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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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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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How do I overwinter my tropical lilies? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How do I overwinter my tropical lilies?

Q: How do I overwinter my tropical lilies?

Marilyn – Morton, IL

A:  Vivid and fragrant, tropical water lilies are the floating jewels of a pond. If you live in Hardiness Zone 9 or lower, you’ll need to take extra special care of these warm-weather-loving beauties over the cold season. To overwinter tropical water lilies, you have two choices: send them into dormancy or keep them growing.

Going Dormant for Winter

If you decide to send your water lilies into dormancy for the winter, stop fertilizing them in the fall to slow their growth and help them prepare their tubers for winter. After the first frost, pull out your Aqua Gloves™ and follow these step-by-step instructions:

  1. First, remove the lily and planting basket from the pond. Using your hands, dig around in the soil just below the plant’s crown to feel for the tubers. They normally range in size from an acorn to golf ball, but they can be smaller or larger.
  2. Take out the tubers and rinse each one very well with a strong stream of water. Use your pond scissors to trim off remnants of roots or stems. If small tubers are growing on a larger tuber, remove them and store them—they could turn into new lilies plants next year!
  3. Store the tubers in a plastic bag or glass jar that’s filled with damp (not wet!) peat moss, sphagnum moss or sand. Consider dusting them with a fungicide before sealing them up. Keep the container in a room that stays warmer than 50° F.
  4. Once a month through the winter, check on your tubers to be sure they’re still damp. Spritz them with water if they get dry.
  5. When water temperatures climb back to 60° F in the spring, replant the tubers in a planting basket filled with fresh, fertile soil. Position them just below the surface with the pointy side up and round side down.

Keep Them Growing

If you decide to keep your water lilies growing over the winter, set up a space in your home for a grow light and an aquarium or lined indoor pond. After the first frost, take the lilies and their planting baskets inside and follow these tips:

  1. First, trim off the largest leaves and any dead, dry or damaged leaves with your pond scissors.
  2. Place the planting baskets and plants inside in an aquarium or lined pond filled with water.
  3. Keep the water temperature above 60° F, and use a grow light to keep the lilies growing slowly over the winter.
  4. Once the weather outside warms and your pond’s water temperature climbs back to 60° F, transplant your lilies or add some fertilizer to their existing soil and submerge them.

Overwintering tropical water lilies isn’t hard, but it does require some space and planning. Good luck!

Pond Talk: What tips can you share for overwintering tropical water lilies?

Keep Your Hands & Arms Dry - Aqua Gloves™

 

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Why should I aerate my pond? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Why should I aerate my pond?

Q: Why should I aerate my pond?

Marty – Crivitz, WI

A: We talk a lot about the importance of aeration – and for good reason. Aeration with the Airmax® Aeration System, which involves diffusing oxygen into the water below the surface,  benefits the quality of your pond or lake in myriad ways, including these top five reasons:

  1. Reduces Pond Muck: Aeration cuts the nutrient load, like pond muck and other decomposing debris, in your pond. How? The increased oxygen and water movement provided by aeration helps to encourage the colonization of beneficial aerobic bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for digesting and preventing muck and nutrient accumulation.
  2. Boosts Oxygen Levels: Aeration also increases the amount of oxygen in your lake’s water. Beneath the water surface, the diffuser plates release tiny bubbles of oxygen. They disperse and circulate throughout the water column, providing life-sustaining O2 to beneficial bacteria, fish and submerged plants.
  3. Eliminates Thermocline: Aeration circulates the water and eliminates thermocline, which is a stratified layer of water between the warmer, surface zone and the colder, deep-water zone. Bottom diffuser aeration churns and mixes those temperature layers. The tiny air bubbles force the cooler oxygen-starved water to the pond’s surface where it becomes infused up with O2. The warmer, oxygen-rich water then drops down, fueling the beneficial bacteria.
  4. Improves Water Quality: By reducing the pond muck, increasing oxygen and circulating the water column, your water quality will improve. You’ll see less organic debris, clearer water, and happier, healthier fish.
  5. Reduces Winter Fishkill: Aeration also protects your game fish in the winter. As organic debris decomposes in your pond, gases are released into the water column. These gases become trapped when your pond freezes over, which reduces the amount of clean oxygen. If enough oxygen is displaced, your fish will suffocate. Running an aerator pumps fresh O2 in the water while maintaining a hole in the ice for gas exchange.

Ideally an aeration system should be matched to your pond’s size and shape, and run all season. If you need some assistance with planning a system that is properly sized for your pond, let us help with our free aeration mapping service and we will guarantee the results.

Pond Talk: What benefits have you seen in your pond or lake after adding an aeration system?

Keep Your Pond Healthy All Year - Airmax(r) Pond Series(tm) Aeration Systems

 

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Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options?

Q: Running a pond heater is expensive. Do I have any other options?

Vicki – Pawtucket, RI

A: Yes, those pond heaters are expensive to run! But guess what? You don’t need one in the first place!

Heaters are more frequently used in aquariums, particularly those that house warm-water fish like tetras or angelfish.

In your pond, the fish will overwinter just fine without a heater—even if temperatures drop below freezing. Pond fishes like koi and goldfish naturally go into wintertime hibernation when temperatures fall. They’ll stop eating, their metabolisms will slow way down and they’ll snooze through the winter without worrying about how warm their water is.

However, if you live in areas that experience freezing temperatures that cause your pond to ice over, you do need to worry about keeping a hole in the ice. The hole allows toxic gases like ammonia to escape while allowing oxygen in, and your fish will need that fresh O2.

So how do you create that hole? Not with a pond heater! Check out these much cheaper alternatives:

  • De-Icer: A de-icer floats on the water surface and melts a hole in the ice. Unlike a heater that actually warms the entire pond, a de-icer simply melts an opening in the ice sheet, thereby allowing for gas exchange.
  • Aerator: Rather than create a hole in the ice from above, an aerator like the PondAir™ (for smaller ponds) or Water Garden Aeration Kit (for larger ponds) circulates the water below the ice sheet. In areas with mild winters, that subsurface water movement will keep a hole in the ice—but when temps really dip, an aerator may not be enough to maintain a vent hole.
  • De-Icer, Aerator Combo: An excellent and convenient option to consider is the PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond Combo. It combines both the Thermo-Pond de-icer and PondAir™ Aeration Kit, providing your water feature the one-two punch it needs to stay well-vented throughout the winter. Watch the video below for benefits and installation.

If you live in an area with temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, consider picking up a Thermo Cube®. It’s a thermostatically controlled outlet that turns on when air temperatures drop below 35°F and turns off when air temps rise above 45°F.

So put that pond heater on Craigslist and invest in a de-icer, aerator and thermostatically controlled outlet. It’ll save you money in the long run!

Pond Talk: What method do you use to keep a hole in the ice in your pond?

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

 

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Is there any maintenance I should do when I pull out my fountain for the year? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Is there any maintenance I should do when I pull out my fountain for the year?

Q: Is there any maintenance I should do when I pull out my fountain for the year?

John – Epping, NH

A: Decorative fountains add beauty to your waterscape while pumping some extra oxygen to your pond, but they are designed to be used in the warmer months – not winter. So when you’re ready to pull out your fountain for the year, follow these steps to ensure it’ll be ready for use spring:

  1. Pull Unit from the Pond: To remove your fountain from the water, simply release it from its mooring line and gently reel it in. Leave the mooring line stakes in place to make it easy to reinstall it in the spring. You’ll save time from having to place the fountain in position.
  2. Clean Your Fountain and Lights: As your fountain runs through the spring, summer and fall, algae and other debris accumulate on the motor, lights and float. This unsightly debris acts as an insulator that traps heat around the motor, which could cause overheating when you reinstall it in the spring. Get out your scrubber and polish your surfaces while they’re still wet. Some expert advice: It’s best to clean that gunk off before it dries on.
  3. Inspect for Damages: Normal wear-and-tear and curious critters can cause nicks and chew marks in the cord that will need to be repaired, so check it for damages. Also, if you haven’t performed routine maintenance on your unit, like changing oil and seals, winter is the perfect time to do so while your fountain is out of the water and in your workshop.
  4. Cover the Cord Ends: Once your fountain is cleaned and repaired, cover your power cord ends by covering them with a vented plastic bag to keep dust and debris out while it’s in storage. If you have an AquaStream™ Fountain you can use caps to cover the power cord ends.
  5. Store in Safe Spot: Find a safe, frost-free place to store your fountain over the winter. Ideally, stash it in your garage, basement or other place that won’t freeze.
  6. Keep Aeration Running: Unless you plan to use your pond for recreation, like hockey or ice skating, your pond will need oxygen through the winter. Continue to use your diffused aeration system to maintain a hole in the ice for ventilation and gas exchange.

Follow these simple maintenance steps and you’ll be ready to reinstall your fountain in the spring – once the ice melts, that is!

Pond Talk: Where do you store your fountain in the winter?

Protect Your Fish With Winter Aeration - Airmax(r) PondSeries™ Aeration Systems

 

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