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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 Those unwieldy bales have since been replaced by compressed, easy-to-use pellets and barley extract, which is basically the good stuff in a bottle.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 compounds. 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 - The Pond Guy® Barley Extract

 

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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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We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump and filter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump and filter?

Q: We’ve decided to shut down the pond this winter. Do we just need to take out the pump and filter?

Tina – DuBois, PA

A:  Oh, if it were only that easy. Even though you plan to shut down the pond for the season, you still need to complete some winterizing chores. Put on your Aqua Gloves and hip waders. Here is your step-by-step guide for closing down shop and storing pond equipment for the winter.

Step 1: Prepare for Shutdown

Do you have a leaf-collecting net covering your pond? Once the colorful foliage has stopped falling, remove the net, shake off the leaves and store it until next fall. If you leave it on the pond, heavy snowfall and ice could collect on it and weigh it down—possibly endangering your fish. Then grab your gear for cleanup.

Step 2: Disconnect Filters and Pumps, Lower Water Level

Next, protect your pumps, filters and hardware from the freezing temperatures. Disconnect the plumbing and drain the water from the tubing to prevent them from freezing, expanding and cracking. If your filtration system has built-in ultraviolet filter or if you have a UV clarifier, disconnect it and take it indoors to prevent ice damage. Remove your pump and store it in a bucket of water to keep the seals moist so they don’t dry out and crack. And lower your water level below the opening of skimmers to protect it from expanding and cracking during freezing temperatures.

Step 3: Clean Filters and Media

Natural bacteria that have been thriving in your pond will become dormant and die through the winter, so you can remove your filter media and store it indoors for safe keeping. Be sure to wash the pads or BioBalls with a strong stream of water while they’re still wet; it’s much easier to clean UVs and media when they’re wet versus trying to scrub off dried debris in the spring.

Step 4: Trim Back Aquatic Plants and Remove Excess Debris

Do you have plants in your pond? Tropical varieties—like tropical lilies—must be removed and stored inside if you hope to keep them thriving until spring. Check out this blog post that details how to remove and store them. Hardy varieties can stay in the pond; take some time to trim away dead or dying foliage after the first frost.

Step 5: Remove Excess Debris
While you’re at it, pull out your pond vacuum or hand net and dig up as much detritus as possible. The less rotting debris in the pond, the more available oxygen for fish.

Step 6: Install De-Icer and Aeration
Your fish will take a winter nap through the cold season, but they’ll still need oxygen to survive. If you live in an area that freezes, be sure to install a de-icer, aeration or both (as we feature in the PondAir & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo) to help maintain a hole in the ice. That will allow the toxic gases to vent and oxygen to enter while circulating the water.

Step 7: Switch to Wheatgerm Fish Food
If you haven’t already switched to wheatgerm fish food, do so now. Our Spring and Fall Fish Food is easier for your finned pals to digest—which is what they need when temperatures start to fall. As the water reaches 40 to 50 degrees F, slow down and stop feeding them for winter. Remember that with no filtration system running, any waste they produce won’t be sufficiently removed.

Step 8: Add Seasonal Defense
Finally, if temperatures still permit, continue to add natural bacteria designed for cooler temperatures, like Seasonal Defense. The little microbes will continue to break down organic waste that wasn’t easily cleaned from the pond.

As you prepare to shut your pond down for the winter, take time to check off these chores. It’ll make next year’s spring pond season one to look forward to! For a more details or to watch a step-by-step video view our Learning Center.

Pond Talk: Do you have a dedicated spot in your garage or basement for pond supplies and equipment?

Accelerates Decomposition of Leaves - Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense®

 

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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 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® 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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This is my first winter with a pond. Do I need to bring in my plants? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: This is my first winter with a pond. Do I need to bring in my plants?

Q: This is my first winter with a pond. Do I need to bring in my plants?

Bonnie – Dover, NJ

A: You’ve been watching your aquatic plants flourish all year. Your water lilies and hyacinth put off big blooms, your irises and cattails became homes for frogs and dragonflies, and your submerged plants provided a home for your fish and snails.

With the cold weather on its way, now what do you do with them? Well, it all depends on where you live and what types of plants you have.

In the Zone

What’s your hardiness zone? The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map will help you determine which plants will thrive in a particular location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones.

In general, if you live in a hardiness zone that’s frost-free, congratulations! All you need to do is trim off dead foliage with your Scissors & Pliers, fertilize the plants as necessary and enjoy them all year round.

If you live in an area that freezes, however, you have some work to do.

Like terrestrial plants, aquatic plants – whether floating, marginal or submerged – are sensitive in varying degrees to freezing temperatures. Some species will overwinter just fine in frostier hardiness zones, while others will wilt and die at the slightest hint of ice.

So before you do anything, get to know your plants and identify which ones are in your zone and which ones aren’t.

Overwintering Your Plants

Winter care of water lilies, marginal/bog plants and submerged plants will depend on if they’re tropical (anything that likes temperatures above your hardiness zone) or hardy (anything geared for temperatures in your hardiness zone or lower).

  • Tropical Plants: These sensitive beauties, including tropical water lilies and canna, will need to be removed from the pond and replaced next season, or removed and relocated to a warm indoor space for winter. Read about how to overwinter tropical water lilies in this blog post.
  • Hardy Plants: These easy-care troopers, including hardy water lilies and submerged plants, only need to have dead foliage removed after the first hard frost. Simply use your AquaGloves™ and Scissors & Pliers to trim away any spent leaves, lily pads or flowers. Once trimmed, sink the plants to the deepest part of your pond. Hardy plants will go dormant for the winter and regrow in the spring.

Floating plants, like hyacinth and water lettuce, can be treated like an annual; they will die over the winter, so remove them from your pond once they begin to yellow. Luckily, they’re inexpensive to replace and will grow quickly once re-added. Please note: hyacinth and water lettuce can be invasive so be sure to dispose of them properly and never release into public water.

Good luck caring for your first winter pond!

Pond Talk: What advice about overwintering can you share with this new pond owner?

Quickly Trim Away Dormant Plants - Pond Scissors & Pliers

 

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

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

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

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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My water turned brown about this time last year. How do I stop it from happening again? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My water turned brown about this time last year. How do I stop it from happening again?

Q: My water turned brown about this time last year. How do I stop it from happening again?

Nick – Charlestown, WV

A: There’s only one thing worse than green water—and that’s brown water. In some ponds or water features, the end of summer or beginning of fall brings with it this discolored water. It’s caused by one of two reasons:

  • Debris Tea: When leaves or pine needles fall into your pond, the tannins in them create a type of all-natural debris tea, which turns the clean and clear water in your backyard feature a shade of brown. This is the most common cause of tea-colored water.
  • Sediment Stew: If you have a lot of floating particulates or sediment in your pond, playful fish, wind or some other action can sometimes disrupt it, mixing it into your water column via your pump or aeration system.

To determine what’s causing the brown water, grab a glass jar from your kitchen, dunk it in your pond and fill it with the water. Let it sit for 24 hours and take a close look at the results. Is the water still tea-colored? Then you have tannin-colored debris tea. Do you see sediment settled at the bottom of the glass? Then you have some sediment stew.

Once you pinpoint what’s causing the brown water, here’s how to treat the problem.

  1. Clean It Up: Because both causes start with an abundance of organics in the water, your first course of action is to clean the bottom of your pond to remove any muck, leaves and remaining debris with a pond vacuum or skimmer net.
  2. Water Change: Next, do a partial (10 to 25 percent) water change, which will freshen things up and clear the water. Don’t forget to add a water conditioner to treat the water for your finned pals.
  3. Add Beneficial Bacteria: If you have sediment stew, add some Nature’s Defense® (if water temps are above 50°F) or Seasonal Defense® (if water temps are below 50°F). The beneficial bacteria will digest any accumulated organic debris and eliminate the brown water.
  4. Use Activated Carbon: If you have debris tea, toss a media bag filled with Activated Carbon into your pond. The carbon will absorb the tannins, leaving behind clear water.

To prevent the discoloration from happening again, keep the organics out of the pond. Clean up the muck regularly with a skimmer net or vacuum, and when the leaves or pine needles start falling, cover the water with pond netting, like the The Pond Guy® PondShelter™ or The Pond Guy® Premium Pond Netting.

Pond Talk: Have the leaves started falling in your neck of the woods yet? If so, what do you do to keep them out of your water?

Remove Discoloration From Leaves & Debris - View The Pond Guy® Activated Carbon

 

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