Bog Filtration, the perfect complement to Biological Filters

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Last month my buddy Jim Chubb talked about the importance of biological filtration, why you’d want to use a biological filtration box, and how to hide a FilterFalls. In this post I’m going to talk about a complementary approach to biological filtration, the Bog Filter.

20160322_075127Bog filters are the perfect companion to biological filters, because they help complete the nitrogen cycle that begins with biofilters like the FilterFalls Jim was talking about. Biological filters harbor the bacteria that convert ammonia from fish wastes into nitrates. Bog filters take those nitrates out of the water column and convert them into plant material.

The reason this is so important is, the nitrates that result from a well-functioning biofilter are plant food, and if there are no other plants in the system, or even too few plants, those nitrates are going to feed lots and lots of algae.

That’s right. The better your biological filtration is, the more plant food is going to be created, and the more algae will grow… UNLESS there are other plants to consume those nitrates.

DSC02195Enter the Bog Filter, the perfect way to get those nitrates out of the pond water, and so, to eliminate green water and string algae. Basically, by placing desired ornamental plants in bare gravel, without sufficient soil to feed themselves, the plants take up all the available nutrients in the water and starve out the undesirable algae.

Bog Filtration is a pretty simple concept, so there are plenty of different ways to implement it. The simplest are graveled areas in or adjacent to the pond filled with bog and marginal plantings, called passive bogs because there is no active flow of water through the gravel. Active bogs use the pumping system to force water through the planted beds, and are much more effective because all the nutrients in the pond have to pass through the matted roots of the bog filter, and are removed.

There are two kinds of active bogs that differ in the direction of water flow. Downflow Bogs pull water down into the planted gravel bed, while upflow Bogs reverse the flow, pushing water up through the plant roots and out the top of the gravel bed. Because downflow bogs tend to trap sediments and clog more frequently, we’re going to talk about building upflow bogs instead.

The advantage to active upflow bogs is that they can be placed just about anywhere. Perimeter bogs, waterfall or stream bogs, even bog islands are simple to add to any existing pond, as long as they are built so the pumped water makes its way back into the pond.

One of the most effective bogs I’ve seen was built on an island in the center of an existing koi 101-7apond. A plastic grate set on cinder blocks about 6” below water level was covered with a piece of liner, then ringed with dry stacked stones to the surface. A planted gravel bed covered a 2” perforated pipe attached to a pump below the island. Water pumped into the gravel bed flowed back through the gravel and stones, stripped of all nutrients.

It doesn’t take much flow – usually one quarter of the volume of the pond per hour is sufficient. The size of the bog depends on the fish load. A goldfish pond where the fish are not fed at all might need a bog about 10% of the surface are of the pond in size. On the other hand, a pond where Koi are fed twice a day might need a bog 30% of the size of the pond.

More elaborate bogs use EcoBlox under the gravel bed to form a sediment chamber that also traps suspended solids, but that’s the subject of another post. Regardless of how you choose to install them, Bog Filters keep your pond free of algae using just beautiful plants to clear and clean pond water.



About the Author:
Demi is the Direct of Product Information for Atlantic Water Gardens

Demi has been in water garden construction since 1986. As Atlantic’s Director of Product Information, if he’s not building water features, he’s writing or talking about them. If you have a design or construction question, he’s the one to ask.

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23 thoughts on “Bog Filtration, the perfect complement to Biological Filters

  1. Lynda says:

    I built a bog in August, 2018 (3’x6’ 14’ deep with 12’ 5/8 pea rock and a PVC perforated plumbing attached to a 10’x20’ approx. 3800 gallon koi (2), goldfish (13) and multiple mosquito fish. It worked perfectly until the first cold front in January, 2019. We live in central Florida. The pond turned brown with sediment. I’ve since emptied 25% of the water twice, refilled, water still brown. Cleaned the surface much off the bog, emptied the pond, vacuumed and refilled and it is still brown. Any suggestions! Thanks in advance, Lynda

    • Demi Fortuna says:

      Hi Lynda, in a market like central Florida there’s a different set of winter issues than the rest of the country. They are close to being tropical in a sense where the plants never truly die off for winter and comeback in the spring. Instead they just slow down during the winter. What most likely happened here is that the plants did a fantastic job over the last season and there was silt and debris attached to the root system which is exactly what we want to happen. As the cold snap came through the plant roots diminished in size as the weather stunted them. In a more northern climate this would continue to the point of the plants needing to be harvested (cutback) as a winter preparation. Other fall maintenance would be done at this time as well. Possible discoloration of the water happens at this time as well but usually starts to clear. The thing to remember about a bog filter is it is fantastic at scrubbing nutrients from the system but very small particulate matter it sometime has a challenge with. You could try to using a flocculent such as QuickClear from Atlantic. It will bind the tiny matter together for the filter to grab.

      The other possibility is you have an over load of tannins. When bacteria breaks down organic matter, leaves, roots, fish waste, etc. it can remove everything but the tannins (think leaves making tea). Sometimes brown water can simply be the left over tannin. It can be remove with the use of carbon or water changes. Any chance you would have some pics?

      • Jose Chua says:

        Ii have a 4000 gallons and it sets directly into the sun . I have over a hundred koi fish and the water is green because of algae. I installed an ultra violet clarifier (UVC filter) and that took care of the green water was eliminated. I also incorporated an aquaponics garden systems instead of using a bog plants to filter out the nitrites from the pond. I built a NFT system ( nutrients film technique outside the pond where I planted different lettuces variety. I used submersible water pump wrapped with filter media to bring the water into the NFT and the filtered water back to the pond. It was so efficient that i built another NFT system just above the pond. (Materials needed. (3” drainage pipe, 3” end caps, several 1” UNISEAL for end caps , 1” pvc pipes, 1” elbows . Net pots, rockwool. Saw hole for end caps and for the 3” pipe. Check internet for diy aquaponics system.

    • Ari says:

      Every plants absorb oxygen at night and produce carbondioxide, but produce oxygen at daytime… Especially if that plants are completely sink in the water.

  2. Paul says:

    Do you have any additional information about building and calculating an upflow bog with EcoBlox, like shown in the graphic at the end of this blog post? You already talked a bit about the surface area of the bog compared to the pond but what about the depth and the number of blocks stacked on each other for example?

    I want to build a 15′ x 13′ pond with 3000 gallons and 9′ stream. Pond will be filled with stones and gravel, some plants and 20 goldfish (around 8″). How many blocks do I need and how do I arrange them for a fitting surface area of the filter? Do you have any recommended product to be used as tube under the blocks? Or do I have to build one myself? If so, do you have any instructions to do this?

    Thank you in advance!

  3. Heather Hundertmark says:

    Hi, We live up on a hill & have a small flow through farm pond fed from a storm drain pipe (crystal clear water). The pond then drains out on the opposite end which feeds into a a tiny stream & divides our 2 acre pasture. The pond is 17×30 & 5-7’ deep. We obviously can’t chemically treat the algae & we feel that traditional filter systems would be clogged with pond much from the sediment that’s collected & contents from its natural clay bottom. We currently use barley straw & work diligently to remove algae with a pool skimmer. The biology is healthy as we have frogs , dragonflies, etc… but we’d like there to be more fish & wish for less algae. .The bog sounds perfect but its construction sounds more effective if utilized in lined pond situations. Do you think it would be possible to locate the actual bog & plants where the water naturally dumps into our pond & omit the pipe/ filter part? The normal pressure of flow may be enough to push thru the pea gravel & filter just the same but would appreciate hearing your thoughts. It could be effective in the center as well but due to the collection of sediment, the bottom sinks like quick sand & am not sure how we’d secure the walls to build the bog out there. It’s more secure near the entry pipe. Any suggestions you have will be appreciated. Thank you so much!

    • Demi Fortuna says:

      Hi Heather!
      Actually, the setup you describe is perfect for a bog, in the form of a shallow, wide, well-planted stream area from the storm drain pipe down to the pond’s edge. let me tell you what my high scool biology teacher did with a similar situation. Frank Turano is a brilliant teacher who wanted to show us the filtering power of plants. He went to a parking lot near our largest lake, Lake Ronkonkoma, and in a 10’x10’area between the edge of the parking lot and the marshy border of the pond he dug a continuous trench that went back and forth down to the pond. Imagine 5 trenches parallel to the pond edge where water would enter at the top left, cross 10″ to the right then pass back to the left 10′ then back to the right, etc. He managed to fit 50′ of stream into the tiny area. He planted each of the sections with a different marginal plant. I remember pickerel rush and a couple of different grasses. The day he brouht us down it had been raining lightly, and water was draining off the lot back and forth down the planted trenches into the pond. Frank took a glass out of his pocket, dipped it in the water at the end of the stream – and drank. These bogs are powerful medicine.
      I would strongly recommend both Frank’s idea to you, a stream that meanders back and forth, forcing the water to pass over and through no more tham 6″ of 3/8″ gravel. I would also strongly recommend the addition of aeration and bacteria to further starve the algae and actually reduce the muck on the bottom. A 2B CFU preparation like our BioMax contains 2 billion colony forming units of the same types of bacteria that are alraedy found on the bottom of natural ponds, in a highly concentrated form. Add a small aerator, like our TADKIT3600, to increase the available oxygen and you can organically suppress algae and remove up to 6″ of organic ooze a year. It’s safe for pets and wildlife to drink and all natural, no chemicals to disrupt the ecosystem. In comparison to dredging or chemical applications, bacteria and aeration cost very little, about $100 for a season’s worth of bacteria, and the air pump costs less than the bulb in your refrigerator to operate. It’s the best algae and sediment control option I know. Good Luck – I’d love to see before and after photos! Stay Well, Demi

  4. Judy Humphreys says:

    The Aquascape up flow bog that I have for my 7000 gallon pond builds up sulfer at the sides of the bog. The rocks turn black and smell. Should I manually move the rocks around? Or add an aerator to the bottom pump. also are you supposed to wash the plant media from my Lowes plants and remove some of the roots? This has never been explained and I have just transplanted to bigger pots with more soil.

    • Demi Fortuna says:

      Hi Judy!
      I need to know a little more about the construction of the Bog to help you. How deep is it? We typically recommend shallow gravel deaths over water matrix blocks so we can easily clean the bog by simply flushing accumulated sediment out of the Eco-blox. How old is the Bog? You mentioned the pump in the bottom. That usually indicates a downflow bog rather than an upflow bog. The difference is in the downflow bog, the debris is pulled down into the gravel and trapped there. In that case, the only way to clean the bog would be to take it all apart. Upflow Bogs push the water up from the bottom to the top and trap the debris in a settlement chamber made of matrix blocks, making them very easy to clean by simply flushing them out when necessary. Typically, sediment should be flushed out once a year. Usually plants are set in the soil they came in in the shallow gravel. When they need splitting or moving, we root prune out the old center and split and replant the younger edges.

  5. Jason Dearwester says:

    New to the pond hobby with a question. Want to install an active gravel bog but have limited space for adequate bog while keeping to the desired size of the pond (approx. surface area of 84 sq ft and 700-800 gal). So here is my thought: install 2 separate gravel beds to equal adequate ratio. One will be partition at one end of the pond, while the other will be at the top of an approx. 15 foot cascade back into the pond. My question is: would there be a problem if I place the pump in between the two gravel beds, thereby PULLING water through the partitioned bed and PUSHING water through the bed at the top of my cascade?? All plans I have seen show water pushing into the gravel bed.

    • Demi Fortuna says:

      Hi Jason,
      What you are asking is to use one of the bogs in a downflow configuration, and the other bog in an upflow configuration. We don’t recommend downflow bogs because they trap debris in the gravel without an easy way to remove it when it finally goes septic. If you decide to do it that way, do yourself a big favor and don’t make the gravel bed particularly deep. I would stay under 18 inches if possible. That way if debris does go anaerobic, causing unpleasant odors from sulfur dioxide and methane production, it can be cleaned out by digging out the gravel bed. What I’d rather see you make is upflow bogs, over Eco-Blox if possible, with no more than 6 to 12 inches of gravel max. It will be relatively easy to put a bottom drain into the upper bog because it’s higher than surrounding areas. I drain my bogs into a garden where the guaranteed organic fish emulsion does my plants some good. On the bottom, if I don’t have a way to drain the bog by gravity, I install a small pump vault as the clean-out. All I have to do is clear off some of the 6 inch gravel bed on top of the blocks and hose the sediments into the pump vault, then pump them out with a solids handling pump or use a shop vac.

      • Jason Dearwester says:

        Thanks Demi. Think what I will do is get the Little Giant WGP-80-PW pump with approx . 2000 gph at 20 ft lift. It has 2 outputs, so I can feed both boys.

  6. Holly says:

    I’m having a new issue with my 5th bog. It’s new-ish. I didn’t plant one plant per sq/ft, but what I did plant, grew like crazy. I’m having some chlorosis issues with approximately 30% of the plants, but also having a slight (<20) nitrate high in the pond. How do I add nitrogen to the bog plants without adding it to the pond?

    • Demi Fortuna says:

      Hi Holly,
      I use my buddy Wayne Davis’ PondTabbs. Best on the market. The tablets are inserted at the base of each plant and the nutrients usually do not migrate, although I might turn off the bog just while inserting the tablets into the gravel at the base of each plant. The chlorosis could be an iron deficiency, too, although a little yellowing is supposed to mean the bog is pulling out all the nitrates. Hope this helps!

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