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Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Kirsten – Kalispell, MT

A: Though water fluctuations seem more pronounced in the summertime, winter water loss in your pond will happen. When it does, you’ll need to top it off – but access to liquid water can be a challenge in northern climates where landscapes freeze over.

Reasons for Winter Water Loss

Before we get into how to turn up the heat in your water garden, let’s take a look at why water loss happens during the cold season. It can be caused by the following:

  • Low humidity: When the air contains little moisture, evaporation rates increase as the dry air will absorb the water from your pond.
  • Windy conditions: Wind can also escalate evaporation in your pond. A 5-mile-per-hour wind at your pond’s surface, for instance, results in roughly three times the rate of evaporation on a still day.
  • Ice expansion, formation: Because frozen water takes up more space than liquid water, it will appear that the volume dissipates in your pond as ice forms and expands.

A small amount of water level fluctuation is OK – but if your pond is very shallow (18 to 24 inches or less) and stocked with fish, keep a very close eye on your water level. A few inches of water loss could leave your fish in ice!

Topping It Off

If your pond’s water level drops more than an inch or two, you’ll need to top it off. But how do you do that if the pond is covered in a sheet of ice, or if the water in your hose freezes solid as soon as you turn on the spigot?

First, you’ll have to break through the ice. To crack through it, remember to never use a drill, hammer or other blunt object, as the subsurface vibrations could harm your fish. Instead, fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole in the ice, preferably near the edge.

Next, use the heated K&H™ Thermo-Hose™ PVC to fill up your pond through the hole. The thermostatically controlled hose prevents ice from forming in your faucet or hose. The unit’s built-in heating elements turn on automatically when temperatures dip below freezing so you’ll have liquid water coming out of your hose.

You can use the Thermo-Hose™ two ways: either keep it plugged into a power source all winter, or use it as-needed by plugging it in 30 minutes before use. Either way, hook it up to the spigot or water source only when in use and unhook it when you’re done.

Pond Talk: How much water loss do you experience in your pond over the winter?

Keep Your Water Flowing - K&H™ Thermo-Hose™ PVC

 

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Do I need to provide indoor shelter for my pond snails? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Do I need to provide indoor shelter for my pond snails?

Q: Do I need to provide indoor shelter for my pond snails?

Jerry – Kernersville, NC

A: Scientists have identified an estimated 4,000 species of freshwater snails, but one that you might find inhabiting your backyard pond or water garden is the Japanese Trapdoor Pond Snail, also known by its scientific name Viviparis malleatus.

These algae-eating gastropods have extra-special shells with a hinged fingernail-like plate that allows them to seal the shell’s opening, providing protection from drought and predation—hence their “Trapdoor Snail” nickname.

Though these hearty snails overwinter well in harsher northern climates, they do require some attention when temperatures dip. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Cool with Cold-Temperatures: These snails really do well in colder temperatures—in fact, some experts say they’ll do fine in sub-freezing weather, even down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets really frigid, they’ll dive to the bottom of the pond, where the water is warmer.
  • Adequate Pond Depth Required: In order for them to be happy and healthy through those chilly winter spells, the snails need the water in your pond’s depth to ideally be 20 to 30 inches. Down there, they’ll happily groom the bottom of your pond, gobbling all the decaying matter like leaves, excess fish food and fish waste.
  • No Habitat Required: Because these little guys carry their homes on their back, you don’t need to provide shelter or food for them. If they feel endangered, they’ll disappear into their shells; if they’re hungry, they’ll nibble on algae that’s on your plants, underwater pots, rocks and walls.
  • Aeration Appreciated: Like any aquatic critter, Trapdoor Snails appreciate oxygen-rich water, and that’s where a subsurface aeration system, like the Airmax® PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo, will help. An unit like this will infuse your pond with oxygen while releasing harmful gases.

If you have other types of snails in your pond or water garden, these rules may not apply—so be sure to learn their care requirements as they may need more attention than these hearty Trapdoor Snails.

Pond Talk: Do you have other types of snails in your pond? If so, what kind of care do they require?

Vent Harmful Gases All Winter - Airmax® PondAir™ & Thermo-Pond De-Icer Combo

 

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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?

Quickly Lift Debris From Waterfalls - Pond Logic® 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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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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