Grit Blogs > Tackling the Country Life

Algae and Milfoil and Muck, Oh My!

By Steve Daut


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“If ever, if ever a wiz there was, the wizard of ponds is one because, because of the wonderful things he does.” Is it just me, or does this whole pond treatment thing seem like magic? Who is the man behind the algae curtain, and through the magic of chemicals, can he really deliver the perfect pond he promises?

In my past life as a geologist, what I learned is that there is a natural progression to any small, shallow body of water, especially in the muck soils of Michigan. That is, they turn into swamps. It seems that the trick in pond management is to slow the process to an imperceptible crawl, with occasional radical intervention to reverse the process. And so far, it doesn’t look like there’s any way to do it on the cheap.

It all depends on your goal, of course, and on your definition of cheap. My definition of cheap is, well, as near to free as possible. And I just want to have some good fish out there and eventually in my frying pan, but I’m philosophically (and financially) opposed to dumping chemicals in the thing every time I get a little algae build-up.

So here’s what my research indicates so far as regards Michigan:

If you buy copper sulfate in pellet or powder form, it works to get rid of algae at the beginning of the season but not when the stuff goes bionic later in the summer. If you don’t mind a little (actually a lot!) of hard work, you can skim algae off the top with a pond rake, and it makes a great addition to the compost pile. Bottom weeds can be controlled with blue pond dye, but the best way is to dredge the pond so the slopes are at least 3:1 and the depth is at least 12 feet. I’m not certain about chemical control, but the pond companies that make money selling chemicals claim it’s the best thing since filleted fish. The best way to control any of the green stuff long term is to keep nutrients to a minimum and to leave a buffer of plants growth around the pond. That means keep the fertilizer off the lawn and unnecessary water loads out of the drain field.

From my point of view, the jury is still out on aeration. I guess it improves the fishing and keeps the pond from becoming stagnant, but I’m not sure whether any of the other claims for it are consistent for all types of pond. 

I’m beginning to think the best way to keep the thing under control is to install a concrete liner. But before I do something drastic, I’d like to hear any experiences people have had. What has worked for you, or mechanical, chemical, do it yourself or otherwise?