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Koi Ponds versus Water Gardens
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

?Koi ponds? are appearing on more and more home properties these days. Yet many people, who see koi ponds and water gardens such as those on the upcoming tour presented by the Koi and Water Garden Club of North Texas on September 21 and 22, think the two are interchangeable. Not so, according to experts. The koi pond is all about koi; but don?t mistake koi for big gold fish. Koi are descendents of carp, an ancient fish pond-cultured in China around 500 BC.

?Basically, the difference between a koi pond and a water garden is essentially koi need a lot more space,? said owner of Water Gardens Galore, Steve Moeller. ?Typically for this area, we recommend three to five feet of depth for the water and nice wide open areas because they (koi) like to swim in circles.? Koi will grow to about 2 ? to 3 feet no mater what size pool they?re in, where as a lot of gold fish will pretty much size themselves to their environment?they?re not going to outgrow their environment.

?So, they need space,? Moeller said. ?The reason for the depth is because the of the heat of the summers. With a koi pond, it?s good to have morning sun location and afternoon shade.? Water gardens require more sun, especially for flowering plants. But most koi ponds are fairly sterile of plants because koi, after they get 12 to 15 inches long, start uprooting plants or knocking them over to eat them.

?They?re more of a bottom feeder and they tend to be a little bit messier with plants,? Moeller said. ?It?s healthy. But once the fish get bigger, as the plants are emerging from their dormancy in the winter, the fish will eat the new shoots; they will root around in the pots and get to the roots of the bulbs and things of that nature. There are ways that you can slow that down as far as protecting the plants. And we have encountered many koi enthusiasts that swear their fish won?t touch plants. But everything that we?ve encountered from a maintenance standpoint and from our own personal experience, that?s otherwise.?

?You?ve got to decide from the outset, which you want?whether you want a water garden with plants and fish or whether you?re looking strictly for the koi pond, which is fairly fish only once they get more mature,? Moeller said. ?Most folks feed them (koi) store bought food, or there are things such as peas, carrots, lettuce, cabbage?we?ve seen it all as far as what people feed them.? Yet, koi also eat mosquito larvae and their own eggs and offspring once they first hatch out. Other than that, koi are very docile fish?not aggressive like some of the predatory fish can be.

In fact, koi are quite loveable fish?somewhat like a pet.

?Especially once they get 2-feet long or so forth, most people become very attached to them,? Moeller said. They give them names and treat them as members of the family. Expect a long-term relationship for the average koi lives 30 to 50 years, and there is a documented case in Japan of a fish living 500 years.

?The attraction is the size and the color variations,? Moeller said. ?Goldfish?most people think of a little orange fish in a bowl. With koi, you get solid yellow, solid whites. But you can get quite a variety of mixed patterns.? And especially if you?re a purist, there are some (koi) highly sought after as far as scale patterns and symmetry as far as color.?

?It can get quite expensive,? Moeller said. ?I know a few years ago in a koi show in Washington State, the grand champion, one fish sold for a million dollars.? Enthusiasts will visit the breeding grounds of three to four breeders in Japan, where they pay thousands of dollars for one fish for their koi pond.

Also, people will go to great lengths to breed their own fish

?There are lots of different methods that you use to harvest the eggs and breed the fish,? Moeller said. Koi breed generally from March through mid-April, laying eggs two or three times a season depending on the weather. Incubators can assist the process. ?They?re pretty much like these floating islands that koi lay their eggs on, then you flip them over to protect the eggs. I?ve seen people use cotton mop-heads; throw those out and let the fish lay their eggs on the mop-heads. Then take the mop-heads out and put them in separate containers with aeration and hatch them that way. Some people have two or three ponds in their yard. They?ll have one for the main fish population. And they?ll use the others for little nurseries and hatcheries. There is a lot of thought put into it especially if you want to breed.?

And right now, breeding koi is very popular.

?It is the equipment,? Moeller said. ?Technology has really advanced light years in the last 10 to 12 years,? Moeller said. ?So, it?s less expensive to do, and there is a lot more information available so that people know what they?re doing before getting involved in it. Just about anybody is willing to install these things nowadays. So, the biggest warning?caution?is to get as much information as possible before starting and to check references as far as using somebody who says they?re professional.?

?I?d recommend come in and talk,? Moeller said. ?Look at pictures. There are a couple area societies?one for water gardens and one for koi.?

The Koi and Water Garden Club of North Texas annual tour features Dallas area gardens on September 21, outlying area gardens on September 22, and daytime viewing from 8 am to 4 pm with night ponds open from 7:30-10 pm. Tour books and admission tickets for $10 can be purchased at Water Gardens Galore and North Haven Gardens in Dallas or call 214-367-8799 for further information.

?We highly recommend that you go out there,? Moeller said. ?See the different styles that are available between the do-it-yourself jobs and professional jobs and talk to the homeowners in what they?ve succeeded in and what they?ve failed in?how they would do it differently, if they would do it all over. That is what we always recommend before you start digging a hole with this grand scheme in mind.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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