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Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Kirsten – Kalispell, MT

A: Though water fluctuations seem more pronounced in the summertime, winter water loss in your pond will happen. When it does, you’ll need to top it off – but access to liquid water can be a challenge in northern climates where landscapes freeze over.

Reasons for Winter Water Loss

Before we get into how to turn up the heat in your water garden, let’s take a look at why water loss happens during the cold season. It can be caused by the following:

  • Low humidity: When the air contains little moisture, evaporation rates increase as the dry air will absorb the water (frozen or not) from your pond.
  • Windy conditions: Wind can also escalate evaporation in your pond. A 5-mile-per-hour wind at your pond’s surface, for instance, results in roughly three times the rate of evaporation on a still day.
  • Ice expansion, formation: Because frozen water takes up more space than liquid water, it will appear that the volume dissipates in your pond as ice forms and expands.

A small amount of water level fluctuation is OK – but if your pond is very shallow (18 to 24 inches or less) and stocked with fish, keep a very close eye on your water level. A few inches of water loss could leave your fish in ice!

Topping It Off

If your pond’s water level drops more than an inch, you’ll need to top it off. But how do you do that if the pond is covered in a sheet of ice, or if the water in your hose freezes solid as soon as you turn on the spigot?

First, you’ll have to break through the ice. To crack through it, remember to never use a drill, hammer or other blunt object, as the subsurface vibrations could harm your fish. Instead, fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole in the ice, preferably near the edge.

Next, use the heated K&H™ PVC Thermo-Hose™ to fill up your pond through the hole. The thermostatically controlled hose prevents ice from forming in your faucet or hose. The unit’s built-in heating elements turn on automatically when temperatures dip below freezing so you’ll have liquid water coming out of your hose.

You can use the Thermo-Hose™ two ways: either keep it plugged into a power source all winter, or use it as-needed by plugging it in 30 minutes before use. Either way, hook it up to the spigot or water source only when in use and unhook it when you’re done.

Pond Talk: How much water loss do you experience in your pond over the winter?

Keep Your Water Flowing - K&H (t) PVC Thermo-Hose(t)

We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan- Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond All Year Long - Pond Logic (r) Pond Dye

Do I need to do anything to my aquatic plants this time of year?| Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Do I need to do anything to my aquatic plants this time of year?

Q: Do I need to do anything to my aquatic plants this time of year?

Jaclyn – Tomahawk, WI

A: Shorter days and swaths of fall colors mean one thing: winter is on its way, and your aquatic plants will need some attention before the big chill sets in. So bundle up, pull on your hip waders and Aqua Gloves™ to keep dry and warm, dig out your easy-to-use Pond Scissors and Pliers – and let’s take care of some winter-prep pond plant chores!

Tropical Plants: Tropical water lilies, water hyacinth, water lettuce and other tropical plants prefer warm temperatures all year long. If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone nine or lower, you’ll need to completely remove these plants from your pond and relocate them to a protected indoor space for the winter, like an aquarium or large bucket inside a heated garage or workshop.

Tropical water lilies will need some extra care. When you pull the plants from your pond, remove any dead foliage, rinse the plant well, keep the tuber moist in distilled water and place it under a grow light until spring.

Keep in mind that despite these winterizing measures, your tropical aquatic plants might not survive the winter. They are from the tropics, after all …

Hardy Water Lilies: Hardy water lilies can tolerate cooler temperatures than your tropical varieties, but they need to be kept in a place that won’t freeze, like the deepest areas of your pond. Remove the plants from the pond, trim the foliage back to one to two inches above the root ball, and submerge them as low as they’ll go for the winter. Come spring, the greenery will reemerge healthy as ever from the plants’ crowns.

Bog Plants: Your bog plants’ leaves and stems will begin to die off as winter arrives, so you’ll need to trim them back to just above the soil with pond scissors. If they are in containers, sink them lower into the deepest parts of your pond where the water remains unfrozen during the wintertime. If they are planted directly into the ground, leave them alone for the winter.

Submerged Plants: The only thing your below-the-surface greenery needs is a quick trim to get rid of decaying and dead foliage. Cut plants in containers back to one inch above the pot and submerge in the center of the pond; any plants living directly in the ground can be left as-is.

Floating Plants: Unless you live in a climate that doesn’t freeze, floating plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce won’t survive the winter. Plan to remove them from your pond after the first hard freeze and toss them in your compost pile. If you leave them in the pond, the dead plants will decompose and cause water quality issues this winter.

While you’re preparing your plants for winter, take some time to do a little clean up around your pond. Remove any dead leaves and foliage, and rake or net out leaves and fallen debris. Water quality matters – even in the winter!

Pond Talk: How long does it take you to prepare your aquatic plants for winter?

Keep Your Hands Clean & Dry- Coralife(r) AquaGloves(t)

For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Q: For winter, do I need to move my diffusers, or can I just close the valves?

Chuck- Tipton, IN

A: Diffusers – and the oxygen they pump into your pond or lake – ensure the health and well being of your fish. Year-round aeration circulates the water column and fills the pond with oxygen. If your pond freezes over during the cold months of the year, an aeration system will can also help maintain a hole in the ice to allow harmful gases to escape.

Move Your Diffusers:

As part of your winter-prep chores, you will need to move the diffuser plates to a shallower spot in your pond or lake. Why? Give your fish a place to safely overwinter in deeper, warmer water. When the plates are closer to the surface, they will also help to keep a hole open in the ice.

Close the Valves:

In addition to relocating your diffuser plates, you can also close about 50 percent of the valves (unless you have the PS10 or LS10 models of Airmax® Aeration Systems, in which case you leave the valve open). You won’t be mixing as much water, but you will be adding enough oxygen to the pond and allowing for gas exchange at the surface.

Stay Safe:

Because you’re aerating your pond over the winter, consider putting up a “Thin Ice” sign near the shoreline. Air pockets form in ice sheets created on aerated ponds, and they make the surface unsound and not safe to walk or skate on. Warn would-be hockey players and figure skaters of the danger before they get into trouble.

While you’re thinking about safety, make sure you have a Life Ring, first aid kit and blanket stowed lakeside in a weatherproof bin just in case someone does fall through the ice.

Pond Talk: How spectacular are the fall colors around your pond or lake right now?

Aerate Your Pond in All Seasons - Airmax (r) Pond Series (t) Aeration Systems

I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?| Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?

Q: I see pond nets for little ponds, but how do I stop leaves from getting into my 1-acre pond?

Casey- Wichita, KS

A: Pond netting works great to prevent blowing leaves and debris from landing in small water features, but they’re not practical – or possible, really – for large ponds and lakes like yours.

Can you imagine what it would take to install a supersized 1-acre pond net? It would be like you and 20 of your friends trying to cover Fenway Park’s field in rain delay tarp while maneuvering tiny tricycles. Entertaining for those watching, but almost impossible for those installing!

Instead, we suggest a three-pronged approach that involves a little manual labor, some beneficial bacteria and a lot of aeration – but no tricycles.

Shoreline Cleanup

The first step is to manually remove fallen leaves and debris from the shoreline with a tool like a Pond & Beach Rake or PondSkim™ Debris Skimmer. When you rake up or skim all that decomposing material and dump it in your compost pile away from your pond, you’re preventing it from decomposing in the water, where it turns into algae-feeding muck.

Bombard with Bacteria

To break down the organic material that does find its way into your pond, use muck-busting beneficial bacteria like those found in Pond Logic® MuckAway™. The pellets can be used throughout the fall, as long as water temperatures are above 50° Fahrenheit. They’ll sink to the bottom and instantly begin to break down debris and improve water clarity.

Aerate and Oxygenate

An aeration system, like the Airmax® Aeration System, removes dangerous gases like ammonia while delivering oxygen to your fish and muck-eating beneficial bacteria. It churns and turns over the water column, circulating that oxygen and keeping your pond or lake healthy. And if your pond freezes over in the winter, your aeration system can create an air hole in the ice for gas exchange.

They may not make 1-acre nets, but you can keep those blowing leaves managed with these three easy tips. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How do you prevent leaves and debris from landing in your large pond or lake?

Remove Unwanted Leaves This Fall - The Pond Guy (r) Pond & Beach Rake

Do I need to do anything special for my water garden frogs this winter?| Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Do I need to do anything special for my water garden frogs this winter?

Q: Do I need to do anything special for my water garden frogs this winter?

Toni – Philadelphia, PA

A: Despite their innocuous demeanor, frogs are tough little critters. They have evolved ways to survive in some of the harshest climates on the earth, including the Arctic Circle, Mojave Desert and everywhere in between. So don’t worry: The ones living in your pond – likely a type of green aquatic frog or bullfrog – can handle some cold or frozen conditions.

Frogs are so good at the cold life, in fact, that portions of their bodies will partially freeze. Ice crystals form in places like the body cavity, bladder and under the skin, but a high concentration of glucose in the frog’s vital organs prevents them from freezing. A partially frozen frog will stop breathing, its heart will stop beating and it will appear quite dead. But when the outside temperature warms above freezing, the frog’s frozen portions will thaw, and its heart and lungs resume activity.

They can survive those cold temperatures, but you still should provide an optimized environment for your web-footed pals. Here are three things you can do to help them hibernate comfortably this winter.

  1. Mind the Liquid, Gas: For aquatic frogs to survive a freezing winter, ponds should be 18 to 24 inches deep and have an open hole in the ice for gas exchange. The depth ensures the water (and your frog friends) won’t freeze solid, which gives them a place to hibernate. The hole in the ice, kept clear with a bubbler or aerator, allows harmful gases to escape.
  2. Provide Oxygen-Rich Water: Aquatic frogs will spend a good portion of the winter just lying on top of the mud or only partially buried, but they typically hibernate underwater. They need to be near oxygen-rich water at all times, and you can provide that with an aeration system, like the KoiAir™ Water Garden Aeration Kit, which infuses the pond with essential oxygen
  3. Reduce Muck & Debris: These guys like a little mud, but you should keep that muck and debris to a minimum to keep toxic gases tamed and the water quality at its best. The beneficial bacteria in Seasonal Defense® makes the job easy. Bacteria works by breaking down leaves, sediment and scum during the late fall when water temperatures fall below 50° Fahrenheit.

You don’t need to worry about land-loving terrestrial frogs. They will normally hibernate on land, where they’ll burrow deep into the soil beneath the frost line, crawl into cracks and crevices in logs or rocks, or dig down as far as they can in leaf litter.

If you maintain your pond regularly and have it well-prepped for fall and winter, your aquatic frogs will be just fine. They’ll be croaking and playing and eating bugs again come spring!

Pond Talk: As fall and winter approach, do you do anything special for your aquatic frogs?

Accelerate Decomposition This Fall - Pond Logic (r) Seasonal Defense (r)

Why does it seem harder to kill algae in the fall than in the spring? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Why does it seem harder to kill algae in the fall than in the spring?

Q: Why does it seem harder to kill algae in the fall than in the spring?

Dwayne- Charlottesville, VA

A: Fall algae is tough stuff to control. Once the weather starts to change, it’s almost as if this green nuisance develops super powers and becomes resistant to every weapon in your algaecide arsenal. Why does this happen, and what can be done?

The Magic Number

Don’t worry: The algae in your pond is not morphing into a super villain. The problem lies with the effectiveness of your algaecides in cooler weather. When water temperatures start to fall below 60° Fahrenheit, all those chemicals in your arsenal actually become less able to do their job. It’s like asking Batman to fight crime without his utility belt – he can do it, but it’s not pretty.

Fighting Fall Algae

Though your tactics may be limited, the war against fall algae can be won with a three-pronged approach.

  1. Go Heavy If Necessary: First of all, if you have denser or more well-established algae blooms in one area of your pond or lake that have sprung up later in the season, you may need to use heavier doses of algaecide to combat them. Read the product’s label for safe usage guidelines.
  2. Be Ready for Resistance: Algaecides work well, but algae can become resistant to them if they’re applied throughout the season. Remember that as more algae grows and dies, more nutrients are added to the ecosystem – and those nutrients will fuel algae blooms, even in the fall. Control decomposing biomass with a pond skimmer or rake that will remove those fertilizing nutrients.
  3. Use the Right Product: Finally, make sure you’re using the right algaecide for the job. Cutrine®- PLUS Granular Algaecide is designed to control bottom-dwelling chara or algae blooms deeper than three feet from your pond’s or lake’s surface. Algae Defense® Algae Control – with a boost from some Treatment Booster™ PLUS surfactant – is best suited for algae that is three feet or less from the surface.

Algae can be a frustrating problem to deal with, especially in the cooler fall months, but it can be controlled with some patience and diligence. Good luck!

Pond Talk: Have you experienced fall algae blooms in your pond or lake this year? How have you controlled them?

Quickly Eliminate Pond Algae - Pond Logic(r) Algae Defense (r)

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