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Fall & Winter
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Fall / Winter 2006 Vol. 9  No. 4

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Preparing Your Pond for Fall & Winter

by ERIK TATE
Operations Manager
The Water Garden
WaterGarden.com

Yet 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.

Climate 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 Pond Photowho live in climates where your pond does not go dormant can ignore the bulk of this article and carry on as usual.

Keeping 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 a net 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 leaf 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 pond.)

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.

Feeding the Fish

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. Pond Care Spring & Autumn Food or Microbe Lift's Legacy Cold Weather Food are ideal choices for fish feeding at these temperatures

As 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.

Once 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 and Bacteria

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 or PondoVac 3.

Remember 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.

You 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
dead 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 pond 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 temperature.

Protect the Plants

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.

A 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.

This 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.

Some 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.

Some 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.

One 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.

Waterfalls 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 Waterfalltemperatures 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.

The 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.

If you choose to run the pump all winter and you have an Aqua Ultraviolet UV Winterizing capsterilizer, 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.

Taking 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 in the
Winterizing Your Pond
section of our Website.

 

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That's it for this issue of The Water Garden News, we hope you found it useful and entertaining. Look for the next issue in March 2007.

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