Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winterizing the Fish Pond

I wrote at length about our new fish pond that was installed this summer. Before I left for my trip to England, H.H. and I began preparing the pond for winter. I need to document the procedure so I remember what to do next year.  A good rule of thumb is to complete this job between Halloween and Thanksgiving, depending upon the temperature of the water. The water temperature in our pond had dropped below 50 degrees and the fish had a diminished interest in food, so we stopped feeding them and began the winterizing process. The goal was to have a clean pond before the more extreme winter weather began.

I cut back the plants, discarding the floaters -- they are like the annuals in your garden. I do not yet have any tropical plants, but this would have been the time to remove them and store them indoors with a dish of water and strong light. I cut back the hardy water plants to two inches from the top of the pots. We removed some of  the accumulation of debris from the water that occurred over the summer and placed a polycover over the pond to catch the falling leaves.

On my return from England, I found that H.H. had continued the winterizing process. He had switched off the waterfall and replaced it with a small 'bubbler' .

The waterfall was switched off so it doesn't freeze.
If the waterfall is left running it will stir the water up too much. This is not good for the fish ... they need still water in winter so as not to burn body fat. H.H. removed and checked the water pump. He stored it in a bucket of water and placed it in the basement where it will not freeze. The filter was drained and flushed out, and  the filter pads stored in a plastic bag. If you have a ultra-violet sterilizer, it also should be removed from the pond and stored, after cleaning, of course.

The 'bubbler' is a small pump placed in a bucket on the bottom of the pond.
As this was all new to us, we were not sure what to do next, or if what we had done was correct. So I called in an expert to complete the winterizing process. Steve Albanese from Albanese Garden Center has been installing and servicing ponds and water features for many years. He arrived yesterday and the first thing he did was to pump some water from the bottom of the pond to remove minerals that had accumulated there. He used a net to remove organic matter. Then Steve replaced the water he had removed with fresh water.

If winterizing was done earlier, one-third of the pond water would have been removed.

Fresh water was splashed in from the top.
Steve used a net to remove debris
As you can see from the picture of the fish at the top, we installed river rock in the bottom of the pond, because we liked the way it looked. That was an obvious mistake as it was impossible to clean the bottom adequately and will be even more difficult as the fish get bigger. So Steve removed the river rock in order to complete the cleaning process.

With the river rock,  a 'sleeping' frog was brought to the surface. He looked like a shiny, rubber, toy frog. Frogs can freeze almost solid and still survive.

Steve took out all the remaining plants, placed them in a crate, and dropped them to at least 18 inches below the level of the pond water. First, he placed the dormant frog in one of the plant pots.

Steve used a crate with big holes for the fish to swim through
The fish need oxygen in the winter, but as I said, they require still water so as not to burn body fat. Therefore a small pump, with a short stem attached to it, is best placed in a bucket on the bottom of the pond. The top of the stem should be just under the surface of the water. Hopefully, this will stop an area of the pond from freezing while oxygenating the water. If the pond should freeze, Steve told us to lower a kettle of boiling water on the ice to melt a hole through it. He inspected the pump that H.H. had installed. He cut the stem a little shorter and placed the pump back in the pond to 'bubble'.

Lava rocks were placed on top of the pump
Steve placed some old clay pipes in the bottom of the pond for the fish to hide in. Actually, they are sewer pipes that were used at this house many, many years ago by H.H.'s father. In the spring I plant annuals in these pots.

Steve put the net back over the pond to prevent more debris from entering, and to protect the fish from herons and other predators. Planks of wood (we use bamboo poles) placed across the pond, under the net, prevent it from sagging into the water.  It is important that the net is raised above the 'bubbler' and Steve used cinder blocks to raise the net up at this point.

To complete the winterizing procedure, Steve added some salt to the water to promote healthy fish. Three cups of salt per one thousand gallons is the amount to use. He also added bacteria and a treatment for heavy metals as we have well water. Add a treatment for chlorine if you have city water.

(Note to me: Next year, we must start much earlier and begin by removing one-third of the water, before the water temperature drops below 50 degrees. We will use our small pump and a garden hose attached to it with a hose adapter, as Steve did. Then we will let the pond stand for a week and if it is still yellow from organic matter we will need to remove another one-third of water. This second one-third must be replaced with fresh water splashed from the top to add oxygen. Then proceed as above.)

This morning I looked at the pond through the den window. I saw it was snowing. Obviously, Steve had come to our rescue just in time. There was a layer of ice on the top half of the pond.

 We learned so much from Steve and we are grateful to him for sharing his expertise. Now I can relax by the fire dreaming of spring and the pleasure my lovely fishpond will give once more.

Happy gardening thoughts!
Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. Hi Pam,
    It looks like you guys did a great job for your first year of getting the pond ready for winter. All that work with the stones reminded me of Karen's blog. Do you know her? Here's a link to her blog.

    You'll need to scroll down to see the posts of their rock/boulder moving. I have shown some of the things they've done to my husband so he will be happier to help me with the things I need help with.

    Thanks for your well wishes on my clematis coming up this spring.

  2. I've never had a pond so this is all new to me and interesting to read about it here. Thanks so much.~~Dee

  3. This is a really timely and informative post. Anyone with a fish pond should have a look. I had to fave you 5 on this one. The frog did look like rubber. Glad you got that shot. And the salt. I recommended it to my friend's with the koi pond when the fish got ill and it worked like magic. I knew this trick because I have Florida Gars in a huge aquarium and they were saved by salt. really a must read for pond owners.

  4. There's so much to do to get a pond ready for winter. Such an informative post. I'm sorry to hear about your scare on your return from England. I hope you are feeling much better now.

  5. A pond is something that every gardener, including me, wants---at least in theory. Your detailed post made me realize once again what a commitment ponds are: not to be entered into lightly. Very helpful. Carolyn

  6. Dear Sue - thanks for the link. I will check it out! Great to see you!

    Dear Dee - thank you so much for visiting and for your nice comment. I am amazed how much pleasure the pond gives us. It is worth the effort.

    Dear Donna - your comments are most generous! Thank you so much for the 5! You are the best!

    Dear Jo - I am getting better every day, thank you. I really appreciate all your support!

    Pamela x

  7. Dear Pamela, I have never had a fish pond and so have been blissfully unaware until now just what work it is to prepare for the ravages of winter and protect the fish. Your preparations seem to me to have been extremely thorough so I hope that you can pass many happy hours dreaming of Spring.

  8. We have a koi pond but in this area we do not have to shut down and winterize the your degree. Our koi nap at the bottom of the pond and we stop feeding them. Other than that, we pull out the plants in the temporary plants and wait for spring.

  9. Hi Pam,

    Wow, well I never realised there was quite so much work to do with a pond... I don't have one but would like to because of the wildlife they attract...

    Mmmm, not so sure I want all the work though, especially when it's cold!

    Good luck though, I hope all your Fish survive the winter :)

  10. Wow - you got your lovely garden pond ready for winter, and winter arrived! Like Sue, I didn't realize there was so much to do to get a pond ready for winter.

  11. Wow! that sounds like a lot of work, but I'm sure it's necessary to keep the pond in good condition. I must keep a not of all that you did in case I ever decide to put in a pond. Christina

  12. My goodness, that is a lot of activity! In my own pond, there are no fish, so winterizing consists of removing and cleaning the pump and raking out the big clumps of leaves. Frogs are very low maintenance :)

  13. wow this is such great advice. The reason I don't have fish in my pond is because I would never have the time to winterize it. I like low maintenance when it comes to ponds. Mine is under 18 inches of snow just now.

  14. I've always known there is alot of work to keeping a small fish pond working and looking beautiful, but had no idea how much work and time it actually takes. Thank you for sharing what you learned. As for me...I think I'll enjoy the ponds of others.

  15. Hi Pam,
    You must REALLY want a pond to go to this effort. It is all worth it when you see it summer though. I gave up on my pond. I filled it in and planted a tree. I miss those fish sometimes.

  16. Oh, my gosh, that's a lot of work, Pam. But such a beautiful payoff. Sorry I haven't commented in a while.....been crazy busy. I'm finished off my blog for the season and will start it up again in the spring.

  17. Thank you all so much for visiting and leaving comments. I think some of you have decided not to install a fish pond through reading our winterizing efforts. Actually,it is really just a couple of hours work, which in the big gardening scheme of things, is little ... I spend much more time on my vegetable plot each season. We shall see if it was worth the trouble come springtime. Stay posted! P. x

  18. Pam I am so glad that you posted the photo of the sleeping frog because I would have taken it for dead..

    You have certainly done your research.. for you understand what to expect during the winter months for your pond and the animals that leave in it.

    I had not thought about what one should do in the winter for a pond, or even how to winterize one.

    Thank you for sharing it with us. It is very useful and informative for those of us who are inexperienced, and would like a pond in the future.

  19. This was fascinating! I keep indoor fish and it's interesting to me what is and isn't similar when fishkeeping is done outdoors. Of course, 1000 gallons is quite a bit larger than even my big 150 gallon tank.

    Also, that bucket of lava rock looks like a pot of stewed carrots! :)