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My water quality is good now, but what do I need to do over the winter to keep it that way? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: My water quality is good now, but what do I need to do over the winter to keep it that way?

Q: My water quality is good now, but what do I need to do over the winter to keep it that way?

Quintin – Pine Bluff, AR

A: When it comes to doing chores at the pond, it is easy to let your guard down this fall. Thanks to your hard-working bacteria, the water is clean and clear with minimal algae, and your fish are happy. You have nothing to do but coast into winter and hibernate until spring.

Not so fast.

As water temperatures drop, those bacteria and algaecides stop fighting off excess nutrients and cold-temperature plant growth. They are no longer effective at their jobs, and so you need to step in and help. Here’s what you can do to maintain pristine water quality over the winter.

  • Add Some EcoBoost™: Formulated to bind organic debris suspended in the water, Pond Logic® EcoBoost™ helps to clear water and enhance beneficial bacteria. It also provides more than 80 trace minerals to fish, keeping them healthy over the winter. EcoBoost™ has no temperature restrictions, so you can use it all year round. Simply mix the powder with some water in a pail and pour it in the pond.
  • Tint with Pond Dye: During the cold temperatures and even iced-over conditions your pond’s bottom can still be exposed to sunlight. Pond Dye can be used year-round – winter included – to shade your pond from the sun’s UV rays. The dye also imparts a dramatic hue to the water, giving it a great look when it ices over.
  • Aerate and Oxygenate: You can also improve water quality through the winter by keeping the oxygen levels up and water circulating. If you are not going to use the pond for ice-skating or hockey, we recommend you use a subsurface aerator, like the Airmax® Aeration Systems. The system will keep the air bubbles flowing throughout the water column while maintaining a hole in the ice for gas exchange. If you have a fountain running, remove it and store it for the winter. Ice can damage the motor in the pump.

Before you hibernate for the winter, spend a few hours out at the pond to prepare it for winter. When you look out on a crystal clear pond in January, you’ll be happy you did!

Pond Talk: How do you keep your pond clean and clear during the winter months?

Keep Water Clean & Clear - Pond Logic® EcoBoost™

 

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I heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill?

Q: I heard you can lose fish during the winter. How do I prevent a winter fish kill?

Jon – Little Suamico, WI

A: Imagine being cooped up all winter long in a room with no ventilation and no fresh air. Pretty claustrophobic, right? Now add the stench of decaying garbage and other waste buildup … it’s likely you wouldn’t last until spring.

It’s a similar situation with your fish.

In colder climates that freeze over the winter, decomposing vegetation and waste beneath the ice layer releases toxic gases that build up, displacing the oxygen that the fish need to survive. When that O2 is replaced with ammonia and other harmful gases, the result can be a winter fish kill.

So how to do you prevent this from happening? Aeration with an Airmax® Aeration System.

Open a Window!

An Airmax® Aeration System sized for your lake or pond moves the water below the frozen surface, which keeps an air hole open in the ice. This ventilation allows the harmful gases to escape while bringing in fresh oxygen for your fish. The aeration also injects oxygen into the water via the bubbles that come out of the diffuser or air stones.

Provide Year-Round Oxygen

For the health of your fish, we recommend you run an aeration system year-round—unless you plan to use the pond for winter activities, like ice skating or hockey, that require a solid and safe sheet of ice. In that case, follow the instructions in your product manual to safely turn off your system.

Create a Warm Zone

If you plan to run your system year-round, move the diffuser plates into shallower water during the winter months. This will allow your fish to hunker down in your pond’s warmer depth for the winter. It will also prevent the rare “super cooling” effect, in which the water temperature dips below freezing and over chills your fish.

Pond Talk: Have you ever experienced a winter fish kill? What changes did you make to prevent it from happening again?

Aerate Your Pond in All Seasons - Airmax® Aeration Systems

 

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We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan- Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Pond Dye

 

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I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Bernie – Muskegon, MI

A: Those little bloodsuckers sure steal the fun, don’t they?

Hitching a ride with waterfowl, amphibians, small mammals—even your muck boots—leeches love living in mucky debris at the bottom of your pond. They settle in and wait for worms, snails, insect larvae, small water-loving animals and even humans to cruise by. When something looks tasty, they’ll use their suction cup-like mouths and teeth to latch on and feed on their blood.

Leeches aren’t necessarily bad for your pond or lake—in fact, they’re an important part of the food web. But they can be a nuisance, particularly if you use it for swimming or water sports.

Death by Winter Frost

During the winter, leeches don’t die. They ball up and burrow in the mud just below the frost line, nice and cozy, where they hibernate through the cold temperatures. In the spring, they’ll return to their bloodsucking ways.

If temperatures fall below freezing where you live, one wintertime leech-control trick is to manipulate the water level in your pond. Drop the water level at least 4 feet after ice has started to form on the pond. This will freeze the leeches that were living in the shallow underwater mud. It’s an effective method, but it could also kill other aquatic life burrowed in the mud.

Controlling Leeches

Sure, they’re part of the ecosystem, but no one likes climbing onto the dock with their legs covered in leeches, right? There are several ways to trap and control those bloodsuckers.

  1. Capture them in tiny traps. Punch leech-size holes in a coffee or aluminum can with a lid, bait it with raw chicken or fish heads, and position it in a shallow area of your pond. When the leeches climb in for a meal, they can’t escape because their full bellies will prevent them from exiting. Remove the can once it’s full and repeat until the leeches are gone.
  2. Control them with leech-grubbing fish. Your finned friends will savor the protein-rich treats. Fall is the perfect time to add more fish to your pond—and leech control is a perfect excuse to boost your game fish population. Red-ear sunfish are particularly fond of leeches.
  3. Change the habitat. Because leeches live in the muck and detritus in the shallow areas of your pond or lake, keep up with weed maintenance so you’re not creating a hospitable habitat for them. Remove shoreline vegetation with weed removal tools, cut and rake out dead organic debris from the water and add aeration to help break down the muck.

Pond Talk: How do you control leeches in your lake?

Keep Your Pond Water Moving - Airmax(r) Aeration Systems

 

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I have a lot of leaves blowing into my pond. Will the bacteria still work this time of year? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I have a lot of leaves blowing into my pond. Will the bacteria still work this time of year?

Q: I have a lot of leaves blowing into my pond. Will the bacteria still work this time of year?

Austin – Breesport, NY

A: Leaves. There’s really no getting around them. Every fall, those deciduous trees drop their colorful foliage and leave behind a headache for those who have to clean them up.

Natural bacteria will do a great job breaking down the fallen leaves in your pond or lake – but only when water temperatures are above 50° F. Take your pond’s temperature with a pond thermometer; as long as your water is at or above that 50° F mark, keep using MuckAway™ and PondClear™. The microorganisms in those products will continue to work hard to break down organic debris.

Going into winter as temperatures dip below that number, however, the bacteria go on vacation. But there are some things you can do to keep your pond healthy as the cooler weather approaches. Here’s what we recommend.

  1. Rake Up the Leaves: As powerful as natural bacteria are, they will still take a long time to break down fresh leaves that blow into your pond. Help those microorganisms out by raking up and disposing of as many leaves as possible.
  2. Rake Out the Leaves: If they do float into your pond, use a Pond & Beach Rake or Weed Raker to skim and rake those leaves out of your pond. If an abundance of leaves remains in the pond as ice begins to form, this could lead to poor water quality. As the leaves continue to break down, they will release toxic gases that will edge out available oxygen – and if there is ice covering your pond, that’s bad news for your fish.
  3. Aerate All Winter: Unless you plan to use your pond or lake as an ice rink this winter, keep your aeration system running. This will help keep a hole in the ice, circulate the water and keep your oxygen levels higher.
  4. Maintain Your Landscape: In addition to raking up leaves around your pond, keep the foliage around your pond maintained. Prevent that organic debris from getting into the water and turning into algae and pond weed fertilizer.

Bottom line: Yes, bacteria will still work while temperatures are above 50° F, but help them out by removing as much leaf litter and organic debris as possible. There’s no way to fully prevent leaves from falling into your pond – but the fewer that do, the better.

Pond Talk: Have leaves started falling in your neck of the woods yet?

Remove Leaves & Debris - The Pond Guy® Pond & Beach Rake

 

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I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Shawn – New Hudson, MI

A: Water attracts all sorts of critters. From bugs, birds and deer to reptiles, raccoons and muskrat – and even an occasional coyote or bear – wildlife of all shapes and sizes frequent ponds and lakes. If you’re experiencing visitors near your pond, that’s great! You should be excited to have the animals use it as a natural resource!

To help you decipher what’s leaving behind those tracks, here’s a quick rundown of the most common critters we find near ponds and lakes:

Muskrats: Measuring about 2 feet long and covered in thick dark brown or black fur, these medium-size semiaquatic rodents are often found in wetlands and near the water’s edge. They have long, vertically flat tails covered with scales, which help them to swim. When looking at muskrat tracks, the hind feet will be larger than the front feet, and you’ll see a distinct mark from their tail that drags along the ground.

Raccoons: These little masked bandits, which will sometimes make a meal of your game fish, are very intelligent and have extremely dexterous front paws. They walk with their feet flat on the ground and can stand on their hind legs to examine objects with their front paws. When examining raccoon tracks, you’ll see the flat-footed footprints with claws on all the toes. Their front foot and opposite hind foot tracks will be side by side or close together.

Deer: Widely distributed across the country, deer—which are pretty good swimmers, by the way—prefer to live between forests (for cover) and grassy fields (for food), though you’ll find deer tracks anywhere around your pond. Unlike raccoons, deer walk on their hooves, or their toe tips that are strengthened by a thick horny covering. When looking at deer tracks, you’ll see the outline of their hooves, which will look like upside-down hearts.

Turtles: Terrestrial and amphibious turtles have short, round, sturdy feet to bear the weight of their heavy shells. They also have long claws that they use to help them clamber onto rocky shorelines and floating logs. You’ll most likely see turtle tracks near the water. The marks will look almost oval with toes or claw marks on one side of the oval. You may see a tail or shell drag mark, too.

In most cases, these critters will do little or no harm to your pond or lake. They do leave waste behind, but we can keep that in check with aeration and bacteria. So have fun identifying your little visitors!

Pond Talk: What’s the strangest animal track you’ve identified near your pond or lake?

Help Keep Pond Water Clear - Airmax(r) Aeration Systems

 

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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.

PondClear™
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. Nature’s Blue™ Pond Dye or The Pond Guy® PondShade™ 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?

Protects All Year, No Mixing Required - The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Pond Dye

 

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