As the hours of daylight are short and the temperatures are low, there only a few jobs that need to be done around the pond during these colder months of winter. Plants and fish are in a state of suspended animation, but the equipment still requires some attention as this should still be running all day, every day. So, it’s best to get these jobs done during the brightest days to make the task as pleasant as possible.

The first task is to regularly check that the pump is running and clear of any debris. As previously mentioned in “Autumn” you may want to also slow the flow of some systems, either via pump switches or valves, and it might even be prudent to by-pass waterfalls. This reduces the chilling effect of the cold air upon the water. Another good measure would be to raise the pump up in the pond to about 6” (150mm) below the surface. This will allow the fish to reside in the bottom of the pond over the colder months where the warmer water settles. Do keep an eye on the pump though, as you would not want the pump to dry out or get clogged with leaves etc. This is also an excellent time to give the pump a thorough clean, inside and out.

Next is to remove any leaves that have fallen onto the surface of your pond. Don’t dig around in the pond trying to remove them now; this will disturb the pond and its hibernating inhabitants. If you have a net covering the surface of the pond regularly check it and remove any build up of leaves from on or around it. When installing a net, it is best to raise it off the surface of the pond, so that the leaves that fall upon it are then blown off again rather than getting soggy and rotting through the submerged net. We can set up stressed wires and temporary / permanent nets and net frames if this is what you would like. Further to falling leaves, A proportion of leaves enter by being blown in at ground level, so make sure all sides of the net are either pegged or weighted down to prevent this. An important factor for large and small ponds alike is keeping organic matter to a minimum. Doing this will reduce the food for next year’s algae growth.

As the water temperature is low, the fish in the pond will be very slow. This is because they are cold blooded; this means that their metabolic rate slows and that they require fewer calories to subsist. When the water drops below 8°C it is suggested that only low protein food (wheatgerm or winter food) should be fed. When the water temperature drops below 4°C it is unlikely that your fish will want to feed at all, so monitor your fishes behaviour closely during the colder months as it will be the best indicator as to when the fish are interested in feeding. As and when they would like some food, operate a “Feed-to-Need” assessment of your fish’s hunger. If the fish are swimming near the top of the water or mid water, drop a small amount of food on the surface of the pond. If the fish are interested in feeding, they will rise and consume the food. If they are not, there will only be a small amount of food to be removed from the pond if it is uneaten. If they do eat the food, apply a little more until they have had enough. If there is very cold weather on its way, keep feeding light so that the fish have time to purge their systems prior to the water temperature dropping. One of the biggest killers of fish in the winter time is over feeding. If uneaten food drops to the bottom unseen, and the pond then freezes, this can lead to fatal water quality issues. Always remove uneaten food after 10 minutes. The fish are clearly not interested at this time.

Now that the environment within the pond has slowed down, the pumps and filters that have helped to keep the pond balanced and healthy throughout the spring, summer and autumn are still working hard. They are picking up organic matter from rotting vegetation and stray leaves that have got into the pond. It is therefore important not to turn off the pond’s filtration equipment as this can cause many problems. The issues with turning the filtration system off, is that the water left inside the clarifiers and filters will expand when frozen and crack either the casing and or the delicate quartz sleeve in the UVC. This can be fatal to some incorporated systems and means that the whole system will need to be replaced due to the inability of repair, leading to great expense! Most modern pumps and filters are very cost effective to run and it is therefore a false economy to switch them off over the cold months. It is also worth while periodically checking and cleaning out your filtration system in readiness for the spring. The cold months will slow the action of the bacterial break down so make sure the physical debris in the filter is kept to a minimum. Please DO NOT use tap water to clean the filter as it will kill the beneficial life in the filter which helps to balance your pond throughout the season. Use only pond or rain water for cleaning as it is chlorine free. Get right into the filter and give it a thorough clean out, right to the bottom if necessary. This should keep the filter going in readiness for the spring. And if it needs doing again later...

As a general rule of thumb, if your filter can not last longer than 4 weeks between services, it is either that you pond is in need of a clean (call us), or that the filter is too small for the pond size and the waste being accumulated (again, call us).

Another good reason for leaving pumps and filters running during the Autumn/winter is to keep the pond from completely freezing over. The moving water and the low level heat generated by the working pump will help to prevent a total freezing up of the pond’s surface. As long as the water is not disturbing the fish and measures have been taken as described above, the pond equipment will happily run all winter with little intervention. No need to worry about breaking the ice or having to risk life or broken limb on frosty mornings out in the icy garden, happy in the knowledge that the pump is still running.

The final point to raise is to check the water quality periodically; an accumulation of harmful toxins can build up if food or too much organic waste has accumulated. This can lead to fatalities and could also encourage an early algal bloom in the spring. If this is found to be the case, a partial water change 25-33% should be carried out and topped back up with tap water and a suitable de-chlorinator. Monitoring your pond throughout the winter is very important and not to be ignored. The fish are, after all, your pets and still need care and attention even if the weather is not nice for going outside.

For most gardeners, winter is a dormant time where the pond is concerned, but even though the promise of spring is just around the corner it may seem a long way off. It is, in reality only a few months away and a little attention now can go a long way in smoothing the transition from one season to the next. If we use this time wisely to carry out a little maintenance, we can be sure that come next spring, your water feature will get the best chance to excel once more.