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Algae Basics & Understanding Algae-101

By Peter Yunger, AAG Nurseries, Inc. published Feb 2009

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1. You need to have BALANCE, which then creates HARMONY:  Okay, most of us know that Algae will grow in our beloved aquariums and ponds, not to mention many other water-filled places like your dog’s outside water dish, or your bird bath, etc.  In a nutshell, it is because of nature’s production of excess nutrients and instant imbalances.  If we left them alone, in many years from now, they would indeed balance themselves out naturally; however, we as man want instant gratification of clear, algae-free, sparkling water.  Now, I’m not one for taking short-cuts when it comes to something as important as creating better water quality because the fact is, good things take time.  I often refer to the analogy of a good solid marriage; marriage with a spouse to that of an aquarium or pond.  Initially, the marriage is fresh, beautiful and perfect, then, the honeymoon is over and some bumpy roads may come along, but being the type of person I am, I certainly won’t run from my problems, or mask them with temporary band-aids, you really need to ride it out.  Quick fixes, such as scrubbing out your aquarium or pond and starting over completely will temporarily fix these issues and actually set you back to where you started from in the first place.  The reason why, is this does not allow your good bacteria to start working for you.  A relationship with your aquarium or pond is indeed very much like a marriage.  If you’re impatient and want instant results, our method is not for you.  If you want to continue to build up a good solid foundation for your water feature to grow properly over time, you’ll not see results overnight, but in the long run your results will be glorious, I assure you.  Many will resort to using Algaecides or quick fixes, but personally, I am a strong believer in using natural solutions for combating algae, and know that many algaecides are harmful for our environment all together.  Even my 9 year old son knows this hypothesis remains true as he recently did his 4th grade Science project on Algaecides versus Natural Solutions, and got an A+.  His experiment proved that using Plants, Snails and Fish will correct algae imbalances naturally, instead of using harmful man-made poisonous algaecides that will affect our environment for years to come.  Hey, if a 9 year old little boy can prove this, maybe we need to follow his advice and protect our Mother Earth.  Hmm?  There are many elements that complete this biotope, not just 1 or 2 things.

I’ll touch on a few below.

2. Barley Straw as part of your Natural Solution:   Barley straw is an important part of keeping your pond balanced.  Make sure you are using authentic Barley Straw.  There are many suppliers offering Barley Straw for algae control but many are actually selling cheap Wheat Straw or Oat Straw which is not effective.  High Quality Barley Straw, as it decomposes, slowly releases hydrogen peroxide and humic acid into the water at levels that are toxic to algae but is harmless to other plants and animals.  Most Barley straw will begin to work after it has been installed in your water after 30 days and will last for about 4 months.

3. Algae Types: There are many types of algae that occur under different water conditions, but they are all caused by an abundance of nutrients, usually Nitrates and Phosphates.  Both of these nutrients are naturally occurring in ALL bodies of water.  This is perfectly normal, and perfectly healthy. Look at the pic referenced on this page. This pond is over-run with filamentous algae. The pond looks haunting and beautiful but unfortunately it is not healthy as there is not enough dissolved O2 in the water which affects fish health.  Algae are a single-celled diatom that is not only remarkable but a very strong plant that can grow at extreme temps and varied lighting conditions, just like a weed does in your yard.  There are so many different varieties of algae as well, I’ll mention a few of the most popular: Brown Algae which tends to grow in waterways with less light, Green Slime, Green Hair, and Beard Algae will grow in the presence of more light, and finally Blue-Green Algae, which really is a Cyanobacteria that grows more commonly in marine water, along with Red Algae.  An interesting note on the mentioned algae is that they are now found in freshwater and have adapted to the environment having evolved and acclimated to the water through transfer from brackish water areas (where fresh water rivers meet the seas and oceans).  An excellent example of this is a diatom Golden Algae (Cryophytes) that was originally found in ocean tides.  It is now found in freshwater thru-out the southwest where it produces a toxin that it secretes to paralyze its prey (other bacteria phytoplankton and zooplankton).  The toxin is also capable of killing all gill breathing aquatic life that is exposed to it.
The first thing many people may do when they see algae is a water change.  This is a great start, but the problem is that many go overboard and will do “too many” water changes and not allow the good bacteria to grow.  Microbial Bacteria & a little Patience is needed when you see a bloom as overreacting could be very costly in the long term.

4. Good bacteria is your friend!  If you are using a UV Sterilizer, you may be one of those types of people that need instant gratification and don’t want to wait for the natural solution to start the clarity process.  I have always felt that a pond is a pond, and a swimming pool is a swimming pool.  Many pond keepers get the two confused and want their pond to be as debris-free and crystal clear as their chlorinated pool.  Having debris on the bottom of your pond is acceptable; after all, it is a pond.  Your pool is different.  We entertain at our pool, we swim in it, but our kid’s or even some adults may pee in your pool and this is why we use chemicals like Chlorine to kill germs or bad bacteria.  But again, your pool does not have fish or ornamental plants growing in it, so you need to be educated on what you are dealing with when you are trying to get your pond clear.  My point here, is that a more natural solution will payoff in time, you’ll just have to wait and see. We have customers since the early 1990’s that still use our microbial bacteria products. UV Sterilizer may be the quick fix you need as these are good tools that are very effective in wiping out green water blooms in ponds and is a fast resolve usually within 3 or 4 days. Together with the addition of beneficial bacteria added to your waterway will prove to be better for our environment, and through science we know that these microbe will create an environment in which bad disease and bacteria cannot survive in. Using bacteria in ponds is not a new concept. Your pond or aquarium has been trying to utilize this method since the first drop of water was added, but what stopped it from succeeding was man’s interference, denial of science, or perhaps our always urgent need for faster results using harmful chemicals that have hurt our earth. Its time to make some changes. Let’s begin with why bacteria work so well:

Visualize algae as a single cell organisms (diatoms) absorbing nutrients that are available thru contact.  Bacteria presents an entirely different picture, imagine a muscle bound, shark toothed, voraciously hungry single cell bacteria with a propulsion system that allows it to move about the water column consuming all the nutrients that algae needs to thrive.  Let’s also keep in mind that these bacteria’s clean waste, consume nutrients and double in population every twenty minutes or so as long as food is available.  The bacteria at the end of the life cycle become three elements:  Water, Carbon Dioxide and Protein Mass which provide the finest fish food supplement available at any price.

Our company offers several forms of bacteria: a compressed tablet that is in a solid dormant form, that becomes active once dissolved into the water, a powder form bacteria that is packaged in a dissolvable rice paper pouch that is packed full of bacteria ideal for new ponds, excessive sludge or algae outbreaks, even great for septic systems. Simply toss the pouch in the water, or dissolve it into a large sprayer bottle with water and broadcast with your sprayer. Lastly, we make a concentrated liquid form of bacteria that becomes aggressively active once added to your water. We can help you figure out a bacteria regimen for your actual pond, just ask.

5. Substrates, Gravel, Rock Base: A great way to maintain beneficial bacteria and help control algae is to have a good base substrate in the bottom of your waterway.  In a pond, you may want to use a nice layer of rocks (river rocks/gravel/etc) to allow this bed of healthy bacteria to develop, or in an aquarium, a nice 3” or more layer (nothing less) of gravel or sand.

6. Animals Help with Algae Control:  Having the right kind of animals will help you in your quest for clarity.  Siamese Algae Eaters are one of the best fish for aquarium use.  Many refer to this fish as a “True” SAE because there are imposter fish that look like SAE’s but they are indeed another fish altogether.  Make sure you are buying the True form for best results.  Other popular  aquarium fish used for battling algae issues are Garra (there are several species, but Garra rufa is a goodie).  These fish will eat most nuisance algae such as black beard or green hair algae.  Fish better suited for ponds are: American Flagfish, Chinese High Fin Sharks also known as Batfish, and Blue Amur a.k.a. Taiwan Bitterling, which can handle very cold water and will thrive in a pond that gets algae blooms.  These fish are all ideal for ornamental ponds and will do well in ponds with Koi.  One more fish I will touch on is the White Amur.  This sterile fish is commonly used in larger waterways like golf course ponds, and even some large governmental projects like the C.A.P. (Central Arizona Project).  It can be costly, requiring a lengthy amount of paperwork for permits to obtain and stock this fish and the end result the White Amur will only end up growing to be enormous and completely destructive to ALL plants in your pond and cost you an outrageous reoccurring annual fee.  So, the White Amur is really not a great idea for ornamental ponds at all, and may be more suitable for very few commercial waterways.   Lastly, there are a few snails that are wonderful for ponds; however some snails are delicate such as the Japanese Trap Door Snail which will not do well in very cold water.  The absolute best all-around snail is the Algae Eating Nerite Snail (Neritina spp).  The Nerite is actually a marine snail that our company has pioneered as a freshwater snail since the early 1990’s.  These little fellas will thrive in freshwater, hot water, cold water, NOT eat your plants, will NOT reproduce in freshwater and will lick your aquarium or pond clean.  I simply think that the Nerite is the best snail for every application of algae and water feature.

7. Fish Foods may contribute to your algae:  Many fish foods contain phosphates, especially cheap foods and frozen foods, so make sure you are using a premium food and not allowing for overfeeding.  Limiting the amount and types of food to keep phosphates in check is the best approach.

8. Plants are a part of your solution:  Now don’t think by “just” throwing in a bunch of aquatic plants that this will fix your imbalance.  Make sure aquariums are densely planted and provided with enough iron, this will enable them to out compete with the algae for nutrients.  Co2 injection is not difficult either, and it makes a more stable environment.  In ponds, you’ll want to use lilies and lotus which helps block out the sun’s UV rays and shade your water from the hot Summer sun.   Stocking large quantities of oxygenators such as Hornwort or Anacharis or Pennywort will also help correct imbalances as well.  When calculating bunched plants for your pond, try using 1 bunched plant per surface sq ft of area.  Bog plants are also important as they absorb nutrients through their roots, provide refuge for many fish, block wind, and may also help with soil erosion problems on the shoreline.

9. Salt: I can’t begin to tell you how much the addition of salt is to any pond or aquarium.  It is such an important factor in the balance of your water since it: Protects fish, Heals fish, Promotes Healthy Gill & Thyroid function, Helps curb algae growth, Wipes out many bad bacteria and parasites, and it can be used as a general sanitizer to clean aquatic accessories, and it even helps hatch shrimp eggs!  Dosing can be tricky.  Although many salt manufacturers may suggest a stronger formula using ¾ cup per 100 gallons for water with plants, or use 2 cups of salt per 100 gallons for water without plants, I will agree that those dosages may be right on as an initial hit for disease or first treatment, but if you have a well-balanced pond, you shouldn’t have disease in the first place.  I will tell you a company secret that I often tell many customers about using aquatic salt: Use it in a “sporadic” regimen.  In other words, do not use the exact same amount of aquatic salt in your water every single week/month because it won’t work as well down the road when you really do have an issue, as some diseases may build up a tolerance to the salt.  Change the amounts at every application, and make sure you simply broadcast your salt over the top of your waterway.  Add salt only at water changes.  Water changes are defined as removing 20% of the water capacity, then broadcasting the salt at fill-up time.  Aquarium salt or Pond salt is NOT table salt, however, Kosher Rock Salt is similar.  Moneywise, down the road, it may be cheaper to buy aquatic salt in bulk if you require larger amounts of it.

Here’s the nitty gritty of using salt: Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is commonly used in the health care and maintenance of Koi for treatment of parasites. It will eliminate seven out of nine parasites that are commonly found in Koi ponds, but salt can also cause pond plant damage if it’s concentration is too high.  Maintaining the perfect balance of salt in your fish pond is essential!  Koi and other Pond Fish naturally have salt in their tissues that helps ward off parasites, which they have absorbed from the environment through osmosis.  When salt concentrations are too low, fish can easily be infected by parasites as well as becoming dehydrated.  When levels are just right, osmotic pressure is lower which allows the fish to save energy and its immune system to work properly to ward off disease!

A Do not use salt in your pond at all times. Use salt as needed when needed. If you run salt all the time,
1.You won’t be able to use salt later for nitrite blocking.
2.Your plants will never thrive.
3.Parasites will become adapted to the salinity and will not respond when desperately needed.

B: Don’t run salt in your pond all the time unless you’re in retail or are a nursery/farm.  For retailers and farms like us there’s too much at stake NOT to run it all the time.  For the average pondkeeper however, using salt all the time is a continuous setback for plants and algae, and it creates an eventual immune-condition against Salt by various parasites which may become adjusted/immune to it.

10. Hydrogen Peroxide:  Peroxide is a strong oxidizing agent that serves multiple purposes. It is both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.  After a short while, it breaks down into its base components: oxygen and water. This helps add oxygen to the water for the eggs. It also requires no diluting afterwards.  It is quite simply, the most perfect assistant to egg hatching I have found to date.

11. Peroxide Dosage:  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE PEROXIDE UNTIL YOU COMMIT TO READING THE FOLLOWING FIRST!!!  The hydrogen peroxide used is the common type you find in most grocery stores and pharmacies.  Costco Wholesale is one of my favorites as they sell a larger twin-pack of bottles, affordably priced.  It is a 3% strength solution you are looking for.   Peroxide can be used at a rate of approximately 1 ml per gallon.  Other ways to measure this is 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons. 1 cup per 236 gallons or simply, one of the 16oz peroxide bottles will treat about 473 gallons.  This could be done about 1 time per week with a max dosage of 3 applications in a one month period.  Shut off your waterfall or pumps for an hour and apply hydrogen peroxide full strength in a spray bottle and apply it over your entire pond, spraying everything from rocks to waterfalls and hitting all affected surface areas.  Spraying it on other plants and lilies will not hurt them, but after an hour, turn your pumps back on!  Don’t forget!  Without air or water circulation after a treatment of peroxide, ALL your animals will DIE!    In a week or so, if you used enough peroxide, you’ll see that the hair algae seems to just disintegrate.  Many people claim this happens after the first rain, but it is actually the rain hitting the water that it “appears” to have washed away the remaining disintegrating algae.  You may simply spray your pond down with a hose after a week to get the same results.  Using the Hydrogen Peroxide should not be your primary algae fix, but use it as part of your initial battle along with the above mentioned solutions.   We wouldn’t recommend dosing your pond with Peroxide more than 1 time in the growing season.  Peroxide will also aid in the hatching of fish and shrimp eggs.  Dosage should be repeated every 12 hours or so until eggs have begun to hatch.  Most eggs hatch in 24 to 36 hours.

12. In closing:  I truly hope that this short summary has helped you to understand algae a little better than you did 10 minutes ago, and steer you in the natural direction instead of using short cut band-aids to temporarily fix the real issues behind the rooted problem.  Practicing some of these simple tasks will create balance, and enable you to create and maintain a healthier and harmonious pond or aquarium that will naturally help itself in the long term.  If you require professional water consulting help such as creating a bacteria regimen program, help with designing and building a pond, just call us at our Consulting cell 520-971-1357 I’ll text you my card.  or email   We offer expert advice and natural environmental solutions for many issues specializing in balancing cattle ponds, farm ponds, water retention ponds for irrigating agriculture crops everyone benefits from a better waterway, EVERYONE! From simple or advanced algae control, natural oil-spill cleaning resolutions, chemical-spill resolutions, environmental quality resolutions, wetlands restoration stocking, zoological exhibit planning & development and more since 1987.   Talk to you soon!

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