There are few things more disappointing for the water gardener than to see the water of your lovingly built pond turn soupy green. In the past, dealing with the curse of green water could often turn into a major headache, but today, combining some of the old, time-honoured remedies with a spot of modern technology can usually be relied on to sort the problem out, once and for all.
Green water is caused by the growth of large numbers of single-celled algae, which live suspended in the water and is fuelled by light and excess nutrients in the water – typically making its appearance as the days begin to get sunnier in the spring.
Although it is most commonly encountered in recently constructed ponds, where the water chemistry and planting has not yet settled down, older, more established water features are not immune.
The principal culprit is nitrate, a nutrient which forms naturally as left-over fish food, fish faeces and dead plant material decays. Nitrate test kits are widely available and very simple to use, but often simply clearing out fallen leaves, cutting and discarding dead water-plant foliage and avoiding over-feeding your fish can make a big difference.
Natural Control Methods
A variety of methods can help to deal with green water. Natural methods include avoiding fertilising the pond itself – nor the area around it – removing decaying matter, not over-stocking with fish and sensible planting.
Surface plants compete with algae for light and so having as much as a half or two-thirds of your pond covered with vegetation can make a big difference, while trees or bushes can also be used to give shade, further helping to reduce the levels of sunlight reaching the water. However, these approaches may not always be enough in themselves, as green water may still happen in early spring, before the protective plants have developed new foliage.
For another natural additive, barley straw could fit the bill. Administered either as pouches of straw, or doses of straw extract, it is an approach which some have hailed as a miracle cure – though not all pond-keepers are unanimous in this opinion. It takes a month or two to show any effect, but the natural enzymes are said to have remarkable abilities to inhibit algal growth – making it effective against blanket weed also.
Chemical treatments are also available to deal with the problem. Although they can be expensive and do not provide lasting protection, they can be very effective, particularly for newly constructed ponds. They must be chosen carefully if the pond has already been planted or stocked with fish and if you do decide to go down this route, then reading the label carefully and using the product in accordance with the instruction is obviously critical.
Perhaps the single greatest advance in recent years in the battle against green water has been the development of reliable and affordable ultra-violet (UV) clarifiers. Aside of its effectiveness in destroying the algae which cause the problem, this approach has a number of other advantages. It has no effect on water quality and because it takes place away from the pond itself, it poses no threat to the plants or fish. Easy to install and cheap to run, a good quality UV unit combined with a biological filter system and an appropriate planting regime offers the best possible means of dealing with the green water scourge – though it is important to remember to change the UV bulbs every year. A number of manufacturers produce UV units to suit a range of pond sizes, widely available from garden centres and other retail outlets.
Left unchecked, green water algae can turn the most beautiful of water features into a pitiful sight in a very short time, but the good news is that with a little careful thought and a bit of practical effort, it should be fairly straightforward to keep your pond crystal clear.