Preparing Your Pond for Fall &
by ERIK TATE
The Water Garden
another summer is now in the books, and now we are ready for autumn
and winter is soon to follow. It is important to understand our
ponds and their needs as cooler weather is coming in. A few preparations
now will make this transition easier and have the pond better
prepared for next spring.
will determine how soon these preparations need to be made. Some
of us may need to start now, while others have a few weeks to
make plans. Those who
live in climates where your pond does not go dormant can ignore
the bulk of this article and carry on as usual.
up with the Leaves
Obviously one of the more significant events of autumn is that
the leaves begin to fall. Leaves decaying in the pond will throw
off the ecological balance of the water. One option is to use
and skim leaves off the surface of the pond as they fall, but
this can be a daily chore. A pond skimmer can clog too rapidly
in the peak of fall unless emptied multiple times per day. Installing
netting over the pond will be easier to maintain. The Water
Garden carries leaf netting in different mesh sizes and varying
dimensions including custom cut netting. (The photo above shows
one of our display ponds that is covered with leaf netting. As
you can see, the netting does not detract from the view of the
leaf netting will not only keep the leaves out of your pond but
will help protect your fish from predators such as birds and raccoons
which are more of a problem in the winter when there are no plants
for the fish to hide under. The fish's metabolism is slower in
cold water and the fish would have a difficult time escaping predators.
If you don't use leaf netting you may want to consider a Koi
Kastle. This will provide a place for your fish to hide making
them more comfortable and safer.
As the air temperature begins to drop so will the water temperature
in the pond. As it does, we should be slowly preparing the fish
for winter. Do this by gradually reducing the amount of food they
are receiving. When the water temperature falls below 60 degrees
you should begin feeding a food with a lower protein content.
Care Spring & Autumn Food or Microbe
Lift's Legacy Cold Weather Food are ideal choices for fish
feeding at these temperatures
the water temperatures continue to drop to below 60 degrees you
should feed your fish only two or three times a week. It can take
your fish two or three days to digest food at this temperature.
the temperature drops below 50 degrees you should stop feeding
altogether until spring when the water temperature remains above
50. Reminder: The water temperature is what is relevant, not the
air temperatures. A good pond thermometer makes things easier.
We are often asked about feeding during warm spells in the winter.
If it will be warm enough for the water temperature to remain
above 50 for several days, you can feed a little. But, it is better
to err on the side of less food. If the fish feel like they need
to eat they should be able to get what they need from algae and
other material already in the pond. The biological filter may
also not be able to keep up with food being added at this time.
Sludge on the bottom of the pond should be removed as best we
can. If it is about 1/4" thick or so, it is normal and should
not be a concern. This sludge is a combination of decaying plant
debris, leaves, fish waste, and more. Some of this can be removed
with a net. The finer debris can be removed by siphoning or by
using a vacuum such as the Mini-Vac
to continue use of beneficial bacteria. Microbe
Lift Autumn Winter Prep is made for cooler weather and can
continue to be used throughout the winter. These bacteria will
reduce maintenance by breaking down sludge and debris as well
as sustaining biological activity throughout the cold winter months.
should have stopped feeding your plants by this point. As the foliage
on your hardy plants begins to die back you should remove any dead
and dying leaves and place the plant deep enough in the pond to
keep the roots from freezing. While it is true that some marginal
plants will survive even if their roots freeze solid it is best
to lower all of your plants below the ice zone. Removing
plant material now is much easier than removing it after it becomes
sludge. As organic material decomposes in the pond toxic gasses
are produced. These gasses escape harmlessly into the atmosphere
unless there is a coating of ice over the pond in which case they
can be harmful to the fish. To prevent this from happening keep
an area of the pond surface free of ice. You can do this with a
deicer. The deicer has a built in thermostat that will turn
the unit on when the water gets cold enough and back off as the
water temperature rises. The ThermoCube
is a device that can be used along with a deicer to limit the decier
kicking on unneccesarily thus saving on your energy bill. The Deicer
responds to water temperature, but the ThermoCube responds to air
If in the extreme north and your pond is too small or shallow
to offer protection from freezing temperatures, you still have
other options. If your pond is not too large and does not contain
any fish, you can place a cover such as plywood over the pond
and cover this with bags of leaves or bales of straw to provide
insulation. A tarp should also be placed over the straw to keep
it dry and provide better insulation.
basement can provide protection if you remove the plants and store
them either in their original containers or in peat moss. You
could build a temporary shelter over the pond. Lumber or PVC pipe
can be used to construct a framework over the pond. Place clear
plastic over this and weight the plastic down with soil or stone.
This frame should hold the plastic a few feet above the water.
Greenhouse type plastic is best, but construction grade plastic
should last through one winter. If you leave enough room for a
chair, this can be a great place to sit on a cold winter day.
method works very well and is basically like moving the pond one
USDA hardiness zone higher. On clear days the sun warms the water
and, even if covered with snow, there is good insulation over
the pond. Some tropical plants can be wintered over this way in
mild winters, even if you live in zone 6 or 7.
plants do not like being submerged in the pond through the winter.
Iris ensata, a Japanese Iris, should be removed from the pond
and planted in the yard. When new growth starts in spring it can
be placed back in the pond for the summer. Lobelia cardinalis
(Cardinal Flower) should be removed from the pond and planted
in the yard for the winter. This plant should have a few inches
of mulch over it as well. You will have more success wintering
over Cannas if you remove the rhizomes from the pot and store
in slightly damp peat in a basement or other cool area.
tropical water lilies will bloom all winter if kept in a tub container
inside and given at least six hours of bright light. You can also
winter them over by removing the tuber from the pot after the
foliage has died back from a freeze. Then place the tuber in a
container of slightly damp sand or peat moss and store at 50 degrees.
In the spring you will need to heat the tuber in an aquarium (or
other container with aquarium heater) to about 75 degrees to trigger
its growth before moving outside.
choice with tropical plants is simply disposing of them after
freezing weather and replacing them in the spring. This way you
get to try new plants and colors next season. Many tropical plants
can be brought inside and treated as houseplants for the winter.
Umbrella Palm, Taros, and Calla Lilies will do very well with
medium light levels. If these are in no-hole containers no special
care is needed. Otherwise keeping the pots in a tray full of water
is needed to keep the plants wet. Water hyacinth and water lettuce
require more care than they are worth. It is much easier (and
less expensive) to replace them each spring. If you still want
to make the effort, they require 10 hours of intense light and
water temperatures above 70 degrees.
and Pond Equipment
You may or may not want to run your pump and filter system through
the winter. This will depend on several factors, including climate.
If you live in a climate with temperatures
mostly well above freezing, then it will be to your advantage
to keep your pump and filter running through the winter. The bacteria
in your biological filter will not be active at low temperatures,
but it will remain alive as long as you keep it supplied with
oxygen-laden water. When spring arrives and the water temperature
is rising, the bacteria can start to work much quicker keeping
the water quality good for your fish and helping to control the
algae. Should you choose to run your filter through the winter
it is a good idea to minimize the water circulation in order to
take advantage of the layering effect of the water. (Water temperature
is densest at 39 degrees and the water on the bottom of the pond
will remain at this temperature even with freezing temperatures
at the surface.) Some ways to minimize circulation are to turn
off bottom drains, place intakes to pumps/filters at mid water
(you do not want to circulate bottom water in the winter), place
your intakes closer to the outlets in the pond (waterfall or fountain),
and/or turn the pump down. These actions will allow the biological
filters to stay alive without interfering with the layering of
the water. Massive circulation of water in the winter can super
chill the water by exposing warmer pond water to below freezing
temperatures leading to death of the fish. One problem with running
a pump and filter in the winter, is the potential of major damage
to your filter and plumbing system if the power goes off for extended
periods and you are not at home to make sure no water is present
in the filter and plumbing. If water is allowed to freeze in plumbing,
UV's or filters this can lead to breakage of these units. If your
system is designed to allow water to flow back into the pond in
the event of a power outage, these problems can be averted. If
you have a check valve in your system, you can use a long piece
of small tubing or wire to hold the valve open allowing water
to drain out.
other option is to turn off pumps and filters for the winter.
Cold water holds much more oxygen than warm water and the fish's
respiration is slow. Therefore you should not need the circulation
and aeration in most areas. The bacteria in your biological filter
does not work in cold temperatures, so the reason to run the filter
is to keep the bacteria alive. If you turn off the pump and filter
for the winter be sure to drain all plumbing. External filters,
UV's, and external pumps will need to be drained. Submersible
pumps should be left in the pond or in a bucket of water in a
warm place to keep the seals from drying out. If you choose this
method be sure to clean the filter before starting up in the spring.
With the absence of biological filtration, the use of Microbe
Lift Autumn Winter Prep becomes even more important.
you choose to run the pump all winter and you have an Aqua Ultraviolet
it would be advised to remove the lamp, ballast, and quartz sleeve.
You can use a Winterizing
cap on the UV sterilizer and avoid removing the whole unit
from the plumbing.
the right precautions before winter can save your fish from undo
stress and make for a better environment next season.
Most of the items mentioned in this article can be found
Winterizing Your Pond section of our Website.
[ Back to Top ]