Preparing the pond: Experts offer ways to get your pond ready for winter

A backyard pond is a tranquil spot to enjoy watching fish such as koi or goldfish, and as winter approaches, preparation will keep the serenity on pause and the fish alive for the next season.

Because the fish have grown accustomed to the pond water, Daniel Martin, manager Martin’s Garden Center, Tyrone, said it is best to leave them in the pond for the winter.

“When you take them out of there, [then] put them back in, it’s a shock and it’s not healthy for the fish so you’re better off leaving them in, if you can,” he said.

Feeding pond fish is not necessary in the winter because they go into hibernation, said Brian Horst, Tussey Mountain Mulch Landscape Center sales associate.

“The metabolism drops and so they don’t need to eat or anything because … their body function slows down because the weather’s cold,” he said.

Martin said to place a thermometer in the water, and quit feeding the fish when the water temperature dips to 45 degrees or less. The fish normally will quit eating on their own, though.

Beforehand, switch from your regular fish food to a cold-water fish food to start slowing down their digestion system and prep them for winter, Martin said.

The pond itself gets fall maintenance, Horst said.

Horst said when the center prepares a pond for winter, they start with performing the fall maintenance, cutting back any perennials or water lilies, and skimming leaves.

They remove the pump and install a floating heater “which keeps a small opening in the ice when it freezes over in the winter,” he said.

An aerator is used to maintain oxygen levels for the fish, he said.

The two devices “work together to allow toxic gases to escape the pond,” Horst said.

Martin said you can also choose to keep your pump running during the winter to keep the water circulating and oxygen in the pond, but to watch over it to make sure the water level doesn’t get too low.

Add a net over the pond to keep winter debris out, Horst said.

In a 2009 Pond Trade Magazine article on its website, author Curt Nuenighoff of TetraPond advises securing the net at least 18 inches above the pond’s surface, and if frogs live at the pond, leave a couple small openings for the critters.

“Avoid letting the net sag into the water,” he wrote. “Not only will it create a hazard for your fish, but leaves will collect in the submersed area and decay.”

Horst said to use a bacteria treatment in the pond once a week.

“Throughout the winter you want to treat your pond with beneficial bacteria which is a liquid treatment that you add that works … naturally with the nitrogen cycle of your pond to keep the water safe for the fish, and it’s a special beneficial bacteria that is able to withstand the cold water temperatures,” he said. “It has more hardy strands of bacteria in it that are able to withstand the cold temperatures. There are other beneficial bacteria that are just normal, typical that would not be able to do that. So just during the winter months when the temperatures are between I would say freezing and 45, 50 degrees Farenheit is when you should be adding that.”

Beneficial bacteria also cuts down on pond sludge that accumulates in the winter, he said.

“If you add that, it helps to break that down so in the spring time when you get your pond up and running full there’s minimal cleaning that needs to be done before you go into the season.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.