What is That Ugly, Nasty-Looking Growth in My Pond?

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Probably the most asked question in the lake management industry is “What is that ugly, nasty-looking growth in our pond, and why does it always come back?” The answer to that question ninety percent of the time is: “it is algae” and the majority of that time, it is what we refer to as “filamentous algae.”

There are many different species of filamentous algae, but all have a similar appearance, and growth habit. These algae colonies begin their growth in the late winter and early spring on the bottom of the pond, as warmer temperatures and sunlight activate the spores and surviving cells. Most filamentous algae growth begins in less than 3 feet of water where sunlight penetrates to the pond bottom. Algae growth is sometimes referred to as a “bloom” because the algae grow so quickly. In the case of filamentous algae, single cells reproduce and join together into long hair-like strands or colonies that grow toward the water surface. By mid-summer, these strands form large mats that trap gases and float to the surface. These floating mats normally begin to appear in early summer, and by late summer, it may cover the entire pond. Most forms of filamentous algae prefer stagnant, nutrient-rich, warm water conditions found in many Southeastern ponds and lakes.

All types of algae are important to pond and lake ecology, because they serve as food sources for protozoa, insects, and fish; however, filamentous algae frequently reaches nuisance levels. Their abundant growth can result in a number of management concerns, including aesthetics, swimming nuisance, and interference with fishing. Abundant algae can also cause fish kills in late summer and fall as the dying algae consumes oxygen from the pond water. Where algae levels interfere with pond uses and goals, various control strategies can be used to prevent or reduce algae growth.

Any overabundant plant growth is a symptom of excessive nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen). These nutrients are the essential parts of most fertilizers, which through runoff from barnyards, crop fields, septic systems, lawns, and golf courses greatly increase the high nutrient levels that exist in our ponds and lakes today. Long term control of filamentous algae or other aquatic weeds is best accomplished by reducing or redirecting nutrient sources from your pond and lakes. This can be done by reducing fertilizer applications near the pond, maintaining septic systems properly, redirecting nutrient-rich runoff away from the pond, and maintaining vegetative buffer strips around your pond or lake.

Randy Bolin writes articles for Virginia Lake Management, which provides lake maintenance services for businesses and residence complexes.

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