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What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep?

Q: What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep?

Diane – Wells, ME

A:  When the days shorten and temperatures drop, koi and other pond fish enter into what’s called torpor, or a period of decreased physiological activity that allows them to save energy. They don’t sleep the winter away, but they do essentially hibernate—their metabolism slows, they require less food, their activity level drops and their body temperatures reduce.

How do they know they need to hibernate, and what can hobbyists do to make their finned friends’ winter torpor restful? Read on to learn more.

Mother Nature’s in Charge
Fish don’t use calendars to decide when to take their winter snooze. Instead, they follow Mother Nature’s lead. Because fish are cold-blooded, their metabolism reacts to the external environment. When the water temperature falls, so does their activity level: Their appetite dwindles, they digest food more slowly, and they expend less energy. In the spring when temperatures warm back up, the fish will naturally come out of their torpor. They’ll start to seek out food as their metabolism increases, and they’ll become active once again.

Suspended Animation
You’ll know when your fish go dormant. They won’t lie down on the pond’s bottom or curl up in their cozy Koi Kastle, but they will float upright, tuck in their fins and remain suspended in the water. As the fish hover there, you may still see some super slow movement, and they may also wind up facing in the same direction as if they were heading somewhere at less than a snail’s speed.

Sweet Dreams, Koi!
Here are four ways to give your koi a peaceful winter rest:

  1. Set up an aeration system to keep the water pumped full of oxygen. Even though they’re hibernating, your fish will still need some fresh O2.
  2. Install a de-icer to keep a hole open in the ice and allow for gas exchange. If the pond freezes over, use warm water to reopen a hole; do not bang on the ice to crack it, as doing so can stress your fish.
  3. Keep as much debris out of the pond as possible to prevent muck buildup over the winter.
  4. Let the fish be. Don’t try to get them to move or swim or wake up from their slumber. Keep an eye on them, but leave them alone until they wake up on their own.

Pond Talk: Have your fish started hibernating yet?

Vent Harmful Gases All Winter - Airmax® PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo

I’m losing water even after turning off my waterfall, but I don’t see any evidence of a leak. Help! | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’m losing water even after turning off my waterfall, but I don’t see any evidence of a leak. Help!

Q: I’m losing water even after turning off my waterfall, but I don’t see any evidence of a leak. Help!

Paul – Cherry Hill, NJ

A:  Missing water, eh? Well, there are several logical explanations for your “Case of the Disappearing Water” pond mystery. This time of year, a water feature will lose water for all sorts of reasons, including:

  • Humidity Levels: When the humidity levels are low and the air contains little moisture, the dry atmosphere will act like a sponge, increasing evaporation rates and absorbing the water from your pond.
  • Windy Weather: Breezes are common during autumn, and those winds can also escalate evaporation in your pond. A 5-mile-per-hour wind at your pond’s surface, for example, results in roughly three times the evaporation rate on a still day!
  • Leaky Liner: Leaks can be tricky. Your pond and waterfall may appear to be leak-free, but a slow, inconspicuous one could have formed in your plumbing, or one could have happened after some rocks shifted. Take a look at this article for tips on finding and fixing a leak.
  • Freezing and Thawing: Though freezing temperatures are rare this time of year, ice formation and expansion can happen—and it can cause your pond’s volume to look like it’s changing. As the water freezes, it’ll take up more space than liquid water and appear to be disappearing when it’s really not.

So what can you do about the disappearing water?

First of all, if you haven’t already, shut down fountains, spitters, waterfalls and other extra water features. This will reduce splashing that can lead to water loss. Remember: The more surface area, the more loss from evaporation, so reduce surface area by keeping the surface water still.

Next, keep the pond filled by topping your water levels off with a garden hose—particularly on dry, windy days when evaporation is at its peak. Winter weather will eventually bring icy temperatures and frozen hoses, so keep a thermostatically controlled Thermo-Hose™ handy to ensure the water inside the hose stays liquid. The built-in heating elements turn on when the temperatures dip below freezing, preventing ice from forming. If you are refilling with tap water don’t forget to add Water Conditioner.

Finally, for your pond’s and your fishes’ health, install an aeration system to keep the water circulated below the pond’s surface. An easy-to-install system like the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo will gently aerate and pump oxygen into the water while keeping a hole open in the ice to allow for gas exchange.

Water loss is common, but with these tricks you can minimize the evaporation while maintaining your pond over the fall and winter.

Pond Talk: How much evaporation do you measure in your pond during the fall months?

Top Off Ponds & Water Features - K&H™ Thermo-Hose™

I don’t have a pond, so I have no fish or filter to worry about. Can I still run my water feature? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I don’t have a pond, so I have no fish or filter to worry about. Can I still run my water feature?

Q: I don’t have a pond, so I have no fish or filter to worry about. Can I still run my water feature?

Julie – Castleton, NY

A:  Though we generally recommend folks shut down their pondless features in the winter, you can absolutely run it year-round—as long as you’re prepared to add a few winter chores to your to-do list.

Keep It Running
Because they don’t have filtration systems to fuss with or fish to care for, pondless and other small features really don’t require much winter care. Periodically, however, inspect it and check for the following:

  • Flowing Water: To prevent water from freezing in the feature’s plumbing during cold temperatures, keep water running at all times. The movement will minimize ice buildup.
  • No Ice Dams: Keep an eye on the ice formations around your feature. Make sure ice is not redirecting water out of the water feature. If so, melt it with warm water.
  • Refill as Needed: You’ll need to top off the water level through the cold season, so keep a water supply available to refill your feature as needed. A hose-warming device like our Thermo-Hose™ will keep your water supply flowing for feature refills.

Shut It Down
If you don’t want to mess with these chores, shut your water feature down for the season and store the pieces and parts until next spring. Here’s a quick three-step checklist to follow:

  • Scrub Down: First, give your feature a thorough cleaning. Use Oxy-Lift™ to help break debris from the rocks and waterfall, gently scrub as needed and rinse well.
  • Remove Pump: Next, empty out water basins and remove your pump for winter storage. Drain the tubing and store the pump in a bucket of water to keep the seals moist so they don’t dry out and crack.
  • Store Décor: Finally, disconnect and store any fragile water feature parts, like spitters or decorative vases in your garage or basement. Take temperature-sensitive plants inside for the winter, too.

Yes, sitting beside a gurgling waterfall on a frosty winter’s eve is a splendid way to relax after a long day (especially if you have a hot cup of tea and a patio heater cranked on!). But giving your feature a break for the winter while you stay warm and dry is a nice idea, too. Whatever route you choose, enjoy!

Pond Talk: How do you keep your pondless water feature running through the winter?

Quickly Lift Debris From Waterfalls - Pond Logic® Oxy-Lift™ Defense®

My water garden doesn’t ice over, but the water gets cold. Can I still use barley extract during the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My water garden doesn’t ice over, but the water gets cold. Can I still use barley extract during the winter?

Q: My water garden doesn’t ice over, but the water gets cold. Can I still use barley extract during the winter?

Mary – Marietta, GA

A:  Barley straw is effective stuff. It’s an all-natural, chemical-free option for keeping pond water clear. And the best part? The temperature-tolerant natural pond treatment can be used year-round—even if your pond’s water gets cold.

Ever wonder how this seemingly innocuous bale of dried barley straw works? Read on to learn more.

It’s Science!

Though researchers have yet to precisely pinpoint how barley straw works, it’s generally believed that as a barley straw bale breaks down in water, it produces and releases many chemical compounds—and one of them may promote clearer pond water.

It has not been found to harm fish, water fowl or pond inhabitants in any way and, in fact, some studies suggest the straw benefits fish health.

Pond Particulars

When using barley straw in a water garden or backyard pond, forward-thinking hobbyists originally placed bales of it in their waterfall filter boxes, skimmers or waterfall areas where it would decompose. Things have sure changed! Those unwieldy bales have since been replaced by compressed, easy-to-use pellets and barley extract, which is basically the good stuff in a bottle.

If you’re thinking about using barley straw in your water garden, you have more options than ever. Check out these four popular methods:

  • Barley Straw Bales: Typically available loose in a mesh bag, small bales of barley straw can be placed in the pond several months before pond clarity issues are expected to occur (around March or April, depending on your climate) as the straw must start to decompose before it releases it’s special compunds. In a 1,000-gallon pond, 1 pounds of barley straw is needed, but it should be replaced every four to six months. Keep the straw well-aerated, floating it near your waterfall or stream or in shallow water. Don’t leave it in your pond beyond its prime time, however, because it can eventually become a nutrient source for algae.
  • Barley Pellets: Compressed into a compact form, Barley Straw Pellets also contain all the beneficial substances found in barley straw without the unsightly look of bales, pillows or pads. The pellets may also buffer pH and control alkalinity in your pond. A 6-pound bag will treat an 800-gallon pond for up to six months; a 12-pound bag will treat a 1,600-gallon pond for up to six months.
  • Barley Extract: Offering the benefits of barley straw without the mess or unsightly bale floating in your pond, Barley Straw Extract contains those beneficial substances in liquid form. Because you don’t have to wait for the barley straw to decompose, it goes to work on contact. An 8-ounce container treats up to 4,000 gallons for three months; a 16-ounce bottle treats up to 8,000 gallons for three months.
  • Seasonal Defense®: Seasonal Defense® gives you the power of activated barley straw with an additional punch of natural bacteria in one simple treatment. Used when water temperatures drop below 50°F, Seasonal Defense® helps break down muck caused by leaves, scum and sediment.

No matter what form you choose, barley straw extract is a good tool to keep in your water garden tool chest. It’s an effective solution you’ll use all year round.

Pond Talk: Have you used barley straw extract in your pond? Were you satisfied with the results?

Benefits Of Barley Without The Mess - Pond Logic® Barley Extract

Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options?

Q: Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options?

Vicki – Pawtucket, RI

A:  Yes, those pond heaters are expensive to run! But guess what? You don’t need one in the first place!

Heaters are more frequently used in aquariums, particularly those that house warm-water fish like tetras, danios or angelfish.

In your pond, the fish will overwinter just fine without a heater—even if temperatures drop below freezing. Pond fishes like koi and goldfish naturally go into wintertime hibernation when temperatures fall. They’ll stop eating, their metabolisms will slow way down and they’ll snooze through the winter without worrying about how warm their water is.

However, if you live in areas that experience freezing temperatures that cause your pond to ice over, you do need to worry about keeping a hole in the ice. The hole allows toxic gases like ammonia to escape while allowing oxygen in, and your fish will need that fresh O2.

So how do you create that hole? Not with a pond heater! Check out these much cheaper alternatives:

  • De-Icer: A de-icer floats on the water surface and melts a hole in the ice. Unlike a heater that actually warms the entire pond, a de-icer simply melts an opening in the ice sheet, thereby allowing for gas exchange.
  • Aerator: Rather than create a hole in the ice from above, an aerator like the PondAir™ (for smaller ponds) or KoiAir™ (for larger ponds) circulates the water below the ice sheet. In areas with mild winters, that subsurface water movement will keep a hole in the ice—but when temps really dip, an aerator may not be enough to maintain a vent hole.
  • De-Icer, Aerator Combo: An excellent and convenient option to consider is the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo. It combines both the Thermo-Pond de-icer and PondAir™ Aeration Kit, providing your water feature the one-two punch it needs to stay well-vented throughout the winter. Watch the video below for benefits and installation.

If you live in an area with temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, consider picking up a Thermo Cube®. It’s a thermostatically controlled outlet that turns on when air temperatures drop below 35°F and turns off when air temps rise above 45°F.

So put that pond heater on Craigslist and invest in a de-icer, aerator and thermostatically controlled outlet. It’ll save you money in the long run!

Pond Talk: What method do you use to keep a hole in the ice in your pond?

The Ultimate in Winter Protection - PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo

I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration?

Q: I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration?

David – Greenfield, IN

A:  Shutting down the waterfall for the winter makes a lot of sense for water garden hobbyists. Not only will it save on operating costs, but it will also prolong the life of your equipment, prevent ice dams from forming and potentially draining your pond, and save on a lot of hassle and worry.

With the waterfall off, the pond will need another source of oxygen – and that’s where an aeration system comes into play. It pumps O2 into the water and maintains a gas exchange hole in the ice, ensuring any finned friends are safe and healthy through the cold season.

We’ve got some expert tips on aeration for you. Here’s what we recommend for making the most of your system.

  • Size It Right: Install an aeration system that’s large enough to properly ventilate your pond volume. An “a little is better than nothing” approach might not be enough to keep your fish safe. If your pond is less than 4,000 gallons, consider The Pond Guy Water Garden Aeration Kit. If it’s between 4,000 and 16,000 gallons, try the KoiAir Aeration Kit.
  • Pair with a De-icer: Though the water movement created by aeration can prevent most surface ice formation, add a de-icer just in case nighttime temperatures turn frigid. The PondAir & Thermo-Pond Combo – a combination kit containing an aerator and de-icer – is perfect for this. On particularly windy nights, you might see ice form even with a de-icer, but don’t worry. The aeration system is still adding oxygen to the pond, and the combination of the two will eventually reopen the hole.
  • Position in Shallows: Rather than place your diffusers in the deepest areas of your pond where your fish hang out in the winter, put them in the shallows or near the surface. Doing so will provide more water movement and better keep a hole in the ice.
  • Watch the Ice: If ice does form, don’t panic! Keep an eye on the ice. If a ventilation hole doesn’t reopen on its own within a few days, pour a bucket of hot water on the ice to help melt it open. Don’t – we repeat – don’t pound on the ice to break it apart. Your fish won’t like it. In fact, the sound waves will stress your fish, compromise their immune systems and could kill them.
  • Maintain for Best Results: Mechanical pieces and parts need to be maintained, and so if you’ve been using your aeration system for the summer or it has been dormant since last winter, it’ll need some attention. Check to make sure the airstones/diffusers are working properly, and install a maintenance kit to ensure it’s working to its full potential.

Pond Talk: What wintertime aeration tips can you share?

Vent Harmful Gases All Winter Long - The Pond Guy(r) Water Garden Aeration Kit

We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump?

Q: We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump?

Tina – DuBois, PA

A:  Oh, if it were only that easy. Even though you plan to shut down the pond for the season, you still need to complete some winterizing chores. Put on your Aqua Gloves and hip waders. Here is your step-by-step guide for closing down shop and storing your pond equipment for the winter.

Step 1: Remove Pond Netting

Do you have a leaf-collecting net covering your pond? Once the colorful foliage has stopped falling, remove the net, shake off the leaves and store it until next fall. If you leave it on the pond, heavy snowfall and ice could collect on it and weigh it down—possibly endangering your fish.

Step 2: Disconnect Filters and Pumps, Lower Water Level

Next, protect your pumps, filters and hardware from the freezing temperatures. Disconnect the plumbing and drain the water from the tubing to prevent them from freezing, expanding and cracking. If your filtration system has built-in ultraviolet filter or if you have a UV clarifier, disconnect it and take it indoors to prevent ice damage. Remove your pump and store it in a bucket of water to keep the seals moist so they don’t dry out and crack. And lower your water level below the opening of skimmers to protect it from expanding and cracking during freezing temperatures.

Step 3: Clean Filters and Media

Natural bacteria that have been thriving in your pond will become dormant and die through the winter, so you can remove your filter media and store it indoors for safe keeping. Be sure to wash the pads or BioBalls with a strong stream of water while they’re still wet; it’s much easier to clean UVs and media when they’re wet versus trying to scrub off dried debris in the spring.

Step 4: Trim Back Aquatic Plants and Remove Excess Debris

Do you have plants in your pond? Tropical varieties—like tropical lilies—must be removed and stored inside if you hope to keep them thriving until spring. Check out this blog post that details how to remove and store them. Hardy varieties can stay in the pond; take some time to trim away dead or dying foliage after the first frost. While you’re at it, pull out your ClearVac pond vacuum and suck up as much detritus as possible. The less rotting debris in the pond, the more available oxygen for fish.

Step 5: Install De-Icer and Aeration
Your fish will take a winter nap through the cold season, but they’ll still need oxygen to survive. If you live in an area that freezes, be sure to install a de-icer, aeration or both (as we feature in our PondAir & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo) to help maintain a hole in the ice. That will allow the toxic gases to vent and oxygen to enter while circulating the water.

Step 6: Switch to Wheatgerm Fish Food
If you haven’t already switched to wheatgerm fish food, do so now. Our Spring and Fall Fish Food is easier for your finned pals to digest—which is what they need when temperatures start to fall. As the water reaches 40 to 50 degrees F, slow down and stop feeding them for winter. Remember that with no filtration system running, any waste they produce won’t be sufficiently removed.

Step 7: Add Seasonal Defense
Finally, if temperatures still permit, continue to add natural bacteria designed for cooler temperatures, like Seasonal Defense. The little microbes will continue to break down organic waste that wasn’t easily cleaned from the pond.

As you prepare to shut your pond down for the winter, take time to check off these chores. It’ll make next year’s spring pond season one to look forward to!

Pond Talk: Do you have a dedicated spot in your garage or basement for pond supplies and equipment?

Make Your Fall Cleanout Quick & Easy - The Pond Guy(r) ClearVac(rm) Pond Vacuum


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