Get year-round enjoyment from water garden

By Ted Schaaf
Gardens on Spring Creek

As we find ourselves spending more time enjoying our back yards, many gardeners are rediscovering the joy of water gardening.

There’s something inherently soothing about sitting next to these gardens. I find ponds enjoyable, due in part to their aquatic life. Some of the simple pleasures found in these ponds are the cattails swaying in the breezes, pond lilies reflecting their beautiful blooms off the water and the colorful fish that bring excitement to these gardens.

At the Gardens on Spring Creek, our water garden is by far the favorite destination within our children’s garden. Its mascot, Kobe the fish, happily greets all of our visitors.

Spring Creek
Ian Jochems, an intern at the Gardens on Spring Creek, and volunteer Ken Dunnington perform spring maintenance on the water garden pumps in Fort Collins. –Photo by Julia Ambrosich


As with other areas of the garden, springtime is the most important time to get off on the right foot as far as water gardens are concerned. This is a time for cleaning out debris that was deposited into the pond over the winter. The next step is to check your perennial plants. Are they in need of division? If so, divide plants and place them into new water garden pots. Be sure to place several fertilizer tablets deep into the soil of all of your perennial plants.

Algae are best controlled with bio-pond chemicals and barley bales. Barley bales act as natural pond cleaners and reduce many forms of algae. They have worked very well for us at the gardens. Place one bale into your water garden for every 1,000 gallons of water. Barley bale extract can also be added, as the bales will need to be in the water four weeks before they begin to work properly. A pond vacuum is very helpful in removing the buildup of sludge in your pond. This decaying matter can be especially harmful to your fish. Skimmer boxes should be serviced, cleaning or replacing filters along with reinstalling your pumps.


Summer is a great time of year to enjoy the full benefits of owning a water garden. If maintenance was attended to during the spring, your pond should begin to find a balance in its water ecology. Basic maintenance, such as removing yellowing leaves from your pond lilies and feeding your fish, will become pleasurable adventures.

Put on a good pair of lightweight chest waders and get in the water for maintenance. It’s not for the faint of heart, as other aquatic creatures will also find a way of migrating into your pond. We find both crawdads and frogs in our pond at the gardens. Dragonflies are common visitors as well and always create a stir of excitement.

Perhaps the most important task is to keep your pond filters cleaned. Reusable, plastic mesh filters can be easily hosed off – it takes only a matter of minutes to do so. Koi will also require daily feeding as there isn’t enough natural food in a pond to feed these very large fish. Only feed your fish the amount of food that can be eaten within 20 minutes.


Fall brings about a change in your pond ecology. As water temperatures cool down, plants such as pond lilies begin to lose their leaves. At this time of year removing dead and fallen leaves from trees nearby becomes a daily chore. Fish will also begin to become less active, and feeding them is no longer necessary. A general rule is to stop feeding fish when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees. In order for fish to remain in your pond year-round, your pond will need to be a least 3 feet in its deepest part.

Remove and store tropical pond plants for the winter. These plants must have bright light if they are to survive indoors. Perennial plants will benefit by cutting back the dying foliage. If pumps are not used during the winter, it’s best to remove them from the pond, placing them in a bucket of water during the winter months. At this time of year your pond will begin to settle into a time of winter dormancy, eagerly awaiting the return of spring.

Happy gardening!

Ted Schaaf is the horticulturist at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins. Learn more about events and opportunities at

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