The most asked question we hear from visitors pondering ponds is “What do you do with the fish in the winter?” We explain that they take care of themselves by reducing their metabolism to a very low level and just “hanging out” near the bottom of the pond. As long as the pond is two feet deep, and a small hole is maintained in the ice, they will be fine.
Pondering Ponds in the Winter
Since the pump runs 24/7/365, the area under the falls will stay free of ice until it gets *real* cold – like below 0 deg. F. I added a small bubbler pump near the skimmer to keep that area open also. When we had several days below zero, I removed the pump from the skimmer and laid it on it’s side on the first shelf – the right angle output fittings directed a very strong flow of water to the surface, keeping an even larger hole open. I doubt that it will ever get so cold here that we would need to use an electric heating element to keep an open area.
One of the best features of the better quality pond kits is their use of flexible PVC pipe…I had never seen it before, but was told that it could withstand any amount of freezing without damage. Though I was skeptical, it held up fine after I removed the pump and water sat in the pipe, frozen solid, for a week or longer…amazing stuff!
All in all, wintering with the pond was easy…being the first winter, I was unsure of exact procedures, but I knew that as long as I kept a hole in the ice, our fish would be fine.
Pondering Ponds in the Spring
The early spring clean out was a fairly easy chore. Using the pond pump with additional fittings and a long discharge pipe, we pumped the pond almost dry. I wrapped a filter of fine mesh screen around the pump inlet area so the small baby fish wouldn’t be pumped out. When the water level had gone down to about six inches, the fish were netted and placed in buckets of the pond water.
I hosed down the rocks and gravel and pumped out the dirty water…only about one quart of semi-solid “pond scum” needed to be removed by hand. I removed all the filter media in the biofalls and skimmer, hosed it thoroughly, and replaced. After refilling the pond, we floated the buckets of water and fish in the pond for about half an hour to equalize water temperature – then the fish were let free in the new water.
The entire clean out process took about five hours. This is the most time consuming chore for the pond keeper, but only is required once a year, usually in early spring. In our opinion, it’s a very small price to pay for many hours of enjoyment.
Pondering Ponds with Alage
With our water garden eco-system, we’ve had hardly any suspended algae (the kind that turns the water green), and occasional outbreaks of string algae. The string algae is not really a bother…occasionally I remove it manually, if necessary – like weeding the garden. For easier control, use a safe-for-fish-and-plants product like AlgaeFix.
Update – 2/24/06 – With our new pond, we occasionally had episodes of green water. I invested in an ultraviolet clarifier, and our pond water has stayed crystal clear since.
Another update – I have not completely drained the pond for quite a few years…the yearly cleanout is accomplished by drawing down the water to about the six inch level, cleaning out as much debris as possible, and allowing the fish to hang out in the fish cave. They don’t especially like the process, but it is much less stressful than netting them and holding them in a tank. And it’s a lot less stressful for the pondkeeper!
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.