Many fish enthusiasts opt for a garden pond over and above a house-based aquarium as it provides great pleasure without the daily regime required for an aquarium. However, as with ownership of any animal or pet, there is still a good deal of responsibility and input required to keep a garden pond and its inhabitants thriving. But how long can pond fish be left to their own devices?
A question that we are often asked relates to the length of time the fish within a garden pond can be left without food. If you are planning a vacation, naturally you will need to know if your fish can sustain themselves or whether you will need to engage help during your absence.
Guidelines for Feeding Pond Fish During your Absence
As you would expect, there is no simple answer to this question; it depends upon many factors. Many forums state that a two-week absence period will be fine for most adult fish, but we feel that this statement needs qualification – it is not true for every circumstance. Pond fish tend to be quite resilient, especially when compared to their aquarium cousins! However, always be responsible and exercise caution during absences.
If you’re planning a weekend away, then your fish will survive well on the natural nutrients available within the pond. For absences longer than this, there is no simple answer as it will depend on the breed and number of fish you have, together with other factors.
Self-Sustaining with Natural Food
Many garden pond enthusiasts state that a well-stocked but not overcrowded garden pond that has a varied and established basis of pond plants, will be fairly self-sustaining in terms of food for some of the time. Naturally occurring food sources such as insects, plants and algae will be able to sustain your fish for some of the time under normal circumstances. If you have Koi carp you can find more information in our guide to Koi pond plants.
Some fish keepers believe that self-sustenance within a garden pond should be the result to aspire to on a permanent basis, and that any additional fish feed that you add to the pond in addition to that which occurs naturally will act as a nutritional top up, but may not be strictly necessary.
This may sound appealing, but we feel that whilst pond owners should create as natural and self-sustaining an environment as possible, an appropriate supplemental feeding regime is the responsible approach long-term.
As one would expect, the more fish you have within the pond, the more additional feeding will be required. Supplementing feeding pond fish with something like Tetra Pond Koi Vibrance feed is recommended.
In summary, the factors affecting your feeding regimen include the number of fish in your pond, the fish species and age of the fish, how long-established your pond is and the planting/water plants within your fish pond, the time of year/water temperature, the general health of the fish and, of course, the observed feeding habits of your particular fish.
Factors Affecting Feeding Regimes
Time of Year
Fish are cold-blooded creatures, so those that live outside in garden ponds will need to be fed in accordance with their activity levels, which varies according to the temperature of the water.
So, our first point to make is that the time of year makes a difference in respect of feeding requirements.
Keeping an eye on current and predicted air temperature can assist you with the feeding schedule of your pond fish.
Although this is species specific, to give you an idea Koi Carp and Goldfish will not require additional feeding in temperatures below around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. These fish naturally reduce their food intake drastically during cold weather, and will return to increased appetite and standard feeding habits as soon as the weather, and consequently the water temperature, starts to warm up.
If you’re in any doubt, always consult the breeder or pet store where you purchased your fish.
Size and Age of Fish and Individual Feeding Habits
As you would expect, fish that are older and/or larger can tolerate longer periods between supplemental feeds. Young fry that are still developing will need to be fed more frequently than older, established fish.
Two weeks is the period of time commonly mentioned during which the majority of fish can sustain themselves in a well-balanced pond that is well stocked with aquatic plants, rocks and some form of gravel and sand substrate.
It is advisable to monitor the feeding habits of your fish prior to deciding how long you are prepared to leave them to self sustain without supplemental feeding. For example, do they eat everything you feed them at each sitting or does it sink and remain on the pond floor for some time. This will ultimately affect water quality within the pond. Whether or not you have a pond filter to remove uneaten food will also affect water quality.
Fish will only eat what they need, so it is very easy to overfeed by adding more food than they consume in a sitting. So, do observe your fishes’ feeding habits to ensure that they’re eating all the food you give within a few minutes, and alter the amount as appropriate.
So observations of this type will enable you to adjust your feeding regime accordingly even under normal circumstances, but will also provide you with the required frequency of feeding and therefore the optimal absence during which your fish will successfully and happily survive on their own.
Species of Fish
The species of fish you own makes a difference to their feeding habits and consequently to how long they can be left without supplemental feeding during your proposed absence.
Some species of pond fish even require a special pond care regime during the Fall and Winter months. If you own a Koi Carp pond you will be aiming to stop the supplemental feeding of your Koi when the pond water temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit and sustains this lower temperature consistently for approximately two weeks.
During the colder months, the metabolism of the Koi Carp will slow down in response to the drop in temperature, so feeding during this phase will be detrimental.
Age and Establishment of Your Pond
The age and state of your pond makes a difference to feeding strategies too. A mature, well-established pond with healthy, thriving aquatic planting and an efficient filtration and aeration system will sustain your fish stock far more easily than a newly created pond.
Your knowledge base will also grow with the age of your pond. Having the chance to observe your fish behavior, particularly in respect of feeding rates and patterns, will enable you to adequately assess their needs, and the ideal time period between feeds.
Also, with a newer pond, you may not have yet found the correct balance between fish stock and pond size – any overstocking in terms of fish numbers and incorrect feeding can cause problems both with waste and detritus and fish behavior in the event of overcrowding. Knowing your fish well will help you make informed decisions about leaving your fish during an absence.
Conclusion: Can Pond Fish Survive Without Feeding?
In a nutshell – the answer to this question is Yes. Once you have observed and recorded your fish feeding habits over time and fully understand their needs, then you’re in a position to make a fair judgement.
Taking all the other factors and details that we have discussed previously in this article will help you decide on a suitable length of time. This includes, the age, size and breed of your fish and, of course, their observed feeding habits, and the age and maturity of your pond.
You will be able to leave your fish to self sustain during periods of your absence, but the length of absence will need to be adjusted to fit the very specific needs of your fish and fish pond. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and ask for assistance with your fish as required.