What Causes Scum in Ponds?

Pond scum is a type of blue-green algae that is highly visible during hot spring and summer months on the pond's surface and the rocks near it.

Excess Nutrients

Stringy pond scum can be harmful if overgrown.Stringy pond scum can be harmful if overgrown.
This algae is beneficial in moderate amounts but signals greater issues when abundant. When the conditions are right, this scum grows in excess, causing algae blooms and using up the same oxygen in the pond that other vegetation and animal life depend on. Pond scum can be prevented if you know the ideal conditions for growth.

Pond algae utilize nitrogen and phosphorous to grow, which can be found in dead and decaying vegetation, fish and animal waste and fertilizer runoff. Residential areas that have a lot of pavement and not enough land cover to absorb rain will experience algae blooms in ponds and rivers because of the excess fertilizer and septic overflows that run into the water. This causes fish kills that in turn cause more algae to grow.

Too Much Sunlight

Constant, direct sunlight also helps scum to grow, which is why the late summer months feature algae problems. Ponds situated in direct sunlight, without any nearby vegetation to give it occasional shade, risk algae blooms. Too few aquatic plants in the pond can also cause algae problems because of the lack of sunlight interference.

Low Oxygen Levels

Algae uses the oxygen in a pond to grow. If there are few plants or fish living in the pond to produce oxygen, the algae will feed on its own growth cycle. Low oxygen levels are created often by too much algae, and it is the algae that will thrive on the environment it has created. Ponds are ideal conditions for the persistence of low oxygen levels because there is no natural turbulence such as waves or tides to re-oxygenate the water.

About Scum

There are several types of pond scum, each with particular nutrients beneficial for particular animals and vegetation. Planktonic algae gives the pond the particular green tint associated with scum and is made up of beneficial plankton that feed the vegetation and animals in the pond. Pond scum is not a problem itself; it is a sign that there are other problems related to the correct balance of light and growth within and around the pond.

Finding Balance

The correct balance of conditions will help keep the healthiest amount of algae. Locating a garden pond close to tall trees will help keep the sunlight down. Planting aquatic plants in your pond will keep the oxygen levels up. If the pond is a naturally forming pond, ensure the surrounding trees are healthy. Never use excess fertilizer, particularly if there is a lot of pavement around and little open ground. Both synthetic and organic algaecides can be used to kill off some of the algae and let the pond re-balance itself while you try to manage the elements that you can control.

About the Author

Annelies de Groot was first published in 2007. She has contributed to local east coast papers and has worked for environmental and educational nonprofits. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John's College in Maryland.