You need to do your homework to properly maintain ponds.
If you think pond maintenance involves throwing some products into the water and collecting your payment, Phil McCloud has a word of advice.
“You’ve got to take care of the pond like it’s a living organism,” says McCloud, CEO of McCloud Aquatics in Elburn, Ill. “Some think you can throw a few pellets in, squirt some juice and everything is cool. Well, it’s not.”
McCloud Aquatics services 1,500 bodies of water for 750 clients in 13 counties in northern Illinois. Customers include homeowner’s associations, golf courses and municipalities. The ponds are 1 to 5 acres in size and house water features like fish and native plants.
In February of 2014, McCloud, 65, sold off his share of a pond construction business that included pond installations to his brother and went into business full-time offering strictly pond maintenance services.
He and his wife, Cathy, are knee deep in the business and loving it. Pond owners are increasingly interested in keeping their ponds clean and functional, not just ornamental, which drives business for McCloud Aquatics. Last year, the company generated 20 percent gross profit margin, and McCloud is projecting to average a 50 percent growth rate each year for the next five years.
The company hired three college interns this year, will hire six next year and nine the following year, and McCloud says that will be done with the intention of hiring them as opportunities arise. “Our mission is to educate our clients,” McCloud says. “They’re getting more interested in water and how to save it. People are protective of their little ponds. A lot of people care about the water.”
That education depends on a staff of 13 crewmembers, all of whom have been with the company for at least 10 years, and who have degrees in marine biology, fisheries biology and environmental science.
Their expertise is vital to manage not just water, but a thriving ecosystem that includes fish and shoreline plants. McCloud keeps his staff on board year-round, but only works on ponds for six months. During the other months they do routine maintenance of equipment and training.
Weed management for ponds
“Most every body of water wants to be land, it wants to be swamp or marsh,” says George McCloud, CEO of McCloud Aquatics in Elburn, Ill. In other words, there is a constant threat of weeds invading a pond. Weed management in a pond begins with proper maintenance of the body of water in question.
“Recent advances in data collection, chemical and non-chemical treatments, equipment and education have given us more tools to manage bodies of water,” McCloud says.
Beyond proper maintenance of a pond, consider these steps for weed control:
1. Identify the weed species. This is important in choosing the right herbicide or algaecide.
2. Take oxygen readings prior to any application to determine if levels of oxygen are high enough to prevent adverse effects to wildlife and plants from the chemical application. Applications should be postponed if the oxygen level is 5.8 ppm or lower.
3. Choose the proper herbicide/algaecide based on the mandates of the label, including extent of vegetation, weed species controlled, current or proposed water usage, oxygen levels present, and other environmental conditions.
4. Keep the body of water in question free of organic matter. Lawn clippings and other organic matter that inadvertently enters ponds are frequently overlooked by both lawn specialists and homeowners, says Cathy McCloud. The simple act of mowing too close to a pond and allowing clippings to get into a pond encourages algae growth.
When starting a new job, an applicator begins by taking the pond’s vitals to determine pH, temperature, oxygen, presence of bacteria and depth of the pond, the latter which is done with a boat and GPS technology.
From there, they can formulate a plan that could include adding aerators and diffusers to maintain appropriate oxygen levels. McCloud Aquatics uses boats to add a specially blended biological treatment that incorporates bacteria, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
BJ Linger, owner of BJL Aquascapes in Colts Neck, N.J., has increasingly turned to pond maintenance to drive his business in Monmouth County and the surrounding area. Linger, who has been in the pond construction business for about 14 years says he shied away from pond maintenance the first decade, but is now moving in that direction.
“I can keep more guys busy maintaining ponds than building ponds,” he says, adding that maintaining a pond for a client can also lead to renovation work and upgrades.
Keeping ponds clean and free of weeds and other contaminants is a somewhat simpler for backyard ponds than ponds measured in acreage. Linger says it’s harder for weed seeds to germinate in smaller ponds that often have moving water from waterfalls or fountains.
Ponds with lots of sludge and organic matter are usually completely drained, which can be done with the same pump that is used to create a waterfall in a water feature. A wet/dry vacuum and 5-gallon bucket is the equipment of choice to remove the sludge from the bottom of the pond. Linger then uses a power washer to clean the rocks and other components. While he’s at it, he’ll inspect and clean the skimmer and filters.
The author is a freelance writer based in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.