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I know you aren't supposed to wash your filter, but how can I stop it from getting plugged?
ASKED BY: Jeannie of Omaha, NE
ASKED BY: Jeannie of Omaha, NE

I know you aren't supposed to wash your filter, but how can I stop it from getting plugged?

A:  Your pond filter is home to countless natural, beneficial bacteria that break down toxins in the water. It's also home to globs of slimy gunk and debris that clog your filtration system. So how do you clean house without evicting those valuable microorganisms? We have a seven-step solution.

1. Clean Your Skimmer
First, keep an eye on your mechanical skimmer filter and clean it out as often as needed. This part of your filter is not intended to remove tiny particulates, so use lower-density filter media that will keep large debris out of your pump. Too-dense media will plug more easily and slow the flow.

2. Empty Debris Baskets
When your mechanical skimmer filter's debris baskets and nets fill up with leaves and other material, clean them out. If they're full, the water is forced around the debris dam and potentially carrying larger pieces that could create more plugs elsewhere in your filtration system.

3. Vary Media Densities
Use a variety of filter media densities, like those offered by Matala, and stack them so that the water flows from lowest to highest densities. By mixing them, you have plenty of surface area for bacteria growth but better water flow with less frequent plugging.

4. Layer Media Wisely
Speaking of media densities, don't go crazy with too many layers. If you have more than two or three layers of filter mat in addition to BioBalls or other media, you may be slowing the flow and leaving lots of places for debris to get stuck. A couple of layers is all you really need.

5. Seed with Bacteria
After you've hosed down your filter's media pads, help the remaining bacteria boost their population levels by seeding the pads with bacteria found in Microbe-Lift PL Gel. They'll start reproducing right away and quickly help to better decompose debris.

6. Keep Pond Sludge-Free
Sludge is the enemy, so do what you can to keep it from building up in your pond. Use a pond vacuum to suck up large debris and DefensePAC to break down fine debris; doing so will help with water quality and remove material that would otherwise need to be handled by your filter.

7. Balance Your Pond
Finally, take a look at your pond's fish-to-plant ratio. More fish means more waste (and a clogged filter), while more plants mean better-filtered water. Don't overwork your filter by keeping an unbalanced pond. Let plants help do the work – naturally! – and keep your fish load to a minimum.