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Note: This article was written while I still lived in Michigan in the 90's. Now that we are in North Carolina the same basic principles still apply.  Digital cameras were not very good in the 90's
Yes that is me in the 90's.  This picture was taken in the spring when we cleaned out our pond. And this is hubby Rich and an employee.  Every one got involved in the spring cleaning of the 5,000 gallon pond at our Michigan store.

The first thing you want to do is get your pump and filter up and running if it was shut down for the winter months. This will add aeration to the water and help in removing any mulm that is in the pond. Use a sturdy net and remove any dead frogs, leaves, dead algae and anything else that is in the ponds that does not belong there.

Check ammonia, nitrite and pH. If ammonia is present add Amquel or Prime to bind up the ammonia. If there is a lot of ammonia, there is probably a lot of "mulm" on the bottom of the pond. This must be removed ASAP! If nitrite is a problem, leave the salt in the pond at a .1 level as this will keep the fish from up taking the nitrite.

If the ammonia is real high, then drain the pond, and clean it out. Your fish will be in jeopardy if the ammonia is real high and you do not get rid of the source of the ammonia.  If necessary, remove the fish.  Have on hand Potassium Permanganate. When the water level is about 50 % down, add 1 teaspoon Potassium Permanganate for each 1000 gallons of water that is left in the pond. This will kill any "ickies" that are in the water and help break down the organics.
It is necessary to have lots of aeration to the water. Make sure that you have regular hydrogen peroxide 3%, handy to neutralize the effects of Potassium Permanganate should the fish become distressed. We left a deep hole for the fish to go to during the winter and as we drained the pond there was enough water in that hole to leave the fish undisturbed in the Potassium Permanganate while we scrubbed the pond and cleaned everything out
If you had salt in your pond for the winter, it is time to start removing the salt through water changes. When the water temperature reaches a consistent 45 degrees for several days in a row, start removing salt from the pond by water changes. Do this over a few days. Simply siphon or pump some the water out each day. I remove 25 to 33 percent a day. Replace with new water. 

Check the temperature of the water coming out of your hose and compare that to the water in the pond. Remember that you do not want more than a 2 or 3-degree change in water temperature. I set the hose up so that it sprays on top of the water rather than sticking the hose in the water. Keep in mind, that water coming out of a hose has no oxygen. By letting it spray on top of the water, you will be adding oxygen at the same time.

Remember the tropical pond plants that you brought in the house last fall? Well, now is the time to give them a new home! This is usually done in early spring. As the days become longer and we have sunnier days, the plants are going to start making lots of new growth.

These plants are either going to need to be divided or moved to a larger pot. The choice is pretty much yours. Do you want a larger pot to put in the pond or would you rather have several smaller pots of the same plant to place in the pond? To transplant to a larger pot is the simpler choice, particularly if you are a beginner. Simply take the plant out of the pot. Hold the pot securely and gently pull up on the top of the plant. If a gentle tug does not release the plant from the pot, it may be necessary to "squish" the sides of the pot and roll the pot between you hands as you apply gentle pressure to the sides of the pot. This should release the roots that are clinging to the inside of the pot. You may have to firmly rap the pot on a firm surface and then try to gently pull on the top of the plant again. It does sometimes help if the soil is real wet when you try to remove the plant from the pot.

You want to have a pot that is a couple of sizes larger than the pot that it was in last season. If the drainage holes in the new pot are real large, place a few sheets of wet newspaper in the bottom of the pot to help keep the soil in the pot so that it does not fall out while you are transplanting. The newspaper will rot away in a short time. Add enough ordinary garden soil to the bottom of the new pot so that you will be able to set the plant at a slightly higher depth that it was at in the old pot. 

You do not want to cover up the "crown" of the plant with soil or gravel. The crown of the plant is where the leaves emerge from the base of the plant. Hold the plant upright and straight in the pot and fill with soil. Gently tamp the soil down. Add more soil and gently tamp down again. Repeat until the soil it about 4 inches from the top of the pot. Keep in mind that you do not want the soil packed real tight in the pot. Finish off by adding a couple of inches of pea gravel on top of the soil. This will discourage your fish from trying to "root" inside the soil. Carefully water the plant from the top. 

Let the water soak down into the soil. Water until you see water coming out of the drainage hole. OR you can place the pot in a bucket of water and let is soak up water from the drainage holes. This may take several minutes to half an hour. You can now set the plant in a hole less container and fill it so there is water in the covering the top of the pot if so desired.
In the house it is easier to avoid "messes" if there is only a few inches of water in the outer container.

HINT: if you have a lot of larger plants you can place several in Rubbermaid containers. For larger amounts of smaller plants the little "kiddy pools" work great if you have the space for these little pools.
When the weather outside has warmed up to about 55 day time temperature, you can put the hardy plants outside to start the "hardening off" process. Use a hole less pot or bucket and make sure that the outer container has water in it at all times. You should have at least 3 to 4 inches of water in the outer container at all times. 

Depending on the depth of the outer container, you can have water all the way up to the rim of the pot or even a couple of inches over the pot that contains the plant. Keep in mind that if the plant is a lily-like aquatic; the leaves have to be able to float out in the water. This is where the little kiddy pools come in handy as you can put lots of plants in them. Place them in a shady spot where there is not much wind to start out. The north side of the house or under a tree usually works quite well. For right now, you want to keep direct sun and wind off of the leaves. Plants, just like people can sunburn! They can also windburn.

This will not usually kill the plants, but the leaves will have a "scorched" look. You will have to remove these leaves later.

NOTE: scorched leaves, brown leaves, brown spots, or frost burned leaves will never turn green once they are damaged. The plant will grow new leaves and the damaged leaves will just continue to deteriorate. Make sure you remove these leaves, as this will contribute to ammonia build up in the pond.

Gradually over a period of about 2 weeks you will move the plant so that it is getting more sun each day. If frost is predicted at night, be prepared to cover the plants or move them into a garage or shed. If a freeze is expected, then move them back into the house for the night.

There are lots of things you can use to cover plants to protect them from frost. Whatever you use, ESPECIALLY plastic, must not lie on top of the foliage. Instead it must be "tented" over the foliage.

If the covering is lying on top of the foliage; it may burn even worse from the covering! Items that work well are newspapers, brown paper bags, burlap, old sheets, or a commercially bought frost blankets. It should also be fairly light in weight. Make sure the covering is secure so that if the wind picks up at night, it does not blow off. When the water temperature in the pond has hits 50-55 degrees for several days, and then the hardy for your zone plants can be placed in the pond at the proper depth for each plant.

This should coincide with about the time you start feeding your fish. If an unexpected frost is predicted simply lay the pot on its side in the pond or drops it deeper in the water for the night. Keep in mind that if the water is 50 degrees, the frost will not hurt the plant if it is under the water. And if the water is 50 to 55 degrees it may even offer frost protection because it is warmer than the air. OR bring the plant back into the garage or shed for the night. I always opt for putting it deeper in the pond because that seems to be less hassle then carting the plants inside for the night.

As soon as the ice is off the pond and the water temperature has stayed consistently at 40 to 45 degrees for several days, and all salt has been removed, you can start moving the hardy perennials back into the pond. Check the plant label if you have one or a reference chart that I have at ZONE HARDINESS AND LIGHT REQUIREMENTS to see which plants are hardy for your zone. The plants in these charts are also grouped by water depth.

It is very important that plants be set at the proper depth to being successful. If set too deep or too shallow the plant will not thrive and grow but will die a slow death.

I place the appropriate number of pond plant fertilizer tablets in each pot before I add them back to the pond. Avoid the urge to use more. This is a case of "more is NOT better."

Contrary to what has been said, pond plant fertilizer tablets do not contribute to algae! We fertilize once a month and do not have an algae problem, except in the very, very early spring, before we have added the plants. Once the plants start actively growing the algae seems to disappear over night.

One trick I discovered last spring, as soon as the water warms up to about 40 and I have removed the salt, I put my hardy lilies and Iris back in the pond. I also throw as much fairy moss and duckweed in the pond as I can get my hands on. Ideally I try to cover 50% of the water with duck weed and fairy moss. This starts growing real fast, almost as fast as the algae and the water clears a lot sooner. Later when the other plants start growing, we take used to a net the fairy moss out but we no longer do that because my fish are much larger now and will devour it. And it is good for them! Usually by this time the Koi have consumed all the duck weed so I don't have to worry about removing that anyway.

HINT: do keep some Duckweed and Fairy Moss aside in a Rubbermaid liner to grow on so that you can feed it as a treat to the Koi later on during the growing season.

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