Preparing Ornamental Waterscapes for Winter
You have to take many things into consideration when you think of “winterizing” a pond or waterscape. In southern climates, it may be that putting a leaf net up if deciduous trees are present is all you’ll need to do. However, if you go 1,000 miles further north, that same leaf net—covered with leaves or ice and snow—can get frozen in the pond and create several problems, least of which would probably be its own destruction. In the South, most formal water features with no fish or plants are usually drained for the winter. Dealing with the pressures of frost heaving further north is something I’m glad I don’t have to deal with.
Here in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, leaf netting is pretty standard. We don’t have to worry about a lot of ice or snow. At most, we’ll get an inch or so of ice around the edges, but we leave our water features running year-round.
On really cold days, we do have to watch for ice forming from the waterfalls that may channel the water outside the watercourse, but this occurs so rarely that it’s not really a problem. It also serves the additional purpose of keeping an area of the pond open, so that bad gases can escape from the water, and oxygen can be renewed. I’ll touch on this topic again a little later.
With regards to fish and their feeding, this hinges on temperature. Here in the deep but not deepest south, we recommend stopping fish feeding when water temps are below 55° Fahrenheit. For us, that’s usually between Halloween and valentine’s Day.
Feeding koi at temperatures below 55° can cause gastrointestinal issues of food rotting in the gut rather than being metabolized. Many people will go to a zero protein, wheat germ type feed as temperatures drop below 65° and then stop at 50°. I personally don’t; I just cut back on the amount as their metabolisms slow, much like a reptile’s, as the water gets colder.
Many perennial plants die back in the winter. It is beneficial to the health and well-being of the fish and the pond overall if they are cut back in the fall, with time to recover so that they don’t lie in the water and slowly decay over the course of the winter months. We do the trimming right before we net our clients’ ponds.
Any sensitive or tropical plants should be removed and be brought into climate controlled storage for the cold season. I envy those of you in south Florida and Southern California, with your year-round tropical water lillies and palms. you have that beauty when the rest of us are looking at bare trees and dormant, dead looking grass, or snow drifts.
As we move further north, however, things get a little more time and temperature sensitive. For those of you in central Canada, as well as those in a somewhat colder climate like the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and other northern tier states, many of you will want to shut down your water features and winterize your irrigation systems.
It is strongly recommended to not only drain your water lines, filters and remove submersible pumps from skimmers, but to also blow air through the lines to make sure that any sitting water is removed as well. Set your air compressor at about 10psi. Anything much higher or introduced too quickly will allow you to see what a PvC hand grenade explosion would be like.
The last thing I’m going to touch on has to do with adding bacteriological products to your pond. Where icing isn’t an issue, by trimming your perennial plants and netting a pond to keep leaves out of the water, you cut down drastically the amount of decaying organics in your pond during the winter hiatus.
There are quite a few biological and bacteriological products out there that will continue to work during the colder months of the year. Adding these products prior to ice forming—and I can’t stress that enough—over time will usually give you the result of having a cleaner, healthier looking pond come ice-out time.
I wouldn’t recommend chopping a hole in the ice and dumping any of these products in the pond, especially if you have koi. Add the bacteriological products in a month or so before expected icing weather and I think you’ll be pleased in the spring. I don’t feel it replaces a total drain and clean in the spring, but it will give you a healthier pond over the winter months, and will definitely make the spring clean a less onerous task.
Many of these bacteria consume oxygen during the bio-conversion process. That is why it is so important to keep the water open somewhere in the ice overhead. In that way, the carbon dioxide and other noxious gases can escape and oxygen can be replenished.
If you’re far enough north that you do have to shut your systems down, a floating heater or a fluming pump may very well do the job quite nicely for you. What is a “fluming” pump? It’s a pump set down in a lower area, but not necessarily the deepest part of the pond. This pump will usually have a short piece of pipe to direct the water upward to move it vigorously at the surface. We’re not trying to create ‘Old Faithful’, but a one to three inch bulge of water will keep the ice open in all but the most extreme freezing conditions.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include something that someone reading this will think should have been included and was super important. Honestly, this brief article and topic could be expanded into a modest-sized paperback. I’ve tried to hit the high points and head off the majority of headaches that could happen north and south, east to west.
I hope there is something here that can be of help to you in your business. Closing ponds for the winter definitely does add a certain profitability going into what is, for many of us, a slow time of the year. Cheers, have a Happy Holiday season and best wishes for 2013.
Editor’s Note: Dave Jones is the owner of The Pond Professional.