Winter is a perfect time to sip hot chocolate, watch old movies and enjoy the company of family and friends (indoors). It also happens to be when most people pay little attention to their lawn, their garden and the critters that inhabit those areas. And for the most part, that is normal. But preparing your ponds (and the fish that live in them) and any waterfalls or water features you might have needs to happen before winter to ensure that everything will be functioning (and alive) when spring comes.
"Once the cold has hit, there should not be much maintenance to perform," says Erik Tate of The Water Garden. As you start your preparation, secure a net over any open water to catch leaves that might fall into the pond. Keeping leaves out maintains a clean, healthy pond environment, which also allows the fish to stay safe and hearty throughout the cold months.
Just as with all animals, the key to your fish's survival is a proper diet at the right time. When the seasons start changing, a fish's body knows to start shutting down to go into a semi-hibernation state, according to GardenWeb, an online gardening community. The digestive system slows down, so it cannot digest what it normally could in the summer months. When the water temperature of your pond reaches the upper 50s, you should start feeding your fish low-protein food a few times a week. Once the temperature starts dipping below 50 degrees, stop feeding your fish altogether to ensure that they don't get sick from not being able to digest the food properly.
"In most areas, the fish will be resting on the pond bottom until the water warms for spring," Tate says. On warmer days, they may poke their heads up and start moving around more in preparation for spring. And though it might be tempting to feed your koi or goldfish, Tate warns against it, especially if there is more cold weather on the way. Be patient and wait for the water temperature to stabilize before starting a feeding regimen again.
Once you have taken care of your fish, start thinking about your pond and what prepping it requires. Do you need to run the pond pump throughout the winter? Most people in moderate climates opt to, allowing them to enjoy the sight and sound of running water the whole year, says Tate. Any sort of falling water also will keep a hole in the ice during periods of freezing, letting in and out essential gases. For those who live in very cold climates, shutting off the pump is usually a good idea. Make sure you drain all filters and plumbing and use a floating de-icer (a disclike device that maintains a hole for the vital gas exchange through an electrical hookup). Once you've prepared your pond, you just need to maintain it by making sure it doesn't freeze too deep and removing any fallen foliage so as not to dirty the water.
While monitoring your pond, also keep an eye on other water features that you might have, even if they don't have fish in them. If they are kept on and running in a freezing climate, ice will most likely form on those features. Though that is normal, observe them to make sure the ice doesn't create a dam that would cause water to flow out of them. That could cause damage to not only the features themselves but also other items that surround the features. Taking the proper precautions before the chill sets in will allow you to enjoy your water features later in the year.