November 2, 2016

How to winterize your pond

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Cold weather means your pond needs a little TLC. Winterization will help your pond, plants, and fish do well this winter.

It sounds like a daunting task, but winterization isn’t complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

Winterizing Your Pond

Water temperature

The temperature of your pond determines when you should do certain tasks. That’s why you need a pond thermometer you can leave in the water. These handy tools float and have a string you can attach to your skimmer or a rock or flower pot.

Info from the thermometer will help you make the right decisions about your plants and fish. But once winter sets in, it’s a good idea to remove the thermometer until late winter or early spring.

Fish care

People aren’t the only ones who eat differently when the weather changes. Fish metabolisms and digestion slow down as their water temperature changes.

Once the water temperature gets into the lower 60s (°F), start feeding your fish a wheat germ-based food. It’s easier for them to digest. When the water starts to consistently get around 45 degrees, stop feeding the fish altogether. Their metabolisms slow and food will cause them to bloat.

Plant care

Pond plants fall into two groups: tropicals and hardy perennials. Tropicals won’t survive the cold temperatures, so you should remove them from the pond completely.

Perennial plants will die back in winter and then re-emerge in spring. As weather turns cold, these plants begin to yellow and turn brown. At this point, you should trim them back as much as possible. This will minimize the amount of plant debris that stays in the water over the winter.

Leaves and debris

Leaves are a huge challenge for ponds in the fall and winter. When leaves are falling fast, check your skimmer a few times a day. If you’ve got a pondless system, it’s not usually so critical, but a net will reduce your maintenance considerably.

Some people use long-handled pond nets to remove leaves and debris. This method is labor intensive and doesn’t get all the leaves.

Even if your pond has a skimmer that catches debris, we recommend that you install a net. It keeps the leaves from getting in the water while still allowing you to enjoy your water feature. A properly installed net that’s anchored to the sides of the pond is barely visible.

You should install your pond net before leaves begin to fall. This will help keep debris out of the water – so you’re less likely to have decayed yuck that needs to be removed in the spring.

There are a couple of ways to install a net. The easiest is putting the net directly over the water and pulling it tight. The problem with this is that the leaves will collect in the middle and weigh down the net, so the leaves will still be in the water. You’ll need to pull the net back periodically to remove the leaves.

A better way is to create a dome so the leaves slide off. This keeps the leaves out of the water. To set up the dome, we use 3/4″ or 1″ PVC pipe and anchor it with pieces of rebar put in at a 45 degree angle on the edges of the water feature. The pieces of PVC will fit over the rebar and form a dome. The netting will go over the dome and you attach it with zip ties. Since the net is black, we spray paint the PVC black and this helps to make the net less noticeable.

Leave your pond running or shut it down?

A big question is whether you should run the pond through the winter or shut it down. Many factors are at play here. Even in below-freezing weather, most ponds and pondless systems can run through most of the winter.

If you decide to keep your water feature running, you’ll get to enjoy the ice sculptures that form on the rocks. These can be really interesting. But keeping your pond running does require a little bit more maintenance.

Ice formations take water out of the pond or pondless reservoir. So, you’ll need to keep an eye on the water level. Add water to your feature on milder days so you won’t have to get the hose out in cold temperatures.

Fun fact: the ice on top of a pond actually insulates the water from the very cold air. So, there’s still water flowing in this pond.

When the water flows into the pond from the stream or waterfall, a small area will almost always stay open. This is very important to fish. If a pond freezes over for any extended period, ammonia gases will build up in the water and the fish may die. A small patch of open water will be enough to let these toxic gases escape.

When it gets very cold, we recommend using a small donut heater to create and maintain an opening in the ice. Another option is to use a pump that will keep the water agitated so it doesn’t freeze.

If you decide to turn the system off, protect your pond with a donut heater or water agitator. You should also disconnect the pump and remove it from the pond. Some systems have a check valve made of hard PVC that prevents water from draining downhill back into the pond. You’ll need to disconnect this. Otherwise, the hard plastic will crack from the water in the pipe that freezes.

Your winter wonderland

Some folks might think winter is the off season for water features. But there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had. And if you allow some time and are strategic in your planning, your pond or pondless waterfall will be in great shape come spring.

If you have questions or need a helping hand, Good Earth Water Gardens is on call. You can reach us at 913-749-8090 or connect online. We’re happy to get you and your water feature ready for winter.

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