Stocking and Balancing


Once construction is complete (including adjacent landscaping) and the pond is filled, plant materials may be stocked. Waiting 12 to 24 hours after filling will help plants recover quicker from the stress of being moved. It is best to allow 2 to 3 weeks after filling before adding Fish and/or Scavengers. It is vital to use a Neutralizer to detoxify chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, that municipalities may add to the water, before stocking.

Keep two things in mind when stocking the pond, aesthetic beauty, and ecological balance.
Aesthetic Beauty is easy to achieve since many ornamental aquatic plants are strikingly beautiful and when grown properly look stunning in any setting.
Waterlilies and Lotuses are typically the featured plants. They obviously sport showy flowers but many have dazzling foliage as well. Shallow-water plants, also known as "bog" or "marginal" plants, can be used to create visual transition from water to pond edge. Some "bogs" have colorful flowers, though many do not and are grown for their foliage texture and/or color.
m Generally ornamental aquatic plants mix and match very well in most pond settings. Collect ideas from photos and/or reliable suppliers since dozens of varieties are available and choices may seem endless.


Waterlilies are available in Hardy and Tropical varieties. They produce beautiful flowers from late spring to early fall and provide shade and cover for the pond. They prefer still water 15" to 24" deep and full sun, though many types will perform well in semi-sun conditions. Plant in heavy top- soil preferably with some clay in 10" to 24" diameter aquatic plant containers then fertilize with tablets regularly for optimum results. Hardy varieties last season after season when left below pond ice in the winter and divided as needed. Tropicals require protection along with some understanding and patience to overwinter but produce more flowers with a longer lasting season. They also provide blue and purple flowers that Hardy types do not. Most pond owners will treat Tropicals as annuals and create a "fresh look" each summer by adding one or two Tropicals to accompany some traditional Hardy Lilies.

Lotuses are very exotic in appearence though are very winter hardy. They grow like lilies starting with floating pads in the spring that eventually push up to several feet above the water surface on sturdy stems creating a bold , vertical, specimen plant. A shorter 4 to 6 week mid-summer bloom period is sweetened by incredible flowers held above the foliage, some as large as a person's head! They prefer the same soil and fertilizer as waterlilies. Plant Lotus in 16" to 24" (or larger) diameter Containers. Patience may be required as flowers may not appear until the second year. They prefer still water 2" to 6" deep over the soil with full or nearly full sun conditions.

Bog Plants sometimes refered to as "Marginals", make up a broad range of plant types that grow in shallow water. Available in Hardy and Tropical varieties, there is a bog plant to fit any taste or setting. Some have low, sprawling growth such as Parrot's Feather (myriophyllum aquaticum), and others are upright to several feet such as Thalia (thalia dealbata). Included are many types of irises, reeds, rushes, taros, and even floating-leaf varieties such as Water Clover (marsilea mutica). Most "Bogs" do well in the same heavy soil used for other aquatic plants. Plant them in containers sized to the proportions of a specific plant and final location. Most grow ideally with 1" to 2" of water over the soil, though many will do fine in 6" or more. Place the containers on a shelf in the pond or use items such as bricks, blocks, or similar to gain the proper depth. Pond owners may want to move the plants once they are fully grown out to achieve the "look" they envision. Using bog plants of various leaf textures and colors in combinations can create dramatic visual effects. Hardy varieties are perennials in most U. S. climates. Most tropical varieties are easily overwintered if desired (without a greenhouse).

Irises fall under the broader category of Bog Plants yet they deserve special mention due to the niche they fill in the water garden. They provide a colorful period of flowering just ahead of the waterlilies, creating a longer season of backyard pond beauty. Plant or divide after the bloom period to ensure flowering the following spring. Use nearly any size aquatic planting container and place the soil line at, or just above the water surface. Irises appreciate some organic material in the soil though it must be used sparingly to avoid discoloring the water. Most water Irises are winter hardy to at least Zone 5.

Submerged Plants are attractive enough, yet they grow mainly underwater. Therefore their true value to the pond is one of function, not aesthetic. Typically sold as un-rooted cuttings in "bunches" they will readily root in sand (preferred), soil or gravel. They should always be planted (do not allow to just float) in containers sized to the desired number of bunches. A 16" diameter container will hold up to 20 bunches. Submerged plants are winter hardy.

Scavengers may be used as natural cleaners in the pond. The two animals suited for this purpose are (live bearing) Trapdoor Snails and/or Bullfrog Tadpoles. Make certain only this specific snail is stocked since it is the only aquatic snail that will not eat live plant material other than algae. The latin name of this snail is long and not likely known by most suppliers. So avoid buying snails that are sold by pet/aquarium stores, that lay eggs, or cannot be otherwise identified. Tadpoles sold are usually Bullfrog (rana catesbiana) since they are large enough to endure handling, shipping and selling. Pond owners should be aware that they will become frogs within two years of purchase. Adult bullfrogs are no longer effective scavengers, and though they will eat flying insects, they will also consume small fish.

Fish bring many things to a backyard pond such as more color, and of course movement! They connect the owner directly to their pond by becoming responsive pets when fed. What is important to understand is that no other living element will affect the management of a backyard pond than fish. More specifically the type (Koi or Goldfish), and the quantity. Put simply, the more fish you have the more filtration the pond will require. Koi and Butterfly Koi are boldly colored carp that will grow to 12" to 36" long. Their size and nature mean they should be considered early in the planning phase of a pond project (see Pond Design outline.) Goldfish varieties suitable for outdoor ponds include Comets, Fantails, and Shubunkins. They come in a wide range of colors, patterns, and body shapes. Their maximum size is 12" to 14" and they have less impact on pond management than Koi. All of these ornamental pond fish will tolerate water temperatures to just above freezing. Fish serve one function in the pond by consuming all mosquito larvae assuring the pond breeds no biting pests. FYI: Mosquito bits and dunks will safely and easily eliminate these pests in ponds without fish.


Stocking for Ecological Balance means to follow certain ratios when adding live goods to achieve and maintain clear, high quality water with minimal algae growth. Best of all, a well balanced pond is a beautiful, stable environment that requires minimal human attention.

Stock plants with floating leaves such as Waterlilies and Floating-Leaf Bogs to cover 60% to 70% of the pond's surface. Ponds over 100 sq. ft. will need only 40% to 50% coverage. This blocks light penetration into the water column making less light available to the algae.

Stock Submerged Plants at the rate of one bunch per square foot of pond surface. Stock one bunch per 2 to 3 sq. feet in ponds over 100 sq. ft. These plants are natural filters consuming nitrates directly from the water. Nitrate is a compound produced naturally through the nitrogen cycle, a result of the breakdown of organic wastes. This nitrate is used by plants (mainly algae) as a food source. Limiting the nitrates equates to limiting algae growth.

Stock vertical plants such as Lotus or Bog Plants based simply on desired visual effect. Consider using them to "screen" or hide an undesirable view such as tubing or electrical cords exiting the pond.

Stock Scavengers at the same rate as submerged plants. One animal per sq. ft. surface, etc. These creatures consume organic waste before it is converted into nitrate by the Nitrogen Cycle. They also directly consume algae.

Stock Goldfish at the rate of 1" of total fish per 5 gallons of pond water. Stock 1/2" of Koi per 5 gallons of water. These rates allow room for growth and reproduction. Koi make growing submerged plants, certain waterlilies and bog plants difficult, if not impossible. Due to this, ponds with even one Koi require supplemental Filtration to achieve balance. Ponds with Goldfish may need additional filtration as well, though a properly planted (stocked) pond will need less. Remember pond fish grow and may reproduce rapidly so always plan for the future when considering filtration for the pond.

These guidelines for "stocking for balance" will work, even without a pump or filter if fish are not stocked or kept to a minimal amount. They will work in nearly all size ponds including container ponds. Each of the plant categories have plants suitable for smaller scale environments. Patience will be required as this desired "balance" normally takes time (up to several weeks) though once achieved normally lasts all season.