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Now that my plants are gone, how do I protect my fish? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Now that my plants are gone, how do I protect my fish?

Q: Now that my plants are gone, how do I protect my fish?

Vicky – Chatham, NH

A: This time of year, aquatic plants are tough to find in backyard ponds. Cold temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight make all the lush greenery die off or go dormant for the winter — and that leaves your fish high and dry and without any protection from hungry predators, like raccoons, herons and passing coyotes.

The lack of lily pads, hyacinth leaves and other plant cover also means more sunlight will penetrate the water. All those rays can lead to algae blooms and poor water quality, which is not something your hibernating fish will appreciate.

So how do you protect your finned friends from hungry bad guys during the sparse winter months? Here’s what we recommend.

  1. Create fish habitats: Because fish will naturally hide in crevices between rocks and other sunken debris, replicate that environment by creating fish habitats and caves. Prop up some slate slabs to make a fabricated lean-to. Build extra hiding places with clever rock placement. Provide an ecosystem that will encourage them to do what’s natural.
  2. Install fish shelters: In the winter, fish will intuitively head to deeper water where it’s warmer and safe from claws, paws and beaks. But to add another layer of protection — particularly if your pond isn’t that deep — give them plenty of sheltering options. Install a Koi Kastle or two. Lay down some empty flower pots or short lengths of 4-inch PVC pipe. Give your finned pals plenty of options to hide, just in case predators stop by the pond.
  3. Crank on your aeration system: As your aeration system bubbles and infuses oxygen throughout the water, it creates water surface movement that can help camouflage your fish from overhead predators. The aerator will also keep the water churning, and create a hole in the ice for gas exchange. If it’s not running already, now’s the time to crank it on!

Until your plants start growing again, keep your fish safe and sound with these simple steps – and do it before the frigid temperatures really kick in.

Pond Talk: Where do your fish hide when your plants die back for the season?

Provide Hiding Places For Fish - Nycon Koi Kastle Fish Shelters

 

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I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it?

Q: I heard fish can get swim bladder disease this time of year, what is it?

Becky – Trumbell, CT

A:  Many bony fish, like the fancy goldfish found in ornamental ponds, have an organ called a swim bladder. This gas-filled sack has two main purposes: It helps the fish control its buoyancy and remain at a particular depth without having to waste energy on swimming, and it keeps the fish in an upright position. When a fish is unable to control its depth, or starts swimming sideways, upside side down, or head or tail down, it may have “swim bladder disease.”

A fish with swim bladder disease can be a troubling sight to see, but it can be treated. Here’s what you need to know about what causes it and how to get your fish swimming the right way again.

Your Gluttonous Goldfish

Although intestinal parasites and microorganisms can cause swim bladder disease, it mainly stems from overeating, eating too quickly or gulping too much air during feeding time. The fish gobbles mouthfuls of pellets, which expand like sponges as they soak up water in the mouth and digestive tract leading to constipation. Enough pressure on the swim bladder will cause the fish to swim any which way but up.

Time for a Diet Change

Water temperatures dip – sometimes precipitously – in the fall, and that change can slow your fishes’ digestive processes. They have a harder time digesting protein when it’s cold, and it can build up in their gut and result in an enlarged intestine.

To prevent this from happening, switch your fish food during the fall (and spring). Using a pond thermometer, periodically check your water temperature. Once temperatures are consistently between 40°F and 50°F, change over to a lower-protein, higher-carbohydrate diet like The Pond Guy® Spring and Fall Fish Food, which is packed with easier-to-digest wheat germ. Feed them two to three times a week and only give them an amount that they will eat within 5 minutes. When temperatures drop below 40°F, stop feeding them entirely.

Peas to the Rescue

The best treatment for swim bladder disease is found in your refrigerator or freezer. Frozen or cooked peas, will blast through the impaction and reduce the pressure on the fish’s swim bladder. If your fish starts floating sideways, we recommend you stop feeding them for a few days and then hand feed peas to help clear up any blockages.

Medicating fish in outdoor ponds with cooler temperatures really is not an option, as the medications won’t work – so stick with the fasting-plus-peas remedy.

If one of your fish is really stressed, a salt bath could help – but you will need to dissolve the salt in an indoor holding tank filled with warm 78 to 80ºF water. Keep in mind that when you transfer your fish from the cooler 40°-50°F outdoor water to the warmer treatment tank, that temperature change can easily shock the fish. It should be avoided.

Pond Talk: Have you ever had to treat one of your pond fish for swim bladder disease? If so, what did you do?

Wheatgerm Formula for Cooler Months - The Pond Guy® Spring and Fall Fish Food

 

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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

 

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

Q: 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: We talk 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 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® Collapsible Fish Net, 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?

 Transfer Fish Indoors With Ease - The Pond Guy® Collapsible Fish Net

 

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How can I tell if my fish are ready for a lighter diet? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How can I tell if my fish are ready for a lighter diet?

Q: How can I tell if my fish are ready for a lighter diet?

Steve – Wallingford, PA

A:  When feeding your koi and pond fish, a “lighter diet” doesn’t mean that your finned friends need to switch to low-cal, low-fat foods. Instead, it refers to an easy-to-digest wheat germ-based diet that’s formulated for the fishes’ slowed activity and metabolism during the transitional fall and spring months.

Wheat germ-based diets, such as The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food, are packed with vegetable protein, amino acids and digestive enzymes. These diets, which help them ease into and out of winter, are gentle on their digestive systems while keeping their constitutions strong to fight off disease.

How do you know when it’s time to switch diets? Here are three clues:

  • Temperature: When your water temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you should feed your active, hungry fish protein- and carbohydrate-balanced foods, like The Pond Guy® Growth & Vibrance Fish Food. But when water temperatures dip to between 40 to 50 degrees, they require the lighter, wheat germ-based foods. Use your Pond Thermometer to keep an eye on the water temperature as the days and nights get cooler.
  • Fish Mobility: Are your koi and goldfish moving a bit more slowly than they normally do? That’s another clue that it’s time to switch to a lighter food. Fish will naturally begin to slow down their activity in cooler water as their bodies begin to prepare for their annual “hibernation.”
  • Feeding Interest: As the fish slow their activity and require less food to fuel their metabolisms, they won’t be as interested in the tasty morsels as they are in the summer. So if your koi and goldfish seem to have turned into picky eaters, that’s your third clue that it’s time to switch to a lighter diet.

When water temperatures fall to below 40 degrees, that’s when it’s time to stop feeding your fish altogether. Don’t worry: They won’t starve! Their bodies, which need very few nutrients to sustain them during the cold months, have plenty of fat stored—but you can bet they’ll be ready for a nice, big meal when spring arrives.

Pond Talk: What changes do you see in your fishes’ behavior during the fall?

Wheat Germ Formula For Cool Weather - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food

 

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I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick?

Q: I try to keep my pond clean, but is there anything else I should do to prevent my fish from getting sick?

April – Colorado Springs, CO

A: Prevention really is the best medicine—and that’s true for humans as well as fish. Keeping your pond clean, filtered and well aerated is a great start at preventing disease, but there’s more you can do to ensure your finned friends stay happy and healthy. Here’s what we prescribe:

  • Vacuum Debris: Decomposing organic matter gathered at the bottom of your pond can be home to all sorts of parasites, fungus and bacteria. It’ll affect water quality and fish health, so use a ClearVac™ pond vacuum as needed to suck up all that sludge, debris and algae.
  • Add Natural Bacteria: In addition to vacuuming up debris, use the all-natural beneficial bacteria found in the DefensePAC® to help clear the water column, and break down and remove muck and organic waste.
  • Don’t Stress: When you do water changes in your pond, be sure to add some Stress Reducer Plus to the pond to keep your fish stress-free. The water conditioner detoxifies heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines, and it promotes a healthy slime coat—which will keep your fish’s immune system functioning swimmingly.
  • Toss Them Some Salt: Pond salt, at low concentrations, will help soothe your fish, build their slime coats and improve their gill function.
  • Add Aeration: Fish need fresh oxygen just like humans, and the best way to do that is with an aeration kit. It pumps O2 into the water and keeps the water moving—two things that ensure a healthy environment for your fish.
  • Quarantine Newbies: Before you add new fish to your pond, keep them in a quarantine tank for two to four weeks to be sure they have no infectious (or contagious!) diseases.
  • Knock It Out: Fish fungus, parasites and ick can be treated with KnockOut™ PLUS as a 7 day treatment or as a preventative measure.

If your fish are showing signs of illness, chances are good that it’s due to stress or water quality. Unless you see visible signs of a disease, test your water quality with a test kit and then do a partial water change (25 percent or so) to help relieve your fish’s stress.

After you’ve identified any disease and begun treatment, take some time to reevaluate your pond routine. Did something change that caused (or led to) the illness? Sick fish are no fun. Do what you can to keep them healthy—but know what to do when they’re under the weather.

Pond Talk: Have you ever nursed a sick fish back to health?

Prevent Infection & Heal Tissue - The Pond Guy® Stress Reducer Plus

 

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Is it OK to continue feeding my fish summer food and just feed them less? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Is it OK to continue feeding my fish summer food and just feed them less?

Q: Is it OK to continue feeding my fish summer food and just feed them less?

Don – Livingston, TN

A: Koi have temperamental digestive systems. To stay healthy and happy, they need specific types of food at different times of year—so no, we don’t recommend feeding your fish summer food as we go into fall. Here’s why.

Feeding Less

Giving your fish less food is a good idea; especially as water temperatures start to drop. This will cause them to produce less waste, which will help in maintaining good water quality, and slow down their digestive systems. Fish naturally do this on their own; they will eat less food as temperatures decrease because the cooler water will slow their metabolism.

Macronutrient Shift

As water temperatures cool, fish need a diet that’s easier for them to digest—a wheat germ-based diet like our Spring and Fall Fish Food—that’s carbohydrate-heavy rather than protein-rich. We recommend using a wheat germ based food when water temperatures are between 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, fish crave protein to grow and put on muscle weight. But in the fall and spring, they’re in transition between fasting and feasting and lacking some digestive enzymes, so they’ll need something that’ll gently slow down (or wake up) their metabolism.

Up the Veggies

Even though wheat germ is the most common food to feed fish in the fall, you can still give your finned pals a treat in place of high-protein foods, too. Toss them some Cheerios, oatmeal or brown rice. Share some healthy vegetables, like carrots, pumpkin or frozen peas. They’ll provide important nutrients while being gentle on their system.

40-Degree Mark

As soon as water temperatures consistently read below 40 degrees Fahrenheit on your pond thermometer, remember to stop feeding your fish for the winter. Don’t worry: They won’t starve. The fast will give your fish the opportunity to give its digestive system a break and live off its fat reserves it added in the summer. In the spring, they’ll clean up and look fresher and healthier than ever.

Pond Talk: What’s your fish’s favorite fall treat?

Wheatgerm Formula for Cooler Months - The Pond Guy® Spring and Fall Fish Food

 

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