Be “Pond Wiser” When Maintaining Your Ohio Winter Water Garden

It is January 2012, in northeast Ohio and we have been blessed with what seems to be an endless fall season, but the frigid temperatures are sure to arrive any day now. Water gardens require maintenance throughout the year, but preparation for the winter months is especially important for the survival of both the aquatic plants and the wildlife in and around the pond. Fall is the time to take action, but because we have been really lucky this winter with unusually warm weather early on, it is not too late to start right now. Taking care of your pond during the cold months is easy to do. Just manage the plants and clean the pond. Then keep an eye on it until the warm weather returns.

To begin, you want to remove any debris that has collected in the pond from fallen leaves, seed pods, etc. If you covered your pond previously with a material such as bird netting, this should be an easy process. Then start with the plants in your pond. By now many of them have probably gone dormant as temperatures have dropped. If you are still fertilizing pond plants, stop now. Doing so will encourage root development for spring. Trim your plants of any yellow, brown, or decaying foliage and take an inventory to decide which plants can be left in the pond, which ones should be removed, and which ones will be discarded. (Note: Never discard water garden plants by putting them into lakes, ponds, ditches, streams or other natural waterways. Compost!!!) Tropical water plants will not tolerate Ohio’s winter weather and must be removed from the pond, while cold-hardy plants need only to be trimmed back and returned to the bottom of the pond for a winter’s rest. Reeds and cane plants will do well if trimmed down so that they are just peeking above the water level and then left to their own devices. (Pro Tip: If plants in your pond are overgrown, wait until spring to divide and replant them because repotting them now will weaken the plant.)

Unless your pond is two or more feet deep, plan on draining it for the winter. Shallow ponds can freeze solid. Some hardy water plants can stay in a frozen pond, but for the most part you will want to remove your water plants and store them, then take out any fish. (Pro Tip: Drain half the water out of the pond before trying to catch your fish. Use two nets and start at one end of the pond, corralling the fish at the other end.) Place the fish in a bucket filled with water from the pond before transferring them to an aquarium until spring. Empty the pump and tubing of all water and store in a place where it won’t freeze. (Pro Tip: Give your trees and shrubs the pond water. It’s full of nutrients.)

If you have a deeper pond, remove all debris and after preparing your hardy aquatic plants, submerge them, pots and all, in the pond about a 1 ½ feet below the freezing line. Take out the pump, clean it and place back in the pond so that it is also about 1 ½ feet below the surface of the water to keep it from freezing. The pump should only circulate the water on the top one-third to one-fourth of the pond, leaving the deeper water undisturbed for fish hibernation. Winter fish feeding changes once the temperature drops, and you need to switch from a high-protein food to one high in carbohydrates. Once the water temperature falls to 50 degrees fish metabolism has slowed down, so stop feeding them now and don’t start again until the water temperature warms up to 55 degrees. Also, gasses can build up if the pond freezes over, so plan on making a hole in the ice to protect your fish during these times. The size of the opening should be from 6” to 36” depending on the size of the pond, the size of the fish and how many of them are in the pond. A simple way to make an opening in the ice is by setting a pot of hot water on the ice until a hole melts in it. Several methods to prevent ponds from freezing solid include continually running the water pump, using pond heaters, floating de-icers, bubble balls, air-bubblers, passive solar heating options, or hand removal. Using a floating log is not recommended as it can give off gasses that could contaminate the water. Some ice in the pond is okay, but thick ice should not be allowed to seal off the pond. (Warning! Never break the ice with a hammer: the shock waves could kill your fish.)

Now all you have to do is keep an eye on your pond to be sure everything is working properly. Water levels should not be allowed to drop significantly over the winter months if you plan to maintain a healthy habitat for the plants and wildlife living in your pond. Monitoring the pond regularly throughout the winter will help ensure a healthy pond for the following spring. Relax and enjoy Ohio’s winter weather!

For 22 Years, Northeast Ohio businesses and residences have turned to their locally owned and operated professionals at Pond Wiser Inc., in Stark County, Ohio. The DR (aka Denny Ray) is licensed and certified through the Ohio Department of Agriculture and is a leader in the aquatic industry when it comes to diagnosing your water garden, pond, or lake ailments.

Pond Wiser offers professional home services such as Minor Plumbing/Electrical Repair, Built-ins/Room Remodels, Power Washing, Ceramic Tile Installation, Drywall/Plaster Repair, Interior & Exterior Painting/wall murals and MUCH MORE.

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