Pond Algae Control - Natural Solutions to Chemicals

Backyard ponds have grown immensely in popularity over the last 20 years.  This interest has spawned an industry in pond-building, in everything from aquatic plants to pond liner material.  Most recently, the industry has developed a new focus on creating environmentally-friendly ponds, which covers everything from the responsible sustainment of wildlife to natural methods of pond algae control.

Decades ago, pond algae control was achieved largely through the use of chemicals, along with pumps and filters.   In the wake of the global warming crisis, many of today's pond owners are trying to achieve this through natural methods.  Each method of dealing with algae blooms (or, green water) has advantages and disadvantages, and these must be weighed against the type of pond that you have, the area in which you live, whether your pond is large or small, and the surrounding environment.  Here are some common examples of both methods, and their possible impact on your pond and the environment:

The natural method(s):  These methods include combining commercial pumps and filters with specific types of vegetation and wildlife (koi fish and turtles for example) to create a self-cleaning, interdependent eco-system.  One example of a natural pond algae control system is planting an under water garden of native greenery, then stocking it with goldfish.  Fish naturally secrete ammonia into the water.  The right balance of plants and fish means that the vegetation will convert the ammonia into nitrates, and then use the nitrates as nutrients. 

If you do not plan to keep fish in your pond, then you need to choose the right number and combinations of underwater garden plants.  The wrong plants, or having too many or too few can lead to an over-abundance of algae. 

One method that is popular with farm ponds is the use of barley straw.  This method is based on the theory that its decomposition in pond water releases certain chemicals which naturally control algae.  While many pond owners have sworn by this method for years, it has never been conclusively proven by science.  However, if you're willing to experiment, then using barley straw is probably not doing any harm.

And finally, there are naturally based bacteria and enzyme products that help support a pond's natural means for keeping it clear and balanced. These come in many brands and forms but the primary term used for such products is "beneficial bacteria".

Chemical methods:  Companies such as Tetra and others have been producing algaecide chemicals for years.  Often, these types of products work very well if used correctly.  In fact, many experts agree that chemical algaecides are the most efficient and effective way to kill most types of algae, including blue, green, and hair/string algae.  However, with new information emerging regularly about the impact of chemicals of any kind on our environment, many people are naturally concerned about minimizing their use.

If you do choose to use a chemical method, following the instructions explicitly is critical.  Applying too little of a product can lead to more serious problems, possibly even growth of bacteria.  Too much can be devastating to plants, wildlife, and the surrounding environment. 

Is pond algae always a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  A long walk in the woods will probably reveal that many natural ponds are covered with algae and yet do not pose a problem to nature.  When it comes to backyard ponds, sometimes algae is simply an aesthetic nuisance, but isn't harmful in any way.  If, however, you're trying to raise fish and they are being choked out by an abundance of algae, some elimination may be necessary.

Visiting a pond supplies retailer can help answer questions you may have.  A local store will be able to give you advice that is specific to your area.  You'll probably get the best information from a store that specializes in aquatic plants, but your local garden shop may be knowledgeable too. 

In the end, whether you choose a natural or a chemical method of pond algae control may be based upon your social and environmental convictions.  Many chemical algaecides have been used for decades and have never posed a problem.  However, it is generally agreed that in the age of global warming, if you can find an effective natural method then this would be a positive choice to make.