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Do I need to heat the water in my pond in order for my fish to survive the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Do I need to heat the water in my pond in order for my fish to survive the winter?

Q: Do I need to heat the water in my pond in order for my fish to survive the winter?

Kimberly – Bradford, PA

A: We all love central heating or a roaring fireplace in our homes when winter’s chilly temperatures roll in, but your pond fish—specifically your koi and common goldfish—don’t need those creature comforts to stay happy and content.

Cold Temps and Torpor

During the winter months when the water temperature is 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and below, koi and goldfish enter into a dormant state. The technical term for this is torpor, and it means that the fishes’ metabolism and activity slows, they become very lethargic, and they require little nourishment. In this state, the koi and goldfish will, in fact, be quite comfortable in temperatures as low as 35 degrees.

Demystifying De-icers

If koi and goldfish don’t need the water warmed, what’s the deal with pond heaters and de-icers, like the Thermo-Pond, Farm Innovators or Perfect Climate™ de-icers?

These tools of the trade aren’t intended to turn up the heat in your pond’s water. They’re designed to simply melt a hole in the ice, which allows dangerous gases to escape while letting fresh and life-sustaining oxygen. When plugged into the Thermo Cube® Thermostatically Controlled Outlet, the de-icers will turn on when temps dip to 35 degrees and off when temps rise to 45 degrees on their own. To save even more on energy costs this winter, consider installing a PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond 3.0 aeration and pond de-icer combo. When used with an aeration system, you can use a lower wattage de-icer which will not need to be ran as often to maintain an open ventilation hole.

De-icer’s Limitations

But the one thing de-icers don’t do: actively circulate or move the water like an aeration system does. That agitating action is necessary to trap and bring oxygen into the pond’s entire water column—including the bottom, where the fishes are snoozing. It also helps to prevent ice from forming a complete sheet on the pond surface.

Though running a pump will help move the water, it doesn’t agitate it enough to get those O2 levels up. A pump also costs more to operate than an aeration system, and, if ice does form, you could do some major damage to the unit from poor water flow. If you do not yet own an aeration system for your water garden, the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond 3.0 Combo is a surefire way to protect your fish this winter.

Pond Talk: How do you keep a hole in the ice on your pond or water garden during the winter?

PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond 3.0 Combo - Protect Your Fish This Winter

Can I Break A Hole Open In The Ice Over My Pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can sidewalk salt be used to melt the ice off my pond?

Can I Break A Hole Open In The Ice Over My Pond?

Liz – Carterville, IL

When maintaining a pond during the winter, it is important that the surface of your pond does not freeze over with ice. If you have an aeration kit running in your pond but the resulting hole in the ice is getting smaller, or has closed up altogether, don’t panic. Sporadic short-term ice coverage is not an issue if you’ve done regular maintenance to reduce organic debris throughout the season. If the pond remains iced-over for weeks at a time, consider giving your aeration system a boost.

If your pond has frozen over and you want to reopen the hole, simply rest a pan of hot water on the surface of your pond to melt the ice away. Do not use a blunt object to break the ice open as the shock-waves will stress your fish. Also, refrain from poking holes in the ice as you may accidentally puncture your liner or poke one of your fish.

Another way to maintain an open ventilation hole is by adding a pond heater/de-icer above your aeration diffuser stone. If you have multiple air stones, gather them into one area to make it more difficult for ice to form.

Pond Talk: Do you notice the ventilation hole getting smaller or freezing over for short period of time in the winter?

Can sidewalk salt be used to melt the ice off my pond? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can sidewalk salt be used to melt the ice off my pond?

Can sidewalk salt be used to melt the ice off my pond?

Wayne – Independence, OH

Sidewalk salt is made for one simple purpose: to melt ice on your sidewalk. And while it theoretically could be used to melt pond ice, it’s most definitely not the right product for the job. While some sidewalk salt products are made up of pure rock salt, others contain additives like chloride – and neither substance is particularly fish- or plant-friendly. Because of the harm they can do to your aquatic environment, we strongly discourage the use of sidewalk melt products on your pond.

Fortunately, there are several good, chemical-free alternatives. The first – and arguably most effective – is the year-round use of a Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration System. Through the constant flow of air through the water, and the consequent movement of the water, ice can’t form, and a steady supply of life-sustaining oxygen is assured.

For a lower-tech solution, we also recommend our Thermo-Pond 3.0 De-Icer and our Farm Innovators Floating Pond De-Icer. These two products are designed with heating elements that keep a vent hole clear in even the coldest weather, allowing hazardous decomposition gases to escape. Through the use of these elegantly simple devices, fish can weather the winter safely, and emerge from the ice ready to thrive for another season.

Pond Talk: Do you bring your fish in for the winter? How do you provide an indoor home for them?

Airmax® Aeration Kits

The de-icer I purchased says it’s thermostatically-controlled. Why is it always running? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

The de-icer I purchased says it’s thermostatically-controlled. Why is it always running?

The de-icer I purchased says it’s thermostatically-controlled. Why is it always running?
Bill – White Lake, MI

When backyard water features are home to year-round populations of fish, it’s vitally important to prevent long-term ice cover. Without a break in the ice, harmful gases produced by decaying leaves and other organic matter build up, threatening the well-being of wintering fish. To prevent that threat, many pond owners install thermostatically-controlled de-icers, which produce enough concentrated heat to keep a vent hole open during winter’s coldest months.

When a de-icer is thermostatically controlled, it is set to turn both on and off at certain temperatures. In theory, that makes good sense: if the water is cold, the de-icer goes to work, and when the water warms, it switches off – saving on unnecessary electricity costs. The problem, however, is that the water temperature in a frozen pond may not rise above the thermostat’s high-temperature shutoff threshold, leaving the de-icer in full heating mode all the time.

Naturally, we’ve given this issue some thought. And that’s why we strongly recommend the use of our Thermo Cube® Thermostatically Activated Plug. Unlike a thermostatically-controlled de-icer, the Thermo Cube® measures air – not water temperature. Thus, when the sun is shining, and air temperatures warm up, the Thermo Cube® automatically cuts power to the de-icer, and turns it back on when the air temperature drops. The combination works flawlessly – applying heat when it’s required to keep the ice open, and shutting it off when it’s not.

Pond Talk: Do you use a thermocube along with your de-icer?

Thermo Cube® Thermostatically Activated Plug

Should I use a heater or aerator in my water garden? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q&A

When should I remove the fountain from my pond?

Should I use a heater or aerator in my water garden?
Lindsay – Pittsfield, ME

So you already know that it is important to keep a hole open in the ice that forms over your water garden during the winter months. This provides an outlet for harmful gases and an inlet for new oxygen-rich air. The question now is which device do you choose to get the job done. The good news is if you have already made your purchase for the season either one will perform excellently. Both a heater and aerator will maintain a hole in the ice but unlike a pond heater, this is only one of many tasks an aeration system performs for your water garden.

When we talk about pond heaters we are referencing units like the K&H™ Thermo-Pond 3.0 Pond De-Icer which does not heat the water in the pond but instead keeps a ring of water open allowing gas to escape through the vent in the top of the unit. Since most ponds deeper than 18” do not freeze solid this is all that is needed to allow oxygen exchange while the fish are dormant. When running a pond heater periodically check in on the pond to make sure ice does not form over the vent hole. To reduce electrical expense most pond heaters are thermostatically controlled to run only during a given temperature range, but they are measuring water temperature instead of air temperature. This means it is unlikely that the water temperature will raise enough to ever shut off the heater. To save some extra money on energy bills use a Thermo Cube® in tandem with your pond heater as it will determine when your pond heater should run based on the ambient air temperature.

Aeration keeps a hole in the ice during the winter by producing bubbles and water motion to slow the ice from forming. This allows for the same gas exchange created by a pond heater, however your Aeration System will circulate the entire pond volume and infuse it with dissolved oxygen making it more efficient at oxygen/gas transfer. People will sometimes run pumps beneath the ice trying to create this same effect but it is the tiny air bubbles that boost dissolved oxygen levels and create the friction that prevents ice from forming. Your pond benefits from aeration year round making an aeration system a helpful and highly functional tool regardless of the season. The installation process is simple and straightforward and aeration systems are available in various sizes and shapes allowing you to select a system that best fits your pond. When selecting a system make sure you purchase a unit that is rated for your ponds volume in order to provide enough outlet for proper gas exchange.

The performance of both pond heaters and aeration systems vary depending on how cold it gets in your area. Even when vented properly, layers of ice appear may over when temperatures dip well below freezing. If this only occurs temporarily, and is short in duration while the coldest temperatures and wind are present, there should not be any cause for concern, as a calm or sunny day will give the pond the help it needs to re-open the hole in the ice. If it is necessary to manually reopen the air vent do not try to break through it by hitting it with hammers or heavy objects as this creates vibrations that can harm your fish. If necessary pour a bucket of warm water over the vent hole to melt it back open.

Whichever unit you choose to use will perform to keep your fish safe for the winter months and ensure that they will be healthy, happy and ready to go in the spring.

POND TALK: Which type of system have you found to work better in your pond? Do you still notice some ice formation?

Do I need to remove the UV in my pond for the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q&A

Do I need to remove the UV in my pond for the winter?

Do I need to remove the UV in my pond for the winter?
Andrew – Memphis, TN

Like a lot of people, UV components don’t tolerate cold very well. Unlike people (most people, anyhow), those components tend to crack when frozen. So, in the interest of avoiding unnecessary expense when you bring your pond back online in the spring, removing your UV for the winter months is a wise course of action.

In ponds where the UV is a component of the filter system, the same rule applies: it’s worthwhile to take the entire filter out for the winter. Fortunately, the task is pretty straightforward. When the time comes to shut the pond down for the year, the first step is to drain the water from the UV/filter and give them a thorough cleaning. Next, be sure to cap off the tubing ends with a plastic bag or a snug-fitting cap to keep debris from entering the system. Finally, place your filter components in dry storage to keep them in good shape for next season.

But wait! What about your fish? Even though you’re done with your pond for the season, they’re not going anywhere – and they’ll still need an adequate supply of oxygen to survive the winter. And nothing provides oxygen more reliably than our Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration System and our Airmax® KoiAir™ Aeration System. With the addition of one of these systems, you’ll ensure winter water circulation – and keep your pond water well oxygenated for the fish that make your water feature a three-season sight to behold.

Pond Talk: Do you have a UV filter in your pond that needs to be removed?

Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration System for Water Gardens

When should I switch my fish food? | Decorative Pond & Water Garden Q&A

When should I switch my fish food?

When should I switch my fish food?

Jordyn – Milwaulkee, WI

If you’re eating fish food, you should probably consider switching it right away. I recommend pizza. Unless, of course, you’re a fish – which, for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you are.

Fish, as you probably know, are extremely susceptible to seasonal cycles, and the environmental changes they bring. When gauging the best time to transition from one type of food to another, it’s vital to monitor water temperature – which, when you use our Pond Logic® Floating Pond Thermometer, is a snap. The second, more subtle indicator is fish behavior. When water temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, fish movement become slower and more sluggish, or they’re eating significantly less, it’s time to switch to a wheat germ-based food like Pond Logic® Spring & Fall Fish Food.

When fish ease toward their dormant months, wheat germ-based food provides easily-digestible nutrition, and ensures that your fish won’t go dormant with undigested food in their bellies. Because undigested food decomposes over time, it poses a serious health risk to fish, and can release toxins into their systems that can result in sickness – and even fish loss. When using our Spring & Fall Fish Food, you can continue to feed your fish safely, without exposing them to unnecessary risk of illness.

When water temperatures drop into the 40s or fish stop eating altogether, it’s time to stop feeding, allowing fish to settle in safely for their long winter’s nap.

Pond Talk: What signs do you fish give you to signal they are ready to relax for the winter?

Pond Logic® Spring & Fall Fish Food

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