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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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Our nights have been chilly, when should I start using Seasonal Defense? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Our nights have been chilly, when should I start using Seasonal Defense?

Q: Our nights have been chilly, when should I start using Seasonal Defense?

Liz – Schenevus, NY

A: Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense® contains aerobic bacteria that’s specially designed for cooler water. When used at this time of year, the waste-gobbling microorganisms break down dead foliage, fish waste and other sediment that have accumulated over the summer and fall. Seasonal Defense® gives you one last opportunity to clean up the muck before winter.

Switch at 50°F
Plan to switch to Seasonal Defense® once water temperatures dip below 50° Fahrenheit. Once the water falls to 40°F, however, discontinue using it until the spring after the spring ice melt, when the water temperature climbs back up to 40°F.

Spread the Love
Don’t just pile the Seasonal Defense® packets in one place. Disburse the packets around your pond to ensure even spread of the beneficial bacteria and breakdown of accumulated muck. Add some to the filter to concentrate and accelerate new bacteria growth on the filter media. Distribute them evenly—but, of course, follow the package recommendations for dosage rates.

Supplement Seasonal Defense®
To help out the Seasonal Defense®, make sure you keep up on your fall chores. Regularly check and clean out your skimmer basket, and remove any leaves or large pieces of debris that blow into the pond. This will encourage the bacteria to focus their energy on the fine organic material and muck.

And if you don’t have one in place already, install some Pond Netting or a PondShelter™ to prevent leaves from falling into your water garden in the first place. This preventive maintenance step will save you time—and make Seasonal Defense®’s job easier.

Pond Talk: How are water temperatures in your neck of the woods? Is winter coming early this year?

Decompose Leaves & Debris - Pond Logic® Seasonal Defense®

 

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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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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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