Preparing you fish pond for the cold weather
Winter time is always a good idea and can actually help avoid common winter pond emergencies.
My top 5 winter pond tips are drawn from my 15 years in the industry and have constantly been the most common reason for call outs in that time.
Stop feeding or change your fish food to wheatgerm. When water dips down to 10 Degrees or less your will find that fish start to become less interested in food as their metabolisms start to lower to a point were they will no longer be able to digest food. If your fish pond has only gold fish and plants completely stopping feeding is fine to do. They already have a winter food source that suits them better than wheatgerm. I my experience the only ponds that need to use wheatgerm are koi or fish ponds that have no vegetation and then I would only recommend giving them a tiny amount. The best thing to do is leave a small amount of wheatgerm floating on the water to see if they eat it, if they do add more but never allow uneaten food to float around after feeding.
(WARNING) Feeding fish normal/summer fish food in conditions lower than 10 Degrees can lead to bloating and worse.
Cut back plants remove leaves. Once your pond plants start to die back it is always a good thing to cut them down to the base of the plant. This will help your pond in two ways 1) Decomposing plant matter adds to the ponds load in the spring and can cause water quality and clarity problems. 2) It is difficult to separate the dead parts of the plants from new growth if left until the spring. Off course there are also reasons to leave the plants uncut, if you feel it offers protection or maybe the dead plant leaves add some interest to your gardens winter theme. In this case I would only advise you to remove dead plant matter and leaves from below the waters level.
Move pump or switch off. When pond water goes below 10 Degrees the bacteria that process fish and pond waste start to die back which leaves your pond filter only contributing to the water clarity which in the winter time is not hard to keep clear. As well as this cold water holds more oxygen that warmer water. If you have a gold fish pond turning the whole system off has a couple of benefits the first being the money savings. If you have a fish pond you are probably aware that your pond system pump, UV, filter costs money to run turning this off for the winter months will help to keep that cost down. Switching off a pond also aids fish as still water becomes colder a the top than it does the bottom. This gives the fish a very welcome difference in temp at the bottom of the pond. Should you leave the pond circulating the water will be one temp throughout. Ponds that include koi or orf should not switch of their system unless there is a chance that the pond might freeze, instead I would recommend that the pump be move towards the top off the water level on a shelf or anchored from the side. If you can reduce the flow it will help too.
Cover Netting. Although netting a pond can look appealing it will help to keep out the leaves which will save you time not having to net the leaves out at a latter date which will take much longer. Netting the pond with a cover will help protect your pond from a heron visit as they widen their search area during winter months as food becomes harder to find.
Prepare for ice. Last but not least the dreaded ice! their are a couple of problems caused by ice forming on a fish pond. I will start with the most common problem which is the risk of gas build up under the ice. Most ponds release methane etc into the atmosphere caused by waste and decaying matter which is not a problem for most of the year as this escapes from the surface of the water. When a pond is frozen however this gas has no way of escaping and starts to build up to levels which can gas/poison the fish with sometimes catastrophic results. The way to avoid this is to make a hole in the ice for this gas to escape from. The main way people do this is to boil a hot pan of water and place it on the surface to heat a hole in the ice. Half filling a plastic bottle with stones or sand and placing it in the water to bob about helps to as water tends not to freeze where their is movement. The most effective way is to use a pond heater to keep a constant area ice free and it also helps with the waters overall temp. The second way to protect your pond is to try to minimise the damage that ice/frost can have on the ponds construction. Dropping the level of the pond 1″ to below the paving area so that the liner shows can help. Liner is more flexible than cement and more able to cope with expanding ice.
Written by Neil Murkitt