Winterizing a Water Garden Winterizing a Water Garden

Fall is upon us, and those peaceful quiet moments enjoying the sounds of a waterfall and feeding colorful fish are fading away. Despite that the water garden and everything surrounding it will look asleep, this doesn't mean it needs to be ignored. What's in your pond will remain active during the winter and special care is needed. Fall is the time to take care of our outdoor features, especially a water garden. Winterizing your pond before freezing temperatures sets in ensures fish and plant life will survive and be well prepared for next spring.

As the cold starts to approach, fish waste, algae and other debris start to break down using oxygen and releasing hydrogen sulfide that can "winter kill" all water garden life. It is very important to treat the water, plants, and fishes separately. It's a good idea to use a thermometer to monitor water temperature for feeding. Feed your fish with Spring and Autumn Fish Pond Food by Aquarium Pharmaceutical, which contains stabilized vitamin C and a complement of important vitamins and minerals to help maintain the immune system of pond fish. As soon as the water temperature reaches 50 degrees, stop feeding the fish. The need to stop feeding fish with food high in protein is a must to keeping your fish alive. If fish are fed, their excretion is released in the form of ammonia which can killed them. Once the water temperature drops to 55 degrees, the fish metabolism has a harder time digesting food, so don't worry about feeding your fish until the water starts warming up again. Just make sure they stay healthy and don't freeze to death.

Fish can be kept in the water all winter long, but if you can bring them in, fill a tank or tub with pond water at 55 degrees with a net over it. Having a net will keep fish from jumping out. Continue to feed the fish as you would if it were already spring or summer. If you plan to keep fish in the pond, it should be at least 30' deep or more. 12' is acceptable, as fish need a place to settle and exercise due to the frozen water on top. If your pond is less than 12' feet deep and you have fish, then they definitely need to be taken indoors.

A deicer with an automatic thermostat is needed to keep the water oxygenated. Deicers also keep an open hole in a frozen pond allowing trapped gases to escape. Deicers tend to get very hot and could burn the liner; a cage built around it will keep it from floating towards the liner. If the pond freezes over, do not try to break the ice. Breaking the ice will send shock waves that can stress and harm the fish. Try using a hot pan to melt the ice. Another way to keep the water flowing with oxygen added to the bottom of the water is with an aerator. During the winter an aerator should be kept outside the water, insulated, or indoors to keep condensation from forming in the airline and subsequently freezing, shutting down the aeration device altogether. Having the aerator pulling in warm air from indoors will keep the water from hyper-cooling and harming any pond life.

Sometimes a pond is filled with fish and no plants. If this is the case, adding pond salt will be beneficial to the fish. Pond salt provides electrolytes and acts as barrier coating, protecting it from bacteria or parasites. If salt is applied to the pond, make sure to use a salt pond test kit to make sure levels are safe for your fish.

When it comes to cleaning the water in your pond, it is important to remove any organic waste floating around with a net. Vacuum any slime or sludge that has settled to the bottom of the pond. Come next spring you don't want to see a cloudy mess or find that your fish and plants have been poisoned. Drain the pond 1/3 to 1/4 of water. You can add fresh water back to the pond, but remember to add a dechlorinator to remove any chlorine and other sediments found in tap water. Cover the pond with a net to prevent fallen leaves or other garbage to fall into the water and decompose. As the snow starts to fall, make sure to remove as much as possible off the pond. Removing snow allows for microscopic aquatic plants, which are beneficial to your pond to receive oxygen.

Clean equipment such as pumps and filters and store them in a cool area. Cleaning any gunk from equipment will ensure that by next spring it will work properly. Follow the pump manufacturer's instructions on how to properly clean your pump, whether it's an oil filled pump or a magnetic and epoxy sealed pump. Most pumps should be stored in a bucket filled with water so gaskets won't dry up and crack. Run the pump once in awhile to make sure it doesn't rust. Filters should be cleaned and stored in a cool dry place. Make sure all pipes and valves are drained out and insulated from the cold. Any still water can cause pipes or valves to crack if frozen.

Fountains or structures around the pond should be stored away for the winter. Most plants from your pond should be removed. Don't leave any plants decomposing in the water; this can harm the fish. Water lilies are the only ones that can be over wintered. Water lilies should be cut down to the container and moved to the deepest part of the pond along with the fish. Any other emerging plants should have their foliage cut back. Floating annuals such as lily pads and water lettuce should be thrown away. Tropical and sub-tropical plants that you want to keep should be brought inside, kept under a light, and in warm humid conditions.

Don't assume that life in the water garden will survive the winter. Winterizing your garden should start as early as possible, around the month of September or as soon as your water temperature starts to drop. Proper care and maintenance of your water garden will ensure plants and fish longevity for many seasons to come.
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