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We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Q: We always have snakes around my pond, except in the winter. Where do they go?

Dylan – Garner, IA

A: Ponds and lakes get plenty of visitors – including different species of snakes that linger around water. Some of the more common varieties that call the northern states home include the Black Rat Snake, Corn Snake, Garter Snake and the Northern Water Snake.

Water snakes live wherever there’s water, like near lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers and canals. During the spring, summer and fall, when the weather is warm, you probably see these snakes slithering in and around your pond and in the grassy fields, looking for food and for places to sun themselves. But during the winter, they disappear. Where do they go? They’re holed up and hibernating.

Summer Home, Winter Home

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they use the environment to regulate their body temperature. When it’s warm, they’re warm – and they ensure that by basking on rocks, stumps or brush in the full sunshine. In fair weather, rocks, aquatic plants, muskrat houses and beaver lodges are good places to find water snakes, which like to hide among the sticks and plant stems when they’re not sunning themselves.

But when it’s cold, they go on hiatus. These snakes are unable to generate their own internal body heat, so they rely on outside forces to keep their metabolisms churning. They need to overwinter in areas that will not freeze. The underground becomes their winter home, where they spend their time in temperature-stable burrows below the freezing line, and often share the space with other snakes.

Preferred Diet

In the spring, summer and fall, these slithering, mostly harmless critters are active day and night. During the day, water snakes hunt among plants at the water’s edge, looking for small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, young turtles, and small birds and mammals. At night, they concentrate on minnows and other small fish sleeping in shallow water.

When the cold weather sets in; however, snakes go on a season-long diet. Their metabolism slows way down. Food supplies, like frogs and toads, dwindle. If snakes have undigested food in their bellies when they go into hibernation, they can die.

Friends and Foes

Water snakes have many predators, including birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes, snapping turtles, bullfrogs and other snakes. Humans who mistake the harmless snake varieties for dangerous ones, like Copperheads and Water Moccasins, can affect the population, too.

For the most part, these guys are our friends. They may eat some fish and frogs and hunt some of the indigenous wildlife, but they also do damage to the rodent population – which everyone can appreciate. If you see a snake on your property and you’re not sure if it’s a safe or dangerous variety, contact your local university extension office and describe the snake’s size, color, scale pattern and where you found it. Never kill a snake without good reason, because they are important to our environment.

Pond Talk: What kinds of snakes do you have around your pond or lake?

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I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Q: I’ve been trapping leeches with success. Will the rest die this winter or do I need to continue next spring?

Bernie – Muskegon, MI

A: Those little bloodsuckers sure steal the fun, don’t they?

Hitching a ride with waterfowl, amphibians, small mammals—even your muck boots—leeches love living in mucky debris at the bottom of your pond. They settle in and wait for worms, snails, insect larvae, small water-loving animals and even humans to cruise by. When something looks tasty, they’ll use their suction cup-like mouths and teeth to latch on and feed on their blood.

Leeches aren’t necessarily bad for your pond or lake—in fact, they’re an important part of the food web. But they can be a nuisance, particularly if you use it for swimming or water sports.

Death by Winter Frost

During the winter, leeches don’t die. They ball up and burrow in the mud just below the frost line, nice and cozy, where they hibernate through the cold temperatures. In the spring, they’ll return to their bloodsucking ways.

If temperatures fall below freezing where you live, one wintertime leech-control trick is to manipulate the water level in your pond. Drop the water level at least 4 feet after ice has started to form on the pond. This will freeze the leeches that were living in the shallow underwater mud. It’s an effective method, but it could also kill other aquatic life burrowed in the mud.

Controlling Leeches

Sure, they’re part of the ecosystem, but no one likes climbing onto the dock with their legs covered in leeches, right? There are several ways to trap and control those bloodsuckers.

  1. Capture them in tiny traps. Punch leech-size holes in a coffee or aluminum can with a lid, bait it with raw chicken or fish heads, and position it in a shallow area of your pond. When the leeches climb in for a meal, they can’t escape because their full bellies will prevent them from exiting. Remove the can once it’s full and repeat until the leeches are gone.
  2. Control them with leech-grubbing fish. Your finned friends will savor the protein-rich treats. Fall is the perfect time to add more fish to your pond—and leech control is a perfect excuse to boost your game fish population. Red-ear sunfish are particularly fond of leeches.
  3. Change the habitat. Because leeches live in the muck and detritus in the shallow areas of your pond or lake, keep up with weed maintenance so you’re not creating a hospitable habitat for them. Remove shoreline vegetation with weed removal tools, cut and rake out dead organic debris from the water and add aeration to help break down the muck.

Pond Talk: How do you control leeches in your lake?

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I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out?

Q: I know a net won’t fit on my pond, so how do I keep the leaves out?

Jack – Fairport, NY

A: Big lake? Blowing leaves? No problem! Though it might seem like an impossible task to keep those drifting fall leaves from landing in your pond or lake, it is possible to manage them even without the use of pond netting. With a little bit of planning you can use this three-step solution. Here’s what we recommend.

Step 1: Continue to Aerate

No, your aerator won’t blow away debris like your leaf blower, but it will help to circulate oxygen throughout the water column. An Airmax® Aeration System will keep your pond or lake healthy by removing dangerous gases like ammonia while delivering O2 to your fish and muck-eating beneficial bacteria.

Step 2: Put Bacteria to Work

Continual use of some beneficial bacteria like those found in Pond Logic® MuckAway™ throughout the fall will help decompose the leaves that have landed in your lake or pond. The bacteria-packed pellets sink below the water’s surface and instantly begin to digest muck, gobbling through leaves and improving water clarity.

Step 3: Manually Remove Debris

Because a net won’t fit over your lake, you should plan to manually remove fallen leaves and debris in addition to aerating and adding bacteria. Doing so will lessen the workload—and give you some good stuff to add to your compost pile. Tools that will make the job easy include:

    • Pond Rake: Perfect for mechanical control of weeds, algae, muck and debris, this 3-foot-wide aluminum rake comes with an 11-foot two-piece rust-proof powder-coated aluminum handle, detachable polyethylene float and a 20 feet length of polypropylene rope.
    • Heavy Duty Pond Net Combo: This heavy-duty handheld net includes a fish net, sludge/utility net and aluminum neoprene-grip handle that extends to more than 9 feet. The quick-change design makes switching between nets fast and easy.
    • PondSkim™: Remove floating debris quickly by dragging this skimmer across the surface of the water. It measures 5 feet wide and is constructed with a tough collection screen, a buoyant float, a sturdy abrasion-resistant lower crossbar and a 24-foot pull line.

It can be a challenge to prevent leaves from settling in a large pond or lake, but with a little planning and hard work, it can be done. Good luck!

Pond Talk: If you have a large pond or lake, what do you do to prevent copious amounts of leaves from landing in it and turning into muck?

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Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings?

Q: Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings?

Joann – Knoxville, TN

A: A misty morning fog conjures a sense of mystery—but why the fog appears isn’t so mysterious once you understand what it is and how it forms.

Fog Defined

Fog is simply a concentration of low-lying water vapor in the air. In the fall, these tiny liquid water droplets often form over bodies of water like your pond or lake.

Temperature Mix

Fog forms when cool air and warm water meet and, more specifically, when the difference between the temperature and the dew point is less than 4° Fahrenheit.

You see, in your pond, the water, heated by the sun, stays warmer than the air temperature during the cool night. When the cold layer of still air settles over your pond, warm water vapor from the pond evaporates, entering the cool air above it. The cool air then traps the concentrated water vapor and fog forms. In the morning, as the sun heats the air and temperatures rise, the water vapor evaporates and dispels.

Fog Fighters

If you don’t like fog and prefer to use your pond early in the morning before the misty stuff dissipates, consider installing an AquaStream™ Fountain. A fountain adds oxygen to the pond—but that’s not all. It also creates movement above the water, which prevents cool air from settling on the water surface. This will help prevent fog from forming.

Pond Talk: Are you a fan of fog on your pond or lake? Why or why not?

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My pond is about a quarter acre, and I have ducks so I don’t want to use chemicals. Can I use barley straw? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: My pond is about a quarter acre, and I have ducks so I don’t want to use chemicals. Can I use barley straw?

Q: My pond is about a quarter acre, and I have ducks so I don’t want to use chemicals. Can I use barley straw?

Katie – Johnson, VT

A: More and more people are using barley straw as an all-natural (and duck friendly) way to control pond scum—and for good reason. Barley straw is a safe, natural alternative to manufactured chemicals and one of the compounds produced by submerged, decomposing barley straw may actually help keep your pond clear.

You need a lot of it to be effective.

In your quarter-acre pond, you’d need between 25 and 50 pounds (1 to 2 standard bales) of barley straw, depending on your pond’s condition. That straw would then need to be broken up, divided among several permeable bags and placed around the perimeter of the pond with weights in water no deeper than 6 feet.

That’s a lot of work!

And if you don’t replace the barley straw as it decomposes, it just turns into more decaying organic debris in the pond.

So what are your options?

Focus on the health of your pond. Reduce the decomposing plant matter, fish waste and other nutrients by adding a stout aeration system and wildlife-safe beneficial bacteria.

You can give barley straw a try or you may want to reconsider manufactured chemicals, like Algae Defense®. The algaecide has no water use restrictions, and it’s safe to use around ducks and other wildlife. And because it only needs to be used when algae growth is occurs, you could use it as a one-time algae bomb. Not all chemicals are bad!

Pond Talk: Have you ever used barley straw? How did it work in your pond or lake?

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A friend suggested I use pond dye. I’m nervous because we swim in the pond. Is it safe, and which one do I use? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: A friend suggested I use pond dye. I’m nervous because we swim in the pond. Is it safe, and which one do I use?

Q: A friend suggested I use pond dye. I’m nervous because we swim in the pond. Is it safe, and which one do I use?

Wayne – Camden, NC

A: You have a wise friend! Pond Dye can provide some important benefits to your pond. It helps to shade the water from the sun’s rays, and create drama and aesthetic appeal in your landscape.

Safe and Non-Staining

If you’re worried about the dye coloring your skin when you swim, don’t worry: After 24 hours of being applied to the pond, the dye will not stain. The concentrated form, however, is a different story. It will turn your hands colors, so be sure to wear gloves and work clothes when adding dye to your pond.

Once mixed with the water in your pond, pond dye is completely safe for agriculture and irrigation purposes. Immediately after treatment, you can use your pond for recreation, fishing and other activities. It’s safe for swimming ponds, as well as watering horses, livestock, birds, pets, fish and wildlife.

Color Choices Aplenty

Pond dye color is really a matter of personal preference, but different shades are better suited to different situations. When selecting one, first consider your environment and what looks natural in your surroundings. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a decorative pond or lake? Try Nature’s Blue™ dye or The Pond Guy® PondShade™ Pond Dye– our customers’ favorite choice. It’s the ideal color for large ponds that double as a view as it contrasts perfectly with lush green landscaping. Folks in the Great Lakes area may feel more at home with a natural blue color.
  • Do you prefer a more natural look? Try Twilight Blue™ dye. It maintains a neutral blackish-blue tint that shades and protects your pond without making drastic changes to its natural coloring.
  • Do you want to showcase your landscape? Consider using Black DyeMond™ dye. It creates a mirrored surface that reflects surrounding trees and natural rocky landscapes, making it perfect for natural ponds in wooded areas.

Application Process

Adding dye to your pond or lake is easy. Every four to six weeks (or as needed depending on rainfall and evaporation), simply pour the concentrated Pond Dye into the water in several spots along the pond’s edge, or drop the easy-to-use water-soluble Pond Dye Packets in the water. Easy peasy!

If you notice your pond is full of suspended debris, you may want to try Pond Dye Plus. It contains both dye and the beneficial bacteria that’s found in PondClear™, so it will both shade your pond and help clear the water.

Pond Talk: What’s your favorite shade of pond dye?

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I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Matt – Burton, MI

A: Bandit-masked raccoons are a familiar sight just about everywhere because they will eat just about anything, including your fish. Found in forests, marshes, prairies, suburbs and even cities, raccoons can be a nuisance around ponds and lakes. Here’s what you need to know to keep them away from your pond – and your garbage cans.

ID, Please

With the exception of 75-pound Bandit that holds the world record for “World’s Fattest Raccoon,” these nocturnal foragers are typically between 15 to 23 pounds and 30 to 37 inches long, or the size of a small dog. They sport heavy fur streaked in brown, black and gray, and have black eye stripes that resemble a mask. Raccoons have bushy ringed tails that grow up to a foot long, and their dexterous paws and long fingers make distinct prints in the mud or snow.

Sushi for Dinner

Though raccoons love to eat mice, insects, and tasty fruits and vegetables (particularly sweet corn) plucked from your garden and garbage can, the opportunistic water-loving critters will happily take a dive in your lake to hunt for crayfish, fish, turtles, frogs and worms. They’ll use their lightning-fast paws to grab both aquatic and terrestrial prey.

Tracking a Bandit

Raccoons aren’t exactly stealthy. If they’re prowling around, they’ll leave telltale signs around your home and property – like knocked-over garbage cans, overturned rocks and flower pots, rooted-through plants and disheveled yard decor. They’ll also leave tracks in the wet soil around the pond. And, if you’re lucky, you may even find a shelter or den made in a hollow tree, culvert, woodchuck burrow or under a building.

Evicting Raccoons

Mother Nature provides her own raccoon control in the form of coyotes, foxes, great horned owls and bobcats, but you can give her a hand in several different ways.

  • A live-animal trap baited with cat food or tuna will allow you to capture and relocate your problem raccoon.
  • The Nite Guard Solar® deterrent keeps raccoons away with its solar-powered LED lights. Activated at dusk, the red lights resemble a predator’s flashing eyes flash and cause the critter to run away.
  • Keep garbage cans securely sealed and manage other easy-access food sources, like cat food bowls and compost bins.

With hundreds of thousands of raccoons traipsing across the countryside, you’ll likely discover one or two (or an entire family!) living on your property near your lake. But if you use some wildlife management tactics like these, you can keep them under control. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How do you manage the raccoon population near your pond?

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