March 15

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March 15, 2020

Reduce Muck, and enjoy crystal clear pond water this season using this simple guide to Muck control. 

Spring is right around the corner. Even though the ice is not completely thawed yet, you can see a build up of leaves and debris that has settled and made its home on the floor of your pond. It can only be described with one word… MUCK! This guide to muck control will help you clear the water and get your pond looking its best. 

First let’s clear the air… I mean water (pun intended). Understand that there is no way to completely eliminate pond muck, nor would you want to. The muck on the floor of your pond is great for aquatic plants. Most pond owners don’t realize muck build up is a problem until it’s out of control and a BIGGER problem than it needs to be. 

What is Muck

Muck is that nasty slimy dark build up of organic material you find on the floor of your pond. It consists of leaves, decomposing plants, dead algae, fish waste, and just about whatever else blows into the pond throughout the year. Even uneaten fish food that falls to the bottom contributes.

pond sludge 3

Accumulating quietly over time and if left unchecked, muck can turn into a problem that you never saw coming. A small amount of muck on the bottom of a pond is normal. It is rich with nitrogen and phosphorus, a great plant food. 

This muck rests on the bottom of your pond. Aerobic bacteria (beneficial bacteria) in the water slowly break down this excess waste. It’s a slow process, and if the debris piles up too quickly, the balance is thrown off and too much muck becomes an issue.

Issues Caused By Excess Muck

Let’s start at the beginning, the good bacteria in your pond or lake that break down the muck and sludge need oxygen to live. As the muck breaks down, it uses up available oxygen. The more muck and debris that builds up, the more oxygen is used. If the oxygen is depleted too much, the beneficial bacteria can not survive.

When there is no more free oxygen in the water to be used, the good bacteria die (aerobic bacteria) and the anaerobic bacteria (bad bacteria) take over. This bacteria begins to partially break down the muck. The production of hydrogen sulfide is a byproduct of this. That's the stinky rotten egg smell you may encounter when cleaning out your pond.

pond sludge 2
pond sludge 1

As this process continues, more harmful chemicals are produced like ammonia, methane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. All are harmful to fish, insects, and aerobic bacteria (the good guys). So basically you have a combination of little to no free oxygen in the water that is full of toxic gas and chemicals. Not the situation you want to be in.

A situation like this can get out of hand quickly. Low oxygen and high toxins can result in fish kills along with unwanted algae blooms. Not to mention unwanted guests like leeches.

Major Issues Caused By Excessive Pond Muck 

  • Muck is a breeding ground for leeches
  • Foul smell
  • Depleted  oxygen levels
  • Gasses poisonous to fish, insects and beneficial bacteria
  • Excessive algae growth
  • Lower dissolved oxygen putting stress on fish and other aquatic life

How To Control Muck

Ok now that we know what muck is, where it comes from and what it does, what can we do about it? Treating the symptoms is only a short term solution. Getting to the root of the problem and taking care of the cause is the key to keeping balance in your water system.

If you don’t think you have a problem with muck, you are in luck and will have an easier time dealing with it. Here are the keys to keeping pond sludge and muck to a minimum:

Good Filtration 

This is 1one of your first lines of defense. Keeping water moving and adding a skimmer box to your outdoor water feature will take care of a good percentage of leaves and other debris that find their way into your pond.

Your skimmer box should be placed as directly opposite as possible from your water return line. This creates a natural water flow that will pull in just about anything that may fall onto the water's surface. Here are some great skimmer boxes:

Overstocking of Fish

Ok I get it, you couldn’t resist. Just one more koi, I mean look at this one it’s awesome. Before you know it, you need to make another pond for all those beautiful creatures. Try to show some restraint and keep your number of fish to a healthy number.

Depending on the size of your pond, there is a basic rule of thumb when it comes to the amount of fish you should have. According to fishkeepingworld.com you should have 10 gallons of water for every inch of full grown koi. One koi needs a minimum of 250 gallons. 

Overfeeding Fish

I know they look hungry, and they seem to beg worse than the dog during thanksgiving dinner, but you should only give your fish as much food as they can eat for about 5 minutes. Any more is a waste.

Adding Beneficial Bacteria

This is a must. Boosting the population of beneficial bacteria will help maintain and reduce the build up of muck. This needs to be done on a regular basis, consistently once the water temperature gets above 45 degrees F. 

Trimming Back Plants

Keeping your aquatic plants like lilies and water iris trimmed not only looks better, but it also reduces the amount of plant debris that winds up on the bottom. Trim back yellowing foliage before it becomes a problem.

Using A Leaf Net In The Fall

What’s that saying… oh yeah, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So true in this case. Save yourself tons of work by keeping the leaves out in the first place. Using a pond net is perfect for this. Be sure to keep an eye on it though, as when it gets filled with leaves the net may sag into the water and act like a giant tea bag. The tannins from the leaves will turn your water a brownish color.

Control Muck With Proper Aeration

Finally the most important thing you can do to control muck in your pond is to have proper aeration (link to our article on aeration). By adding dissolved oxygen to the water column you encourage beneficial bacteria growth and allow it to do its job.  

Oxygen can be added in a number of ways. The two most common are by means of an aerator (link to Amazon) with a diffuser on the bottom of your pond. The other is by having a waterfall or fountain (link to solar power fountain article). The water gets exposed to the oxygen in the air, then returns to the pond water filled with oxygen.

When there is oxygen present throughout the water column, it gives beneficial bacteria a boost. The beneficial bacteria can break down the muck because of the presence of oxygen. Oxygen also allows other forms of insects to do their part and “chow down” on the muck. The organic debris is turned into carbon dioxide and water from the bacteria. 

This process can be sped up by adding additional beneficial bacteria on a regular basis. Don’t expect a “one and done” type of fix. It takes time for bacteria to do its job. 

Bacteria needs to be added on a consistent basis for it to really be effective at eliminating muck. Just provide an oxygen rich environment for it to thrive. Here are some recommendations for beneficial bacteria that we have used in our ponds:

Muck Control In The Backyard Koi Pond

If muck has gotten out of hand in your backyard pond, you may need to physically remove it. This is usually done in the spring when you are opening the pond. There are a couple of things you can do here. 

Water Change

This is not something we recommend unless your pond is beyond hope. Doing this will reset the biology of the pond and may take a bit of time for it to come back into balance. You will need a holding tank (link to Amazon) for your fish and other creatures that call your pond home.

Catching your fish is another challenge all on its own. Be sure to cover your holding tank to keep predators out, and to keep the fish from jumping out. Once you have removed your fish, begin to drain your pond.

Do not change more than 70 percent of the water. Keeping that little bit of water will help get your pond in balance after you fill it back up.

Clean out all the muck you can and then fill your pond back up. Water from the town or city contains chlorine and other chemicals, so make sure you add dechlorinator and test the water before you put your fish back.

I let my pond run overnight and test the water the next day before I return my fish.

Physical Muck Removal

If you are on a budget and don’t wish to drain your pond because of the risks and work involved, your best bet is to use a net like the pond shark to remove as much muck as you can. 

Be sure your filtration system is running when you do this so it can filter out any of the muck and sludge you may have stirred up.

Another way is to use a pond vacuum. These work great to remove the sludge on the bottom without disrupting the water too much. You get the benefits of draining your pond without removing fish or losing your biological balance.

Pond vacuums are a great investment, and will save you lots of work in the long run. Here are our recommendations.

Muck Control In Large Ponds and Lakes

Larger pond owners will need to take a different approach. If you have a large pond or small lake, you may consider dredging as the answer to your muck problem. Dredging is the act of physically removing silt and other sediment from waterways by means of heavy equipment..  

According to clean-flo who's article references the USEPA claims that: Although dredging removes silt and debris it does nothing to improve the quality of the water.

Dredging merely removes silt and other debris, while at the same time stirring up the muck and reintroducing it higher up in the water column. This has a more negative effect on water quality than if it was never dredged to begin with.

For larger ponds and lakes, chemical treatments and the addition of bacteria may be the fastest way to get your pond back in balance again. As stated earlier proper aeration will keep it in balance after the fact. Any size pond will benefit from the addition of an aeration system. Here are some aerator systems for large ponds.


Conclusion

As you can see there is no single answer to completely eliminate muck and sludge from your pond. These guidelines apply to any size pond you’re dealing with. Keep your water aerated, debris to a minimum while adding beneficial bacteria on a regular basis.

Pond management doesn’t need to be difficult. Following the steps above will keep your water feature balanced so you can enjoy a healthy pond ecosystem season after season. Which of these have you implemented to keep muck under control in your pond? Best of luck in the season ahead, and until next time… enjoy your backyard water garden.

~Jeff

About the author

Jeff

I love being outdoors and hands on DIY. If you share my passion, you are in the right place. If I can help one person surprise themselves with the success of a project, then this website is a success.

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