Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Container Gardening & Ponds

On Goldfish Pond

by Steven A. Frowine


Compared to koi, goldfish are hardier and easier to care for.

Goldfish have long been revered in Asia, where the Chinese refer to these colorful and graceful fish as "butterflies of the water." Under many dynasties, they were raised in special ceramic pots for the enjoyment of the emperors. Goldfish are still commonly depicted in many forms of Asian art, from jewelry to scrolls to ornamental glass eggs.

Today, many gardeners in North America are incorporating goldfish into water gardens. Whether placed in a small in-ground pond or in an aboveground pool, goldfish are a colorful, low-maintenance, and rewarding addition to any water garden.

Types of Goldfish

There are many different types of goldfish, from those with fan, fringe, or veil tails, to ones with exotic flowing fins or hoodlike head growths. Although all the goldfish types can be displayed in a water garden, some varieties are hardier than others, making them a better choice if you plan to overwinter them outdoors in a cold climate.

The three types that I have found to be the easiest to care for are the Comet, Ryukin, and Shubunkin.

The Comet is the only type of goldfish credited with being developed in the United States. This quick-moving narrow-bodied fish is most commonly orange or white with a red head. It is named for its tail, which is long and trailing like that of a comet. It is extremely hardy. This fish is the kind most often seen in fish bowls.

Ryukins are most popular in Japan and China. These round-bodied fish are usually red-orange or red and white, and display a butterfly-like double tail best viewed when looking down at them as you would in a water garden.

Shubunkins, much admired by British water gardeners, are starting to become better known in North America. Preferred kinds are calico-colored blue, orange, and white. Like the Comet, Shubunkins are hardy, narrow-bodied fish, although their tails are shorter.

Goldfish versus Koi

Although both goldfish and koi are related, they are not the same. A couple of key differences make goldfish a much better choice for a home water garden. Koi grow much larger than goldfish (18 to 24 inches compared with 8 to 10 inches). More importantly from a water gardener's point of view, koi are voracious plant eaters. Goldfish will nibble at some plants but don't do nearly as much damage as koi.

Also, koi are best raised in pools with specially designed filtration systems. Such elaborate (and often expensive) systems are not necessary with goldfish unless you want a large number of them in your pool or water garden. The only piece of equipment necessary for goldfish is an airstone or small water pump to aerate or circulate the water in hot weather. When temperatures exceed 75° F, goldfish can become stressed by the water's low oxygen content.

Another advantage is that fine goldfish are available at garden centers, water gardening specialists, and aquarium stores for a fraction of the price of koi. Quality goldfish cost between $5 and $50, on average, depending on their type and size; koi can cost 10 to 100 times that.

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