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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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My pond froze over. How do I get it open again? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: My pond froze over. How do I get it open again?

Q: My pond froze over. How do I get it open again?

Janet – Minneapolis, MN

A:  Brrrr. Jack Frost, Elsa and the rest of the cold-weather crew sure have been busy lately, haven’t they? Despite the use of a de-icer, aeration system and other ice-prevention tactics, long bouts of frigid temperatures and wind-whipped nights can cause ponds to freeze over. And that’s not good news for your fish.

So what can you do? When considering your hibernating finned pals, time is critical. Too long without an open area in the ice for gas exchange could mean dangerous conditions for your koi, goldfish and other pond fish.

Overnight, No Problem

If the pond has been frozen over since last night, your fish should be just fine. Cold, windy nights often cause extra layers of ice to form on the pond’s surface. If your de-icer and aeration are on and functioning properly, some of the ice should melt on its own. Meanwhile, your fish will have plenty of dissolved oxygen in the water to tide them over.

A Week or More, Get Busy

If it’s been a week or longer with no hole in the ice, it’s time to take some action. Without a hole, ammonia and other noxious gases are unable to escape into the atmosphere, and your fish will have no access to fresh oxygen. Here’s what to do when ice overtakes your pond.

  1. Melt It: First, melt a hole back open in the ice by pouring a bucket of hot water onto the frozen stuff near your de-icer or aerator’s airstones. Do not drill through the ice or bang on it with a hammer as this will stress your fish, which are probably already stressed out.
  2. Systems Check: Once a hole is open, check to be sure your de-icer and aeration systems are still running and functioning properly. If not, repair the damage or replace the unit altogether. The PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo, which is an all-in-one aerator and de-icer, works to keep a vent open in ponds up to 2,000 gallons. See the video below for tips on installing the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo.
  3. Reposition Airstones: Finally, if your airstones are positioned at the bottom of your pond, relocate them. Put them in a shallower area that’s closer to the water surface. This will create more movement – and that means a bigger hole.

Should frigid temperatures and a solid ice sheet persist, take a daily trip to your pond to check on the gas exchange hole. Your aerator and de-icer should do the trick, but be ready to melt through the ice if needed.

Pond Talk: How often does your pond freeze over in the winter?

Vent Ponds Up To 2,000 Gallons - PondAir™ &;amp Thermo-Pond 3.0 De-Icer Combo

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

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’m loosing 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 loosing 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®

I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration?

Q: I’m shutting down my waterfall for the winter and installing an aeration system. Do you have any tips on running aeration?

David – Greenfield, IN

A:  Shutting down the waterfall for the winter makes a lot of sense for water garden hobbyists. Not only will it save on operating costs, but it will also prolong the life of your equipment, prevent ice dams from forming and potentially draining your pond, and save on a lot of hassle and worry.

With the waterfall off, the pond will need another source of oxygen – and that’s where an aeration system comes into play. It pumps O2 into the water and maintains a gas exchange hole in the ice, ensuring any finned friends are safe and healthy through the cold season.

We’ve got some expert tips on aeration for you. Here’s what we recommend for making the most of your system.

  • Size It Right: Install an aeration system that’s large enough to properly ventilate your pond volume. An “a little is better than nothing” approach might not be enough to keep your fish safe. If your pond is less than 4,000 gallons, consider The Pond Guy Water Garden Aeration Kit. If it’s between 4,000 and 16,000 gallons, try the KoiAir Aeration Kit.
  • Pair with a De-icer: Though the water movement created by aeration can prevent most surface ice formation, add a de-icer just in case nighttime temperatures turn frigid. The PondAir & Thermo-Pond Combo – a combination kit containing an aerator and de-icer – is perfect for this. On particularly windy nights, you might see ice form even with a de-icer, but don’t worry. The aeration system is still adding oxygen to the pond, and the combination of the two will eventually reopen the hole.
  • Position in Shallows: Rather than place your diffusers in the deepest areas of your pond where your fish hang out in the winter, put them in the shallows or near the surface. Doing so will provide more water movement and better keep a hole in the ice.
  • Watch the Ice: If ice does form, don’t panic! Keep an eye on the ice. If a ventilation hole doesn’t reopen on its own within a few days, pour a bucket of hot water on the ice to help melt it open. Don’t – we repeat – don’t pound on the ice to break it apart. Your fish won’t like it. In fact, the sound waves will stress your fish, compromise their immune systems and could kill them.
  • Maintain for Best Results: Mechanical pieces and parts need to be maintained, and so if you’ve been using your aeration system for the summer or it has been dormant since last winter, it’ll need some attention. Check to make sure the airstones/diffusers are working properly, and install a maintenance kit to ensure it’s working to its full potential.

Pond Talk: What wintertime aeration tips can you share?

Vent Harmful Gases All Winter Long - The Pond Guy(r) Water Garden Aeration Kit