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Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter?

Q: Do I need to watch the water levels in my pond during the winter?

Paul – Wixom, MI

A: Even when winter’s chilly grip takes hold, your pond’s water level will still fluctuate. It likely won’t be as dramatic as summertime’s evaporation rates, but you should definitely keep an eye on the amount of liquid stuff in your pond throughout the cold months.

Causes of Winter Water Loss

During the summer, the sun’s warming rays heat the water in your pond and cause it to evaporate—and sometimes very quickly, depending on how warm the air and water temperatures get. But during the wintertime, water loss can be caused by:

  • Dry air: Low humidity—which is when the air contains little water vapor—can increase evaporation rates as the dry air will absorb the moisture from your pond.
  • Winds: Windy conditions 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: The liquid water will appear to dissipate in your pond as ice forms and expands.

A small amount of water level fluctuation is OK—but a few inches of water loss could leave your fish in ice, particularly if your pond isn’t that deep to begin with!

Keep It Topped Off

To keep water levels steady (and your fish thawed and happy), you don’t need to warm the water. Instead, you should plan to top off the pond when it dips more than an inch or two, just as you would during the spring and summer.

When you add water to your water garden, make sure it actually goes into the pond—not just on top of the ice. Feed the water through a hole in the ice using a garden hose or a thermostatically controlled hose such as the K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™, which 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.

If you need to put a hole in the ice that’s on your pond, remember to never bust through it with a drill, hammer or other blunt object as the subsurface vibrations could harm your fish. Fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole, preferably near the edge.

Pond Talk: How often do you need to top off the water in your pond or water garden during the winter?

Keep Your Hose From Freezing - K&H™ PVC ThermoHose™

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Q: What should I do if I have a power outage over the winter and my aeration stops?

Johnny – Point Marion, PA

A: Power outages happen. Whether they’re caused by Mother Nature, like hurricane Sandy, or the result of an accident or a blown transformer, chances are pretty good that you’ll contend with at least one lights-out experience this winter—but your chandelier won’t be the only thing not electrified.

Out in your lake or water garden, your aeration system will also shut down when the electricity stops. No aeration for an extended period of time means your pond’s water quality could suffer and your fishes’ health could be compromised.

Don’t worry: If you’re prepared, a power outage won’t be a big deal at all. Here’s what you need to know.

Your Fish will be Fine …

As long as the water temperature remains cold and your pond is relatively free of dead or decomposing debris, your fish will survive the power outage without even blinking an eye.

Thanks to one of the many unique properties of water, cold water retains more dissolved oxygen than warm water. “Think about how much bubblier a cold soda is compared to a warm one,” describes the United States Geological Survey. “The cold soda can keep more of the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolved in the liquid than the warm one can, which makes it seem fizzier when you drink it.”

It’s the same thing with oxygen. Colder water molecules are more densely packed and can therefore hold more oxygen, which your fish and other pond inhabitants need to survive.

In addition, the pond should not have a lot of dead or decomposing materials, like leaves and plant matter. All that breaking-down vegetation depletes the water of oxygen while imbuing it with harmful toxic gases like ammonia.

Bottom line: If your water is cold and your pond is clean when the power goes out, your finned friends will be just fine, short-term.

Service & Protect Your Aerator

After the power is restored and the candles are blown out, plan to head out to your aeration system and assess the situation. Any built-up air pressure could prevent the aerator from turning back on, so you’ll need to relieve the air pressure by pulling the relief valve or disconnecting the airline before you turn the system back on again. In addition, condensation could form on the motor, which will need to be wiped down to prevent rust from forming.

To protect your aerator from the elements—which could cause an isolated power outage in your pond or lake—make sure it’s protected. Larger units, such as those for ponds and lakes, should be in a cabinet; smaller units, such as those for water gardens, should be hidden within a faux rock, like the Pond Logic® TruRock™ Small Boulder Cover. It’s designed to blend into the landscape while protecting pond equipment.

Pond Talk: In case of long-term power outage, would you ever use a generator to power your aerator? Why or why not?

Protect Your Aeration Units - Airmax® PondAir™ & TrueRock™ Combo

Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months?

Q: Can I leave netting over my pond during the winter months?

Robert – Sherrard, IL

A: I don’t know about you, but the thought of one or two leaves drifting into my pristine pond after a thorough fall clean-out sends shivers down my spine—which is why, like many hobbyists, I cover my water garden with pond netting, like The Pond Guy® Premium Pond Netting, in the fall and early winter.

Even though netting makes the water feature look less than attractive, particularly during the holiday season when the yard sparkles with twinkling lights, it keeps it clean and debris-free. Not only that, but it also protects the fish from flying and four-legged predators looking for a tasty winter meal.

So why not leave the pond netting on all winter long?

In some locations, you can. If you live in a climate with mild temperatures, and minimal snow and freezing, you can leave the netting on all year-long, provided you check it regularly and remove any accumulated material.

In other locations, like those that receive heavy snowfall or freezing rain, a better place for the pond netting during the winter is in the garage. The weighty precipitation could put way too much pressure on your net, stretching it out of shape or causing it to become brittle and break.

So before the big storms start rolling through, remove your pond netting and pack it up for the season. But to keep those straggling leaves and other annoying debris out of your pond, have a handheld pond net, like The Pond Guy® 2-in-1 Heavy Duty Combo Net, readily available. The net’s 4-foot handle extends to 11 feet long, which is long enough to reach the most elusive leaf.

Pond Talk: When do you know it’s time to pack up your pond netting for the season?

Keep Leaves & Predators Out - View The Pond Guy® PondShelter™ Net Kit

Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter?

Q: Can I continue to run my waterfall over the winter?

Constance – Broomfield, CO

A: The short answer to your question: Sure! Many pond and water garden hobbyists keep their waterfalls running all year long—of course, those in warmer climates are probably more successful than those of us further north when the temperatures dip below freezing!

If you live in a colder region that freezes and you’re thinking about keeping your falls flowing through the wintertime, consider these important points:

  • Is your pump in a skimmer? If so, you may want to move it to a deeper area of your pond that doesn’t freeze.
  • Are you home to keep an eye on things? Ideally, someone should be home to periodically check on the waterfall and make sure it’s not freezing. If it does begin to freeze, the water may begin to divert out of the pond—leaving your fish high and dry.

Keeping your waterfall running during the wintertime has some definite benefits. Snow-covered and shimmering with crystals, a partially frozen waterfall can be a stunning attraction in your backyard. But that’s not all. You may also attract thirsty animals to your pond that decided to brave the winter elements!

Pond Talk: If you keep your waterfall running during the winter, why do you do so?

Protect Your Prized Fish - Airmax® KoiAir™ Aeration Kits

What if my pond is aerated but it still freezes over? Will my fish be OK? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

What if my pond is aerated but it still freezes over? Will my fish be OK?

Q: What if my pond is aerated but it still
freezes over? Will my fish be OK?

Kyle – Amelia, VA

A: Cold snaps happen—and when they do, that could mean big trouble for your fish.

When extra-frigid temperatures create a solid sheet of ice over your pond or water garden, your fish could be in danger because toxic gases, like ammonia, become trapped below the sealed surface. That ice also prevents fresh oxygen from mixing with the water, which your finned friends need to survive.

To allow for gas exchange at the water’s surface, you need a hole in the ice. And how do you do that? By cranking up your aeration with air stones.

Stones Near the Surface

An aeration system with air stones, like the Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration Kit, gently and quietly moves the water surface, and the action created by the moving water keeps a hole in the ice while infusing the pond with fresh oxygen for the fish.

You can position the air stones throughout your pond, but here’s a tip for when temps really dip: Suspend the stones closer to the surface to keep the water moving at the top of the pond but calm at the bottom for your fish.

Still Frozen Solid

What if your pond still freezes over? Short-term, your underwater inhabitants should be OK. As long as you’ve been properly maintaining your pond, there should be enough dissolved oxygen in the water to sustain them for a week or so.

Long-term, however, is another matter. If the warming sunshine and your aerators fail to outdo Mother Nature’s cold streak, you will need to create a hole in the ice. Though it’s tempting to bust through the ice with a drill, hammer or other blunt object, restrain yourself. All that smashing could create sub-surface vibrations that are harmful to your fish. Instead, fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole, preferably near the edge.

If arctic temps continue to dominate the forecast, you may also consider heating things up with a de-icer, which is an electric device that keeps a hole open in the ice. When used in combination with your aerator, you’ll be able to beat the chill—and keep you fish happy and healthy. Purchase as a combo kit for extra savings.

Pond Talk: When your pond or water garden freezes over, what do you to do keep a hole melted in the ice?

Eliminate Harmful Gases - Airmax® PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo

Are other fish like my plecostomus as hardy over the winter as my koi? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Are other fish like my plecostomus as hardy over the winter as my koi?

Q: Are other fish like my plecostomus as hardy over the winter as my koi?

Dale – Paoli, PA

A: Last week, we talked about how koi and certain types of goldfish, like Sarassa and Shubunkins, can overwinter in your pond or water garden even when water temperatures dip to near-freezing levels.

But what about other common pond fishes?

Well, it depends on your USDA hardiness zone, which divides the country into zones based on how cold the temperatures get. Just as with plants, some fish species can be “hardy” in some climates and not in others. An Oranda, for instance, might do just fine overwintering in a pond in Orlando, Fla., but up in Fargo, N.D., that same fish would turn into a popsicle—even with an aeration system and de-icer.

When the temperatures begin to fall in colder zones, here’s what you do:

1. Keep a close eye on your pond’s water temperature using a thermometer, like the Pond Logic® Floating Pond Thermometer. When the mercury hits 68 degrees or so, it’s time to bring those less hardy fishes—including Plecostomus, Oranda, Telescope goldfish and Black Moors—inside.

2. Carefully scoop those snowbird fishes out of the pond with a net, like The Pond Guy® 3-in-1 Interchangeable Pond Tool, and place them in a bucket pre-filled with some of your pond’s water.

3. Re-home the fishes in a properly sized indoor fish tank or aquarium outfitted with the right mechanical and biological filtration system for the job. Be sure to condition the water and pre-treat it with some beneficial bacteria to kick start the system’s biological filtration, too.

As soon as sun thaws your pond water—or at least heats it back up to room temperature—it’s safe to return those fishes to their “summer” home.

Pond Talk: What kind of overwintering setup do you have for your less hardy fishes?

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

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