The Three Laws

Oh my. Oh dear.

Either the Pond Fairy has struck again in the depths of the night, or you’ve just paid your local landscaper a wad o’ cash to combine the fatal, ineffable trio of water, plants and fish in your very own back yard. You need to know one incredibly important fact. It is central to the entire hobby of water gardening.


Once you have settled down at dusk by the side of your new pond with a glass of fine wine in one hand and a great trashy novel in the other, you become aware of a feeling you were not expecting. No, it isn’t inner peace and serenity. You need a Buddhist monastery for that, and you look lousy in saffron anyway. It’s not pride and satisfaction, either. That lasted just about until you had to pull out and rinse off that mucky filter pad on your submersible pump, and discovered one of those expensive fish the landscaper sold you dead in the skimmer looking like a live grenade. No, what you are feeling is the common malaise and unrest that all ponders feel once their current water feature is installed, paid for and running. It is the eerie and ominous, all-pervasive psychic effect of the Three Laws to which you are now, like all other water gardeners, frog fanciers and koi keepers, immutably subject. You find yourself looking at that prize rose bed and reflecting that it’s getting really tough to keep up with those darn Japanese beetles every year. The lawn is just too much trouble to keep groomed. Those annual beds are just so …tacky, somehow. Wouldn’t a perennial bed be easier? Maybe a more natural setting, with bombproof aquatics and blooming marginals? You find yourself looking at every home you visit and saying to yourself : ” I’d put the pond…there!”. Well, bucko, once The Laws have you, there is no escape, so you might as well know what you are dealing with.

The First Law:

There Is Always A Better Fish.

Yes, I know your original intent was to build a lovely, low-maintenance water feature with a minimum of critters to worry about, but that baby koi at the fish show was so cute and he really isn’t all that big. Surely the filter mat and lava rock will be able to handle the load. Oh! Look at that 2 year old fish on this website…we need something to eat all those mosquito larvae, anyway.

And so it goes. Pond people are natural enthusiasts and incurable optimists. The pond just isn’t right somehow without something to come wriggling up to the surface when you shake the can of fish food. It’s real easy to get overpopulated. And fish grow. Fast. Real fast. Which leads us naturally to…

The Second Law:

There Is Always A Better Filter.

Shortly after buying your umpteenth fish and introducing him into the pond, you realize that the population does not look happy. They are sulky and lethargic. They are not eating and they look unhappy. If you are smart and thinking ahead, you have already bought a good test kit for ammonia and nitrite, and have just found that your pond scores high on both. That lava rock at the top of the falls just isn’t doing it, folks, so it’s time to do your research. There is an answer for every filtration problem, even if you didn’t know that the question even existed. It is important to understand that there are three kinds of filters (chemical, mechanical and biological) and each has its place in The Great Swamp of Ponding.

Chemical filters (charcoal, zeolite and the like) remove chemical impurities and pollutants from the water by binding them to their own chemical structure. They are usually used in short-term or emergency situations, such as sales or show vats, but have no place in the outdoor pond. Most water gardens and koi ponds combine mechanical and bio-conversion filtration in one or more containers of varied design. Pond filtration is one of the most rapidly developing and hotly debated aspects of the hobby. Gravity-fed vs. pressurized. To UV or not to UV. Lava rock or Siporax ( or Tuffy sponges?). The choices are endless, and what may have worked for Cousin Earl in his 25,000 gallon indoor showplace will be a gurgling disaster in your 550 gallon stream and pool.

The solution is to ask questions, and never entirely believe any of the answers until you have seen them work. Find other hobbyists (look for gardening clubs, hobbyist websites like this one (gasp!), koi clubs) and pick their brains. Don’t be shy. Any experienced water gardener and koi fancier has been where you are right now, has done the fix, bought the t-shirt, and then used it to plug the leak in the hose that was supposed to be leakproof. Describe what you’ve got in a gathering of pond people, and you’ll hit 14 “bore-buttons” simultaneously. Ponders love to talk, especially about their disasters and how they fixed them. Your solution is Out There.

A caveat, if you will, before going on. Never believe a filter manufacturer when he tells you what the “capacity” of his filter is. For the safety of your critters (which become family members very quickly), cut the claims by half, and install accordingly. Your goal in filtration is to expose every molecule of water in your pond to your bio-converter at least once an hour. Make sure your pump is up to the strain and your filter and piping can handle the flow.

Oh, too much splash? Fish growing fast? No room for that lily or lotus? Ah, Grasshopper, you have just run afoul of …

The Third Law:

There Is Never Enough Water.

Almost every water gardener starts small, thinking that small size means low maintenance. This is not entirely true. A pond that is shallow will be more susceptible to wide shifts in temperature and pH, and is more subject to catastrophic reactions to pollutants and other toxic events, especially with high fish populations. Ask any ponder; almost without exception, he or she will tell you that the showplace you are viewing in her idyllic back yard is actually the fifth pond on that site (if you count the two water lilies in the muck bucket!), and if they had really been thinking during construction, they would have dug down another foot, at least.

A true pond owner is eternally greedy for gallonage. Big volumes give you stability and room for fish and plants, and if designed right, also can be made routinely almost (note the word “almost”, it’s a killer!) self-maintaining. Ponds are very much like model railroad layouts. There is generally at least one glitch needing repair, and there is always one more improvement that will make it just perfect. If a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into, you can achieve the same sense of accomplishment with a pond, which is a hole in your yard full of water that you pour money into. Your chances of drowning with a pond are marginally smaller, and you don’t have to travel to do it! A true ponder will tell you that if you are still mowing grass, you do not have enough pond.

Never be afraid to look at your current water garden and envision change. It is what this hobby is all about. See you at the next koi show!