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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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We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: We've been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Q: We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Shiela – Norton, VA

A:  No doubt your finned friends are enjoying the cozy indoors during the chilly winter season. With your tank’s filtration system turned on, you’re mechanically cleaning the fishes’ aquatic abode – which is a great first step – but there are a few more things you can do to make their stay inside a pleasant one. Here’s what we recommend.

No Chemicals Necessary

Unless your holding tank receives a lot of sunlight, you won’t need chemical treatments, like algaecides or water clarifiers. They’re not necessary, particularly if you use beneficial bacteria, stress reducer and an aeration system.

Boost Your Bacteria

Natural beneficial bacteria, like those found in The Pond Guy® Liquid Clear™, will keep your tank water clean (and give your mechanical filtration system a break!), so pour some into the tank. The tiny microbes activate as soon as they hit the water, multiplying every 20 to 40 minutes and digesting dead organics in the water. The result: crystal clear water and happy fish.

Condition the Water

A stress reducer, like The Pond Guy® Stress Reducer Plus, will help your fish enjoy their indoor stay, too. The water conditioner fortifies your fish’s slime coat, which is the natural slime secretion that’s lost when its stressed. It also removes heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines from tap water, making it safe for underwater living.

Aerate and Circulate

In addition to beneficial bacteria and stress reducer, you should also drop in some air stones into the tank and connect them to your aeration system. Because your fish are living in a smaller space, they’ll need even more oxygen than they did in your pond. Our PondAir™ Aeration Kits will infuse the water with plenty of fresh O2 for your fish until spring arrives again!

Pond Talk: Where do you overwinter your pond fish?

Promote A Healthy Ecosystem - The Pond Guy® LiquidClear™

 

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I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Maggie – Carlisle, PA

A:  When frigid weather persists for days on end – like those way-below-zero temperatures – a pond can completely freeze over, even if a higher-watt de-icer and aerator are used. The ice-melting combination works great in most scenarios, but it just can’t keep up in extreme conditions.

Do keep in mind that pond de-icers are not meant to thaw the entire pond’s surface or heat the water. Their primary purpose is only to keep a hole in the ice to allow gas to escape. With that said, if your pond has been totally frozen over for a day or so, your fish will be fine. But if it has been more than a few days or weeks, your pond pals could be at risk of oxygen deprivation or overexposure to dangerous gases trapped beneath the ice.

So what do you do?

Let’s start with what not to do – and that’s to try to smash the ice with a chisel or blunt object. The sound and vibration of that pounding on the ice amplify underwater, which can stress out your fish. They’re already unhappy, and so you certainly don’t want to make them endure more trauma!

Instead, use a pot of hot water to melt away the ice. If it’s particularly thick, you might need to repeat the process several times to open a complete hole in the frozen stuff. While the temperatures remain frigid, check on the pond every few days to make sure the hole is still open; if it freezes over again, use hot water to open the hole back up.

With several more months of winter ahead of us, it’s not too late to add a de-icer to your pond if you don’t already have one. Simply place a unit, like the K&H Thermo-Pond De-Icer, on the ice and turn it on. It will heat up and melt through the ice – as long as temperatures aren’t too extreme! For an extra boost, pair your de-icer with an aeration kit. The bubbling action also disrupts ice formation and even if the pond’s surface is covered with ice, an aeration system will still deliver oxygen into the pond.

Pond Talk: How is your pond faring during these extreme frigid temperatures?

The Ultimate in Winter Protection - PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo

 

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What items need to come out of my pond before winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What items need to come out of my pond before winter?

Q: What items need to come out of my pond before winter?

Charles – Billings, MT

A:  You probably spent a pretty penny on your pond equipment, and so there’s no doubt you want to make that gear last as many seasons as possible. Certain components will survive longer if you remove them from your pond during the winter, including:

    • All-In-One Filtration Units: Submersible mechanical, biological and ultraviolet filtration systems such as the ClearSolution™ G2 should be pulled from your water feature, cleaned and stowed away for the winter in a place that will not freeze.
    • Pressurized Filters: As with the All-In-One Filtration Units, plan to remove pressurized filters such as the AllClear™ G2 and put it up for the cold-weather season. Doing so will prolong the life of your unit’s temperature-sensitive parts.
    • Pumps: Whether your pump feeds a waterfall, fountain or some other decorative item in your pond, it will need to be removed and stored in water in a spot that won’t freeze, like a heated garage or basement.
  • UV Clarifiers: If your ultraviolet clarifier is separate from your mechanical and biological filtration system, be sure to remove it from your water feature and store it until spring, when you should plan to replace the bulb.
  • Ion Clarifiers: Algae won’t likely be growing out of control in the winter, so you can disconnect your ion clarifier and keep it stashed until the warm weather arrives.

Once all of your gear is removed and stored away, blow out the water lines with your air compressor and cap the ends until spring. You wouldn’t want that water to freeze and crack your pipes!

Add Winter Gear

While you’re doing some winterizing chores, now is the perfect time to add an aerator to your pond to keep the water oxygenated for your finned pals during the winter months.

Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration Kit is designed for water gardens up to 2,000 gallons. It’s powered by an energy-efficient diaphragm compressor and includes an airflow control valve, air stones and flexible black vinyl air tubing.

The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit is designed to aerate medium sized water gardens and koi ponds up to 4,000 gallons. It’s powered by an energy-efficient aeration pump and includes a diffuser plate for maximum oxygen uptake and a weighted airline.

Completing these simple tasks will prolong the life of your pond gear and ensure your fish and other pond critters stay happy and healthy all winter long.

Pond Talk: Where do you stow your pond gear for the winter?

Clear Water and Protect Fish - The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit

 

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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?

Lift Debris Away in Seconds - The Pond Guy® Oxy-Lift™ Defense®

 

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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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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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Join over 60,000 fellow pond owners and receive our Weekly Pond Talk every Saturday.