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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 am bringing my fish inside for the winter. What do I need? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I am bringing my fish inside for the winter. What do I need?

Q: I am bringing my fish inside for the winter. What do I need?

Carol – Afton, MN

A: In last week’s blog, we talked about how deep your pond needs to be to overwinter your fish outdoors. As promised, this week we’ll talk about what to do if your pond is less than 18 inches deep or you think your temperatures are too cold outside for your finned friends.

Bring ‘m Inside!
Do you have a pole barn? A garage? A basement? An unused outbuilding? These places make perfect indoor places to overwinter your fish. Koi and goldfish begin their wintertime dormancy at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s best to choose a space that hovers at about this temperature or below.

The Gear
To prepare your fishes’ winter home, you’ll need some special supplies, including:

  • Stock Tank or Holding Tank: This will be your indoor pond area. Because your fish will be dormant they won’t need a huge pond to live in, so you can get away with smaller quarters. Choose a tank that’s sized appropriately for the number and size of your fish. To make the transition easier, use a siphon to fill the holding tank with water from your pond.
  • Pond Netting: The close quarters might surprise your fish and they could try to make a jump for it, so make sure you cover the tank with The Pond Guy® Premium Pond Netting and secure it with bungee cords or other tie-downs. That will keep them safe and secure.
  • Aeration System: Just as you aerate your water garden, you’ll need to aerate your holding tank to keep the water oxygenated. An energy-efficient PondAir™ Aeration Kit will work in setups up to 2,000 gallons; a KoiAir™ Aeration System will work in larger setups with more fish.
  • Filter: If your region is warmer, you might consider adding a ClearSolution™ Filtration System (for setups less than 1,200 gallons) or AllClear™ Pressurized Filter (for larger setups) to keep your water clear and your fish healthy.

Wintertime Chores
Caring for your fish in their indoor digs is similar to what you do when they’re outside. Because the living quarters are cramped, check your water parameters with a test kit once a week or so to ensure the water quality is safe. Also, check you water levels and add water as needed, and keep an eye on the equipment to make sure it’s working properly.

Other than that, your fish should be just fine through the winter. Once spring rolls around and water temperatures warm up, they’ll be ready to stretch their fins!

Pond Talk: If you overwinter your fish indoors, what kind of setup do you have?

Keep Your Pond Oxygenated All Winter - Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration Kit

My pond is 18 inches deep. Can I overwinter my fish in my water garden? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My pond is 18 inches deep. Can I overwinter my fish in my water garden?

Q: My pond is 18 inches deep. Can I overwinter my fish in my water garden?

Jessica – Hope Valley, RI

A: Great news! Unless you live in an extremely frigid climate, your pond is at the minimum depth required for overwintering fish in a pond. Though 24 inches or deeper is better, 18 inches should give your finned friends enough room to ride out the cold temperatures—as long as you keep a hole open in the ice.

Freezing winter temperatures will create a solid layer of ice on your pond’s surface. Below the ice sheet, decaying vegetation and organic matter release harmful gases, like ammonia, which can build up and kill your fish. A hole in the ice will allow for gas exchange. The oxygen will enter the pond, the gases will escape, and your fish will stay happy and healthy while they’re hibernating.

To keep that hole open, here’s what you’ll need based on your zone:

  • Occasional Below-Freezing Temps: For temperature zones that get the occasional below-freezing day or low nighttime temperatures, use an adjustable air stone aerator, like the Airmax® PondAir™ (up to 2,000 gallons) or Airmax® KoiAir™ (up to 16,000 gallons). One of these units will infuse your pond with oxygen while remaining quiet and cost-effective.
  • Long Stretches of Freezing Temps: For temperature zones that see long stretches of freezing temperatures, we recommend these options, below, based on how many gallons your pond holds. The aerator-deicer combo will give your smaller water garden the one-two punch it needs to vent harmful gases and keep your fish safe, while the more powerful KoiAir will sufficiently aerate larger ponds:

Is your pond not quite 18 inches deep? Be sure to check back next week for an article on bringing your pond fish inside for the winter!

Pond Talk: What do you do to ensure your finned pals stay happy through the winter?

Keep Your Fish Safe This Winter - Airmax® PondAir™ and Thermo-Pond Combos


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