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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 still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season?

Q: I still have PondClear natural bacteria. Am I better off throwing the rest in, or will it still be good for next season?

Jeff – Morris, WI

A: At the end of pond season, just about everyone has some leftover supplies. Half-full canisters of natural bacteria, bottles of dye, algaecides and more—what do you do with all of it? Do they have expiration dates? And how do I keep them until next year? Here’s what you need to know about the shelf life of your favorite pond products.

When stored in a dry and sealed container that’s kept above freezing, the beneficial bacteria found in PondClear™ packets will be good for five years, so hold on to those leftovers! As long as water temperatures are above 50°F, the waste and muck reducer will work to break down debris. After they fall below that mark, stash your PondClear™ and keep it on hand to start off next pond season.

Dry Treatments
Like PondClear™ packets, Pond Dye packets, EcoBoost™ bacteria enhancer, MuckAway™ muck reducer and other dry bacteria products also have a five-year shelf life when stored in a garage or basement in a sealed, waterproof container.

Liquid Treatments, Chemicals
Certain liquid bacteria and chemicals, including PondClear™ liquid formula, Algae Defense® and Shoreline Defense®, have a two-year shelf life. Liquid Pond Dye, too, has a shorter, two-year shelf life. If you’re not sure, check the product label for specifics. Note: This does not apply to chemicals that have been mixed in sprayer. These should be used immediately or properly disposed.

Whenever you buy a pond product like these with an expiration date, take a clue from folks who preserve tomatoes each year: Take a moment to jot down the date (month/year) on the container with a Sharpie. That way, you won’t have to try to remember when you bought what and whether it’s past its prime.

By properly labeling, storing and shelving these pond products until next year, you’ll get a start on next year’s pond season—and save yourself some money.

Pond Talk: Do you save products from year to year, or do you buy all new supplies in the spring?

For a Deep Blue Color All Year Long - The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Blue

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®

How large of a hole will an aeration system keep open in the ice? I like to keep open water for ducks. | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How large of a hole will an aeration system keep open in the ice? I like to keep open water for ducks.

Q: How large of a hole will an aeration system keep open in the ice? I like to keep open water for ducks.

Mark – Concord, VT

A: No doubt those ducks will appreciate some open water in the winter, and an aerator is the best way to keep that hole open for them. Many factors will affect the hole’s size and how long it will remain open, but here are three important points to consider:

  1. Size of the System: Larger aeration systems will move more water, and all that water movement will create a larger hole that will stay open longer. If you want a bigger open area, consider a beefier aeration system.
  2. Depth of Water: Water depth matters, too. An ice-free open area in deep water is more difficult to maintain than one in shallow water, where there will be more water movement at the surface. If possible, plan your open water in the shallow areas of your pond.
  3. Weather: Mother Nature has her say, too. When it’s cold and windy, it’ll be more difficult to keep that opening ice-free. In fact, frigid temperatures can restrict the hole down to a couple of feet or less! But when the weather warms up, the hole can open to areas of 10 feet or more.

Ideally an aeration system should be matched to your pond’s size and shape, and run all season. Diffusers can then be moved to shallow water for the ducks during winter. Simply place the diffusers evenly across a small area in the shallow part of your pond so they can work together to keep a larger area open. Watch the video below for tips on installing Airmax® Aeration Systems:

This winter, those lucky ducks will have a place to float!

Pond Talk: What kinds of birds visit your pond in the winter?

Maximum Shallow Water Circulation - Airmax® Shallow Water Series™ Aeration Systems

How do I get my aeration system ready for winter? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How do I get my aeration system ready for winter?

Q: How do I get my aeration system ready for winter?

Lonnie – Aspera, PA

A: Operating your aerator year-round delivers a boatload of benefits to your pond or lake. The water movement created by the aerator forms a hole in frozen winter ice, allowing for gas exchange and keeping water open and available for visiting wildlife. Below the surface, it helps to break down leaves and debris, which means less cleaning and easier maintenance come spring. Aeration also circulates the water column, infusing it with oxygen for your fish and plants.

Unless you plan on doing winter activities on your pond, like figure skating, ice fishing or playing ice hockey, we highly recommend running your Airmax® Aeration System all year long. Here are five winter tasks to add to your to-do list:

  1. Move your diffuser plates to shallower water. Following your aerator manual’s recommendations, move the plates from the deepest areas of your pond to shallower areas. This will give your hibernating fish a warmer place to hunker down when the water temperatures get especially chilly. When the plates are closer to the surface, they will also help to keep a hole open in the ice. If you have a larger system, plan to completely shut down some of the valves.
  2. Clean filters and inspect your compressor. Have you cleaned your air filter in the past three to six months? Have you checked your intake pre-filter? If not, they likely need some attention—and possible replacement if it’s been too long. Also consider installing a maintenance kit to keep your compressor running in top condition. The video below demonstrates compressor maintenance for PondSeries™ Aeration Systems.

  3. Check the aerator regularly throughout the winter. After a heavy snow or a storm, head out to the pond and inspect your aeration unit. Remove snow that has accumulated around the unit, particularly any that’s blocking the air discharge vent. If you lost power during a storm, check your GFCI; you may have to reset it.
  4. Keep alcohol on hand. In case condensation causes your airlines to freeze over the cold months, keep some isopropyl alcohol on hand to defrost them. It’s easy: Use 1 cup isopropyl alcohol in the airline running out to each plate. Turn on the compressor to push the alcohol through the line and free any ice blockage.
  5. Be smart and safe. When your aerator is on during the winter, the ice that forms can be thin and uneven. The constant friction created by the aerating water weakens the ice that forms, and that could be downright dangerous. Make sure you post a “Danger—Thin Ice” sign and keep safety equipment out by your pond. A life ring, rope, blankets and a first aid kit are critical items to have on hand.

If you do plan to remove your aeration system for the winter, here’s what we recommend: First, unplug the system. Then disconnect compressor flex-tubes from the airlines and cover the airline ends with winterization caps to prevent debris from entering airline. Move the cabinet and compressor inside to keep it dry.

Pond Talk: What plans do you have for your pond or lake this winter?

Promote Pond Health Year Round - Airmax® PondSeries™ Aeration System

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


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