Pond care, as any pond owner can tell you, is a year-round responsibility. The biggest danger that pond owners face is assuming that once the temperatures drop you can stop maintaining your pond. Quite the opposite is true, particularly if you have fish.
Remember that a pond is a living environment and as such, it needs a proper balance of bacteria in order to thrive and flourish. Also, fish need the right amount of oxygen in order to live.
While fish will naturally slow down their metabolism in the winter, requiring less food and enabling them to withstand colder temperatures, they still face various hazards. Primary among them is a buildup of carbon dioxide if the air they breathe out cannot escape through the ice. At the same time, you need to ensure that the proper balance of bacteria is maintained by keeping the water clear of debris. All of this can be achieved with regular aeration and de-icing.
What exactly is aeration? It simply means keeping an opening in the ice on the surface of the pond for the exchange of air. In the winter, as temperatures drop, pond water will freeze over. If the surface freezes solid, that is when carbon dioxide builds up and the environment below the surface becomes deadly for fish. In order to prevent this, you need to create and maintain a hole in the surface of the pond at all times. It doesn’t need to be a large hole, but it does need to remain open in order for carbon dioxide to escape.
Though it is one of the basics of pond care, aeration is often handled incorrectly. While your initial inclination may be to break the ice open, this is actually the worst way to go about aerating. Fish are much more sensitive and delicate than you might realize, and banging on the ice can cause sound waves that can be very detrimental to their health. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you take a much more gentle approach to aeration.
In most cases, you can create the necessary hole by either pouring boiling water onto the ice or by using a good quality de-icer. De-icers are small generators that float on the surface of the pond and create warmth that keeps the water from freezing solid. In order to make sure that your pond is in the right condition all winter long, you should use a de-icer of at least 1200 watts. A de-icer is also an important backup measure should your aeration system stop working.
In areas like the Albany/Schenectady county region, where winter temperatures are routinely below freezing, you’ll need to be particularly vigilant about aerating and de-icing. That being said, it is not recommended that you run your de-icer continually. Even though they are an important part of pond care, de-icers can use a lot of energy and running one 24/7 can quickly drive up your electricity bill.
Instead, you should keep a careful eye on the pond surface and the aeration hole that you created. If it begins to freeze over, then you should plug in the de-icer and let it run for a day or two in order to melt the ice. Once you have re-established the aeration hole, then you can turn the de-icer off again to conserve energy. The one exception to this rule is if you are going to be away for more than a week at a time. Then it is important to keep the de-icer running the entire time you are gone to prevent any unforeseen problems.
Aeration also involves maintaining continuous movement in the water so that it doesn’t freeze completely. An air pump helps to regulate oxygen levels in the water while a bubbler can produce the continuous movement necessary for proper pond care. It is possible to achieve this by running your waterfall feature but that can be difficult in extremely cold temperatures. A running waterfall in winter will still create evaporation and require you to add water to your pond. Dragging a hose out and filling your pond is never fun in freezing temps.
While aeration systems and de-icers are a necessity in the harsh winters of the Albany/Schenectady county region, other pond equipment should be carefully winterized in order to keep it running properly. Pumps, mechanical filters and any filter mats or biomedia should all be removed from the pond once the temperatures drop below 45. Filter pads need to be cleaned and stored in a clean, dry, frost-free location. Waterfall pumps should be stored in a bucket of water to prevent seals from drying out. These simple pond care steps can go a long way to ensuring that your pond environment remains healthy year round.
No matter how big or small, all ponds need proper care during the winter months. Providing proper aeration and regular de-icing can make all the difference in keeping your pond healthy and thriving and your fish happy. That way you can get the most out of your pond year round.