Pond maintenance is minimized when using skimmers and biological waterfall filters, but some weekly and seasonal pond care is still required. If you are a professional, you’ll want almost all of these tools to streamline your work. As a homeowner, you might still want to acquire these tools over time to improve your pond management skills and save more time for other activities, or to just enjoy your pond.
- Water quality test kit Fish catch net, (the larger the better)
- Garden hose
- Pond skimmer/ leaf net Small fish net for skimmer cleaning
- Garden rake
- Thermometer Pond bacteria, (biological clarifier)
- Large fish tub
- Maintenance logbook
- Fertilizer tabs
- Extension cord
- Dissolved oxygen meter
- Spare decorative edge gravel
- Hand tools
- Spare edge mulch
- Drain pump/discharge hose
- Spare filter mats
- Plastic tubs to examine fish
- Liner patch kit, (patches, cleaner, etc.)
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, but should help you prepare for the day you need to net some fish, remove pond debris, pump out the pond, treat some fish, etc.
Spring start up of the waterfall should only require a cleaning of the skimmer filter, which is easily accessed from the edge of the pond. If the bottom of the filters have accumulated some winter debris, you can either lift it out by hand, or use a wet-dry vacuum. Cleaning the skimmer filter is best done with the bellows latch closed, so the filter does not refill with water. The shop vacuum is also useful to clean out the falls basins and streambed, if winter debris is present. Your skimmer and waterfall filters collect most debris all season long, so the actual pond itself generally shouldn’t be too dirty.
If you need to climb into the pond to lift out or reposition lily containers from their winter storage deep in the pond, or to fertilize your aquatic plants, feel free to do that. Just be careful entering or leaving the pond, because the sidewalls are usually slippery, just like any pond in nature.
It’s only okay to let the leaves accumulate in your pond if your skimmer filter cannot be cleaned fast enough to handle the larger burden during this time. During heavy leaf fall periods, daily cleaning of the skimmer may be needed. We do suggest that you remove all of the leaves any way that works for you prior to your pond icing over. You can use a fishing net, swimming pool net, or standard leaf rake so the water can drain out easily before lifting the leaves out. You do not have to drain your pond, scrub the sidewalls, or anything of the kind, each year. As long as your skimmer filter has been run enough during the summer, and you remove the leaves from the fall, your pond will generally keep itself clean for years without having to remove the fish.
If you do want to clean out your pond more completely some year, a major pond cleaning is not too difficult or time consuming. Simply remove the water, hose down the pond, and pump or wet-dry vacuum out any debris in the bottom. Keep any fish in the pond water that was removed and be sure there is adequate aeration anytime the fish are stored in temporary and/or confined quarters. Refill the pond and add chlorine neutralizer to prepare for the fish. Always float the fish in plastic bags to adjust to the new pond temperature before release.
If you do not wish to have leaves accumulate in your pond, consider purchasing pond netting to cover your pond, or consider adding more pond skimmers. Inexpensive disposable netting, as well as high-quality reusable nettings are available for ponds. If you plan on covering your pond every fall, consider a more expensive reusable net. Your pond net is like investing in a tent for camping, with proper care if will last for many years.
We shut our pump off during winter, since below about 45F, the pond biological activity slows to a halt. As temperatures drop during November and December, the fish will become more sluggish and dormant, and begin to live off the fat built up during the warm season. Running the waterfalls in winter when temperatures drop below freezing may create ice jams and leaks in the watercourse, and could result in excessively cold water temperatures. We recommend shutting down the pump from mid December to late February in hardiness zones 5 and 6. Colder climates may shut down from November through March. In winter the pond will freeze over but not solid. The fish will live in a dormant state and cease eating when pond temperatures drop into the 40’s.
When shutting off the pump for winter, we recommend removal of the pump and mat/debris tray from the skimmer vault. The filter mats and debris tray can be cleaned, dried and stored in a garage or basement until spring. We also recommend that you disconnect the autofill valve from the water source to reduce the possibility of freeze damage. When you remove the pump and check valve, the biological filter and piping will drain into the skimmer box. If your piping is frost/freeze proof, (such as flexible PVC or black poly pipe), no additional pipe care will be necessary.
Once the water drains back form your external biological filter or biological waterfalls unit you can prepare them for winter also. Consult your external biological filter instructions if necessary. For the biological waterfall filter, simply remove the media bags; filter mats and PVC tubes. They can be cleaned, dried and stored in a garage or basement until spring.
Your pump may need additional care beyond cleaning. We suggest your refer to your pump’s owner’s manual for additional information. Most pumps, recommend that you store them in a basement where they will not freeze submerged in a bucket of water to keep the seals hydrated. External pumps can be drained, and depending on the climate removed for the winter based upon the manufacturers’ recommendations. External devices such as ultraviolet lights also have winter care needs so please don’t forget to consult their manuals also.
Winter Fish Care
Ice is usually the main consideration when preparing ponds for winter freezes. It is important to keep a hold open in the ice. If your pond freezes over with ice for more than a few days, ePonds.com recommends using some technique to keep a hold open in the ice. The purpose of the hole is to facilitate gaseous exchange between the pond and the water. This exchange will keep dissolved oxygen levels up in the pond, vital for fish health, while also allowing carbon dioxide or other gases from decomposition of pond debris to escape harmlessly into the atmosphere. DO CLEAN YOUR POND BOTTOM OF DEBRIS, ESPECIALLY LEAVES THAT COULD DECAY OVER WINTER AND ROB THE WATER OF OXYGEN.
How will I know if my pond oxygen level is low?
If you have fish and dissolved oxygen levels drop below about 3 ppm, they will come to the surface to breathe. Keep an eye on your pond all season so you can see if this ever happens and can take immediate action to raise the oxygen levels by adding aeration or opening up a larger hole if the pond is ice covered. Usually the winter pump will be all that’s necessary down to about 10? F. For lower air temperatures, a floating heater will probably be desired. ePonds.com cannot give absolute winter hold size recommendations, since pond bottom cleanliness, number, and size of fish, type of fish, and pond depth all greatly influence the amount of oxygen and therefore hole size required. That’s why the best rule-of-thumb is always s keep a hole open in the ice so the fish can breath, and they will tell you if more oxygen is needed.
We also sell dissolved oxygen meters that simplify your decision-making and our highly recommended for anyone who installs ponds. See our catalog for ordering information and summer time uses for this meter in lakes and ponds.
When temperatures drop below about 10?F
Extended below freezing temperatures may require the addition of a floating pond heater built for this purpose. A thermostatically controlled heater will keep a hold open in the ice to allow any natural waste gases to escape, and permit continued oxygenation of the water. The thermostat turns on the heater when temperatures drop below freezing. For lower temperatures, especially below 0?F, however, the pump alone will still ice over forming an ice cap. The combination of the pump AND the heater in close proximity, however, will keep a much larger hole open, which should be more than adequate for most regular ponds that are not excessively overstocked or filled with decaying leaves form the fall.
The use of a small pump will create a hole in the ice down to about 10?F. If the temperature is expected to drop below 10?F, you can plug in your floating heater/deicer.
If you wish to create your own winter bubbler pump you need to find a mesh basket larger than the pump. Install a thin layer of pea gravel in the basket. Insert the pump in the middle of the basket. Fill the rest of the basket with pea gravel or similarly sized gravel to protect the pump screen from clogging. Position the pump outlet, without fountain nozzles attached, just below the pond’s surface to create ripples and keep a hole open in the ice during winter, and to help oxygenate the water. The outlet normally should be approximately 1/4″ to 1″ below the pond’s surface. Do NOT leave the pump on the pond bottom. The warmest pond water is on the bottom in the winter. Water is densest at 40?F. The fish hibernate well at that water temperature. Lowering a pump into that water and lifting it to the surface would lower the overall pond temperature and could be detrimental to your fish.
Never break ice if fish are in the pond, since the shock pressure could kill the fish.