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North Central USA

Jewels of the Pond

by Joe Summers, St. Louis, Missouri
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Captivating ornamental fishes, jewels of the pond, attract many people to the idea of creating their own pond. The fascinating sound and sight of moving water in a stream, waterfall, and/or fountain attract countless others. However, being a trained horticulturist, the attraction of adding a pond to my landscape began with a compelling interest in aquatic plants.
Goldfish image from

I am primarily a "plant person", but I must admit that fishes offer attributes that plants just cannot; fishes are interactive and friendly creatures. They offer striking movement far beyond any plant motion. Fishes dart around the pond creating interest with their random swim patterns.

Catching a glimpse of their reflected colors during the darkness of night provides a special treat. This may happen in the moonlight or if you have underwater lights in the pond. When sitting aside the pond at night as ornamental fishes pass near the underwater light, ahhh . . . your pond looks like a chest of jewels. 

Would you believe that fishes have distinct personalities? A personable fish may allow you to pet it or perhaps rub its belly. You may even give it a kiss if you (and the fish) really want to. However, I would not suggest that you put a leash on a fish for a walk around the block. That just doesn’t work out too well.

Treats, however, do work out well for stimulating the friendliness in your fishes. Treats range from fruits, like oranges, to dried silkworm larva.

Golden orfe image from
A Mid-Region (USDA Zone 6—minimum temperature -10F [-23C]) pond needs to be at least 18 inches (46 cm) deep for successful wintering of fish. When digging the pond I recommend 24 inches (61 cm) of depth in one section so that your fishes have a greater margin of safety during the winter. In order to keep ornamental fishes outside successfully all winter in the Mid-Region requires meeting the suggested minimal depth and keeping a hole in the ice layer. You only need a small portion of the pond to remain ice free to keep your finned friends happy. A floating de-icer maintains a small hole in the ice. Alternately, a pump keeps the water moving to maintain an area without ice coverage.  

Readily available pond fishes include koi (Cyprimus carpio), goldfish (Carassius auratus), golden orfe (Leuciscus idus), and mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis). All of these readily survive in an outside year-round pond

Butterfly koi and straight finned koi constitute two major types of koi. The long flowing fins of butterfly koi grow to about half the length their bodies. Mature straight finned koi have fins measuring only a few inches long. Koi may live for 100 or more years and, given sufficient time, space, and food can reach 36 inches (91 cm) long or more. Color intensity and pattern determine koi quality. Koi prices reflect their quality and their origin. Israel, Japan, Thailand, and the US grow enormous koi crops for the world market.

Mosquito fish image from
Goldfish offer most pond keepers their introduction to fish keeping. Goldfish can be very inexpensive, but not always. They offer a huge array of color and shape. You may pick from the simple “gold” to color patterns ranging from red and white to a combination of blue, white, black, and orange. Fin shape and size also vary from no dorsal fin (ranchu, lionhead) to a semi-double tail (fantail, calico). Simply stated, no two fish are identical. At least their color pattern, shape, size, or personality differs. Goldfish reach a mature size of 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) or more and live up to about 10 years 

Most pond owners like to feed their fish at least once per day. But some never feed their fish. Your fish grow in relation to their nutrition, water conditions, and time. How many fish are too many? Allow at least ten gallons (38 liters) of water for each inch (2.5 cm) of fish. The factor that matters most is your pond’s water quality.

The jewels of the pond are the fishes. When selecting your next fish, remember that fish beauty is only scale deep and personality is important, too. 


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