Start Up - First Steps

Posted on Aug 18th 2020
Author: Bill Hoffman

A Pond Start Up can seem daunting at first.  You've just built that backyard pond you've been dreaming of and now what? Right now, it is just some rocks and water, but not for long. 

Pond start-up doesn't have to be hard after your pond is built.


Before you start adding koi or other pond fish, we recommend doing the following: 


Test the pH of your pond water 

  • It should be between 7.0 and 8.2. If it is, leave it be. 
  • If it is below 7.0 (acidic) add pH Up.* 
  • If it is over 8.2 (basic) you can add pH Down.* 
    • A pH between 8.2 and 8.8 may be acceptable if fish and plants are okay. 
    • The higher the pH goes above 8.2, the more toxic ammonia becomes to your fish. 

*We highly recommend determining the cause of your high or low pH before treating with chemicals. Compare pond water samples to your tap water to be sure it’s not your source. For more details on exploring this subject, go to "This is a Test…The Chemistry of Your Pond Water." 


Is there chlorine or chloramines in the pond water? 

  • If you are adding city water into the pond it should be treated before any pond fish or aquatic plants are added – Pond Basics Pond Water Conditioner is my water treatment of choice. It will make tap water safe for fish and plants. 
  • If well water is being used it should be treated with a Heavy Metal Neutralizer. Microbe-lift’s Dechlorinator Plus can be added in conjunction with the water conditioner and make it safe for your fish. 

Pond plants are essential in helping to keep ponds healthy and clear 

  • Submerged Aquatics (seaweed) are a must for absorbing nutrients at the depths of your pond. It also provides; a place for eggs as fish spawn, hiding spots for fry, help in controlling water temperatures and in some cases, may even add a little oxygen to the water. 
    • One weighted bundle per two sq. ft. of the pond’s surface area is recommended. 
    • If your pond’s surface is 8’ x 10’you need 40 bundles [ Math: 8x10=80 & 80/2=40 ] 
    • As these plants, hornwort for example, absorb nutrients, they will grow. They can be pinched off and re-bundled for added filtration. 
  • Water Lilies and Lotus are good plants for providing cover on the pond’s surface. Although they don’t do much filtering of the water, having a certain amount of coverage will help control water temps and provide security for your pond fish to swim freely around the pond. 
    • 40-60% of the pond’s surface covered is recommended or one plant for every 15-20 sq.ft. 
    • Water lilies and lotus both offer beautiful colors and textures with their flowers and leaves. 
  • Marginal Plants employ a plethora of jobs responsibilities. They offer beauty, dimension, texture, filtration, food, protection, nesting and naturalization. 
    • Marginal pond plants prefer to be in shallower water along the pond’s edges or in a bog area. 
    • We recommended to have 25% of your perimeter planted with marginals pond plants, or the equivalent amount of plants in an area of good water circulation, like a bog or a stream. 
  • Floating Plants (water hyacinth and water lettuce) are tropical plants. They should not go into your pond water until the water temperatures are around 68 degrees. Their roots dangle in the water from the surface, absorbing suspended nutrients as pond water flows by. The roots also pose as a delightful snack for your finned friends. 
    • Floating pond plants reproduce rapidly and will need to be removed and/or relocated as they grow. 
    • If you have no more room, they make great compost since they are filled with all that fish waste. 

**Remember that plants are filters. The more water that moves around their roots (or leaves for submerged plants), the better job of filtering they do.

The above recommended pond plants are for an average water garden with up to approximately 1” of fish per s.f. of surface area. Pond fish should be fed at the recommended rates and no more. Read the “feeding fish tips” blog for more tips on feeding your goldfish and koi fish. 


Add beneficial bacteria (We recommend MicrobeLift’s P/L or Pond Basics Pond Starter Dry Bacteria

  • These products will introduce bacteria (the good kind) and enzymes into your pond helping to break down and remove organic waste and debris. Follow manufacturer directions or add weekly. 

**Try to allow your new pond to age for a couple of weeks before introducing koi, goldfish or other pond fish. 


Koi, Goldfish and other Pond Fish are not required for a beautiful pond, but they can add so much to your water gardening experience and enjoyment. 

  • When adding fish, or preferably just before, a nitrifying bacteria such as Microbe-Lift’s Nite-Out II or Pond Basics Nitrifying Bacteria Plus should be added. 
  • Pond fish should be added a few at a time to allow the development of nitrifying bacteria to keep up with the additional fish waste (ammonia and nitrites). This will help to keep any toxicity levels from becoming a problem.
  • We recommend adding no more than 1 inch of fish per 1 sq. ft. of surface area in the first year. Remember, fish will grow and multiple so you will want to leave them some growing room. You also do not want to overwhelm the pond filtration system
  • Testing for ammonia and nitrites is highly recommended during this process to protect your fish. Pick up some Pond Test Strips or find them in our garden center.

Follow these guidelines for a successful pond start up and when establishing a brand-new pond, adding koi, or any other pond fish. Most importantly, enjoy your new pond! It is something to be proud of and can be delightful for years to come. 

Welcome to the family and happy ponding! As always, if you need any pond supplies or help, that’s what we are here for. Feel free to contact us