Preparing Your Pond For Fall

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Written By Mark Washburn

Mark has 20 years of experience as a professional pond management consultant.

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Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year in most parts of the country but for pond owners, it can be a time of great challenge. With every change in the weather, your pond can be affected too.

While it’s not possible to hold off what Mother Nature brings along for your pond, with some simple steps you can deal with just about anything and keep your water garden in good shape. This is really important if you have fish or other living things in the pond because they’ll be more affected by seasonal changes than anything else.

So how do you prepare your pond as you move from summer and fall and into winter?  Let’s assume for the purposes of this article that you have fish and are planning on keeping the pond open year round.  The following tips should help.

Clean The Pond

Generally speaking a clean pond is a healthy one.  We’re not talking about something that looks like a swimming pool by any means, but to be a great pond cleaner you’ll need to remove dead plant material, decomposing organic matter, and other accumulations that fall into the pond.

Dead plants, including algae, will pull oxygen from the water as they die off so they are best removed before they decay or get too far gone.  You can trim back some plants like lilies and leave them in the lower parts of deeper ponds over the winter and as long as they don’t freeze up they should be fine.

Organic material such as dead leaves can build up at the bottom and should be removed as much as possible.  As this material decays in the pond it will release nutrients into the water that feed algae growth and for most folks ,that’s something that is unwanted.  Although a little bit of algae is actually a good sign for the most part.

You can use a pond net or pond vacuum to help remove some of this debris and the more you can take out of the pond the better.  A skimmer may help remove some of this as it falls in the pond but even with a good skimmer you’ll still likely need to do a bit of work to clean up the bottom.

Use Pond Netting

When the leaves really begin to fall and blow around, many owners will use a pond net or netting to cover it.  If you can keep leaves from falling in the water in the first place it just makes the clean up more easy.

You’ll want to find something that will adequately cover the surface area of the pond and ideally find netting with a reinforced edge as these tend to be more durable and hold up better, particularly if you know a lot of leaves will fall.  This same pond netting can be used to help control some avian predators that may bother your fish.  By propping up the middle of the netting with some type of support, birds like herons will not be able to land in the water and go hunting.

Use A Cold Water Beneficial Bacteria

If you have fish, one way to ensure that you never have a spike in ammonia or nitrites (both of which are toxic to fish and come from their waste), is to use a form of beneficial bacteria pond bacteria that’s designed for cold water.

Historically most bacteria, and those that are found in ponds naturally, will really slow down once the water temperature drops below 50 degrees.  This coincides nicely with the normal feeding habits of fish during the winter too…since they also greatly reduce their feeding in cold water.

Yet for small backyard ponds, a bit of supplementation may be helpful to keep the pond in balance.  Look for an all season, or cold water blend of bacteria that will work below 50 degrees and you should be fine.

Add A Heater To Your Pond

A pond heater is a simple little device that can either float on the surface of the pond or be placed at the bottom.  These create an area of warmth that will keep a portion of the pond open and free from ice.

When a pond is completely covered with ice, it’s possible for gases to get trapped in the water and it’s helpful to keep the exchange of these gases and fresh air going throughout the winter.  Most heaters will do an adequate job of this but you’ll want to get one that’s rated for your temperature zone.

In really cold climates some pond owners have unfortunately found their fish frozen with sustained cold temps and it goes without saying that a pond heater will help avoid that malady.  For the most part they are very safe and affordable to operate.

It’s suggested that a pond be at least two feet or deeper to safely overwinter fish in them.  Deeper ponds tend not to freeze completely from top to bottom which is really a worse case scenario.  Regardless of the depth though, it’s a great idea to keep a bit of the surface open and a pond heater is the best tool available to do that.

As you can see by taking a few simple steps, most pond owners will avoid any major problems during the winter months.  It’s important to keep an eye on things of course, and you’ll want to monitor operations even in the dead of winter, but all in all, your pond and your fish should do just fine.

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