My wINTER Pond Is Different
Yes, every pond is an individual when it comes to how it will act in the Winter, or any other time of year, for that matter. Differences include: age, size, depth, filtration, fish load, additional wildlife load, exposure to sun and wind, adjacent terrestrial plant life, as well as the aquatic plant life, and a plethora of other micro-climate variations. Add to this how much fish food gets thrown in the water (any, a lot, none). It all goes together to make up the body of water that is your pond.
CYA Statement: Every article or blog that we write is based on the rules that we understand in average circumstances in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. Your pond is an individual, with a unique set of circumstances, so please understand that what we discuss in any of these articles is the rule of thumb and may not be precisely descriptive of what you are experiencing today in your own personal backyard pond.
Fish and Water Temperatures in A Winter Pond
With winter temperatures, as the water dips down below 55 degrees (water temperature follows the nighttime temperatures, NOT the daytime highs), we recommend you stop feeding your fish. In colder water, the fish don’t metabolize high protein food like they do in the summer, and if it goes through their digestive system too slow, it could begin to rot inside them and result in a fish kill. We get a couple of calls a winter from people who have literally fed their babies to death. It's a very sad thing to have to tell people.
As always, natural treats like zucchini, melon, lettuce, oranges, and even Cheerios, can be given.
Algae Blooms in Winter Ponds
We don't freeze over here in Phoenix (typically, that is), so we tend to experience a big algae bloom in the Winter. We just had a caller this week tell us that we must be wrong about this because she had always heard that algae was more of a problem in the hot weather. She is not wrong, and neither are we. What’s the deal then? Our ponding system relies on a healthy ecosystem full of micro organisms and zoo plankton to keep the water healthy and clear. In a healthy ecosystem pond, zoo plankton are very active and do a great job in the warm weather, but they hibernate in the colder water temps. How much will YOU get? Well, that goes back to that ponds are individuals thing.
Plants in a Winter Pond
DO NOT thin or trim back your aquatic plants too severely just yet. Remember, we technically have a chance of frost through the end of February. Many years, that seems practically impossible, but we've been surprised from time to time, so better safe than sorry.
Your annual cleaning should be done when the water is COLD. So, plan to do that before the end of March. We provide that service, or you can certainly do it yourself.
Before you know it (and for those of us getting older, it seems to be in the blink of an eye), the water will begin to warm, your fish will become more active, and your aquatic plants will burst forth with new life. Then, we can all start complaining about the heat again...
Have you ever noticed that your pond water is clearer in the Fall? This is typically due to cooler temperatures and full, lush plants. To keep your pond looking its best throughout the Fall season, follow our helpful, easy-to-follow pond maintenance tips.
Prune yellowing leaves off your plants. Your lilies, both tropical and hardy, should still be going strong, and some may even send up the occasional bloom all winter long here in the Sonoran Desert. Once the plants go into dormancy, leave them alone and don’t prune them back at all until after the last danger of frost has passed (late February, according to the Farmer’s Almanac).
Stop fertilizing plants, if you’re doing so, when the weather becomes cooler. This lets the plants know the season is coming to an end.
When the water temperature is around 50 degrees F, stop feeding your fish. If you continue to feed them commercial fish food, you might create health problems for your finned friends, since their digestive systems are beginning to slow down for the winter. Remember that the water temperature follows nighttime temps.
As leaves fall from nearby deciduous trees, you'll need to empty your skimmer’s debris net every day to keep up with the influx of leaves. Some leaves will undoubtedly sink to the bottom of the pond; try to remove as many as you can. However, a few left in the pond will give insects and frogs a place to over-winter. This is also true for the string algae that we get here in the desert instead of freezing over.
And speaking of string algae, this is something that you might experience during our “winter” months. If it becomes too unsightly, you can remove it by hand or use a product like Ecoblast. Personally, we prefer to leave some of it in our pond to act as a winter blanket for the aquatic life.
If you leave too much organic matter in your pond, the water may turn brown. If this happens, remove the excess debris and add activated carbon to clear the water.
The most important thing is to enjoy your water feature all year long. Keep some of these key maintenance issues in mind, and it will be smooth sailing. And, if you need any help or advice, we're as close as your phone or email!
My Water is Cloudy.
The most common causes of this situation in our neck of the woods are either genesis is occurring in a new pond or a storm (or other windy situation) has introduced dust into the water. If it's the genesis phase, add AquaClearer beneficial bacteria. Follow the instructions on the package, and back off gradually as long as the water remains clear. If it's dust, then simply wait until the biofilter has done it's work and cleared up the water.
My Water is Pea-Green.
Again, this could be due to Genesis occurring in a new pond. It can also be caused by adding fertilizer to plants, or simply over-feeding your fish. For most causes, adding AquaClearer beneficial bacteria, as described above, will take care of things. If this situation persists, your pond may need to be drained and checked for foreign material. This could mean anything from a dead plant or animal that's decaying somewhere within the pond, or simply that the lily you bought and planted came with too much fertilizer for the pond to filter out on its own.
My Water is Dark Brown or Tea-Colored.
This is most often caused by tannins in the water from the leaves or flowers of a near-by plant, or by the quality of the water filling the pond. Relax, it's an easy fix. This is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that is not hazardous to the health of either fish or plants. However, if this is unsightly for you, you can purchase activated charcoal and add it to the media net found in the Biofalls. This may need to be replenished occasionally to continue to clean the tannins out of the water.
I Have A LOT of String Algae
If the water is just warming up in the Spring, the beneficial bacteria is still in hibernation. It's also possible that you do not have enough diversity in plant life, are over-feeding the fish, or you are adding fertilizer to plants, etc. As you can see, several things can be at the root of this problem. You may hand-weed the algae out of the pond, using it as mulch for your land plants, or in your composting operation, as it's a very nutrient-rich material. Or you can use String Algae Buster (SAB) to help combat it. Remember to use POND water when mixing up the dry SAB, and NOT TAP WATER, as tap water contains chlorine, which will kill the beneficial bacterial content.
Need more help? We're at the end of your phone line at 623-572-5607, or write to us.
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 20+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!