Winterizing Your Water Garden
The winter months bring lower temperatures, ice, snow, leaves, and a complete transformation of your water garden. To avoid any unwelcome trauma, it’s important to winterize your system. Most gardeners don’t realize that winterizing a water garden is more than pulling out tropical plants. Changing fish food, trimming plants, changing water, and adjusting equipment are all part of properly winterizing a garden.
When the water temperature drops below 50ºF, it is important to switch from a spring food to a fall wheat germ-based food. The fish feed less often, their metabolism slows, and their ability to digest food is reduced greatly. Feeding the fish their normal diet during these cooler months will cause partially digested food to remain in the fish’s intestines for long periods of time, causing severe health problems such as bloating caused by an internal infection. Wheat germ is an ingredient they can continue to digest. Although it is not an exceptional protein source, it will supply them with nutrients in the late fall and early winter. After the winter months of complete inactivity, wheat germ will give them a head start on eating and recovering from a lack of food intake. Together, these lessen the time the fish have to go without eating and provides them with a great benefit to survive over the winter months. O.S.I.’s Cool Water Wheat Germ also includes spirulina and yeast. These contain components which are reported in some fish to help stimulate the immune system. Pigments are also included in this product to increase their color, and vitamins are added for good growth. Remember to stop all feeding once the water temperature drops below 39ºF.
Autumn is a good time to give your water garden an overhaul. It’s time to remove all the muck and debris collecting in the pond. The best tools for this job are fine-mesh nets, gravel syphons, and The Muck Vac. The Muck Vac uses the water pressure of your garden hose to create a syphon, easily removing muck, debris, leaves, and any other undesirables in your pond. Using Water Garden Cleaner would help with breaking down some of the solid and particulate matter, making your overhaul a little bit easier. Water Garden Cleaner is a beneficial bacteria that breaks down decaying matter at the micro level. Not only will it help with cleaning, but it will also reduce the harmful ammonia levels caused by fish waste and decaying debris. It’s wise to do your overhaul before water temperatures drop below 50ºF while fish are still active and least likely to sustain an injury. A large water change around 50% is also a good idea. Be sure to use a water conditioner with dechlorinator like AquaLife Complete AquaLife Complete or AquaLife Complete. AquaLife Complete also replaces or protects the natural slime coat of the pond fish.
As marginal and deep-water plants begin to die back, they should be trimmed to prevent further decaying in the pond. Marginals should be weighted and submerged in the pond with the deep-water plants. Marsh or bog plants can be trimmed and insulated against the cold with straw. Of course, tropical plants will have to be taken inside. Once all your plants are prepped and the pond has been cleaned, the best finishing touch would be some type of pond netting. Danner offers three sizes of netting: 7’x10’, 14’x14’, and 28’x28.’ Not only will these nets keep out leaves, twigs and other debris, but it will also deter or prevent predators from using your water garden as a winter buffet.
Many water garden owners tend to try operating their circulating systems as long as possible during the winter months. This is not recommended in colder climates, because it mixes the cold water with the warm water, further reducing the water temperature. To protect the fish, water circulation should be cut down to a minimum to prevent the cooler surface water from mixing with the warmer bottom water. Fountains and waterfalls should be turned off when water temperatures fall below 30ºF. This is a good time to remove pumps, UV clarifiers and filters as well as drain, clean and service these units. Store them indoors until spring.
When you stop circulation in the water garden, this will cause a surface freezing problem, where the entire surface of the water freezes over. If this occurs, the pond will be cut off from its natural oxygen source. Although fish do slow their breathing rates during the winter, the pond must maintain a minimal oxygen supply. Breaking or banging holes in the ice might cause extremely high levels of stress in the fish. In some cases, hibernating fish can die from the stress brought on by shock waves caused by water gardeners banging away at ice caps. The best solution to this problem is a Surface De-icer. A Surface De-icer is a floating heater that will keep thawed the area directly around the unit. This will allow enough surface area to supply oxygen to the pond and allow any harmful gases to escape during the winter months. Both Laguna and Little Giant offer excellent de-icers.
Trick of the trade: Heat a pan of water until the water is boiling. Take the pan and set it on the ice surface with the water still boiling inside. Don’t pour any water out of the pan. Make sure you use a pan with a handle or you’ll lose the pan to the pond! This is a cheap way to make a hole in the ice without stressing the fish from the percussion of ice picks or hammers. The only problem with this method is that the surface can easier refreeze later in the day. To ensure there is a constant opening to the water surface, you will need a de-icer.