What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

10 Feb

Q: What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep?

Q: What do you really mean when you say fish are “dormant” for the winter? Do they sleep?

Diane – Wells, ME

A:  When the days shorten and temperatures drop, koi and other pond fish enter into what’s called torpor, or a period of decreased physiological activity that allows them to save energy. They don’t sleep the winter away, but they do essentially hibernate—their metabolism slows, they require less food, their activity level drops and their body temperatures reduce.

How do they know they need to hibernate, and what can hobbyists do to make their finned friends’ winter torpor restful? Read on to learn more.

Mother Nature’s in Charge
Fish don’t use calendars to decide when to take their winter snooze. Instead, they follow Mother Nature’s lead. Because fish are cold-blooded, their metabolism reacts to the external environment. When the water temperature falls, so does their activity level: Their appetite dwindles, they digest food more slowly, and they expend less energy. In the spring when temperatures warm back up, the fish will naturally come out of their torpor. They’ll start to seek out food as their metabolism increases, and they’ll become active once again.

Suspended Animation
You’ll know when your fish go dormant. They won’t lie down on the pond’s bottom or curl up in their cozy Koi Kastle, but they will float upright, tuck in their fins and remain suspended in the water. As the fish hover there, you may still see some super slow movement, and they may also wind up facing in the same direction as if they were heading somewhere at less than a snail’s speed.

Sweet Dreams, Koi!
Here are four ways to give your koi a peaceful winter rest:

  1. Set up an aeration system to keep the water pumped full of oxygen. Even though they’re hibernating, your fish will still need some fresh O2.
  2. Install a de-icer to keep a hole open in the ice and allow for gas exchange. If the pond freezes over, use warm water to reopen a hole; do not bang on the ice to crack it, as doing so can stress your fish.
  3. Keep as much debris out of the pond as possible to prevent muck buildup over the winter.
  4. Let the fish be. Don’t try to get them to move or swim or wake up from their slumber. Keep an eye on them, but leave them alone until they wake up on their own.

Pond Talk: Have your fish started hibernating yet?

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My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

3 Feb

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Q: My UV bulb was still working when I pulled it out for the winter. Do I still need to replace it?

Richard – Avon, IN

A:  A UV bulb is one of your best weapons in the battle against discolored water. When those ultra-fine particles are exposed to the bulb’s ultraviolet rays the tiny particles clump together, and those clumps are then removed by your mechanical filtration system.

What’s left behind is clean, clear water – as long as the bulb is working efficiently.

For your UV clarifier to work its best, it will need a new ultraviolet bulb every year. Even though the bulb still illuminates and appears to be working, its effectiveness decreases over time. Your best bet is to replace it when you do your annual spring cleanout, and plan to do so again year after year.

Spring Cleaning

In addition to switching out the bulb, take some time to check the quartz sleeve or glass tube that’s housing the bulb. Does it need a good cleaning? Debris can build up on the glass, preventing those powerful UV rays from penetrating the water as it passes through the filter. Use as soft cloth and a descaler (if needed) to scrub off the buildup.

Filter Check

While you’re at it, check your biological filter media and mechanical filter components, like the skimmer, pump sock and prefilters. Do they need to be cleaned or replaced? Even though your ultraviolet clarifier is tackling most of the discolored water, your filtration system is still responsible for removing the debris. Make sure they’re in good working order before the algae blooms in the spring.

Maintain a Balanced Pond

UV clarifiers do a great job at clearing water, but an even better solution is to maintain a balanced pond the first place. Reduce excessive nutrients by reducing the number of fish in your pond, minimizing the amount of food you feed them and cleaning up the waste they produce, as well as regularly removing the built-up detritus.

Pond Talk: How often do you replace your UV bulb?

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When should I start using the Seasonal Defense in my DefensePAC? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

27 Jan

Q: When should I start using the Seasonal Defense in my DefensePAC?

Q: When should I start using the Seasonal Defense in my DefensePAC?

Chuck – Essex, MD

A:  Seasonal Defense®, contains aerobic bacteria that’s specially designed for cooler water. In the spring, it replenishes bacteria lost over the winter, jump starts the growth of the waste-gobbling microorganisms and breaks down accumulated waste. It’s a great way to kick off pond season!

Add It At 40 Degrees

Plan to start treating with Seasonal Defense® once your pond is up and running and the water temperature is greater than 40° Fahrenheit. You can expect to use it for about one month, or until the water hits 50°F. Once the thermostat tops 50°F, switch to Nature’s Defense®.

Distribute Evenly

Don’t just pile the Seasonal Defense® packets in one place in your pond. Put a packet in each corner to ensure even spread of the beneficial bacteria and breakdown of accumulated muck. Add some to the filter to concentrate and accelerate new bacteria growth on the filter media. Distribute them evenly—but, of course, follow the package recommendations for dosage rates.

Help the Bacteria Work

Don’t forget to aerate the pond and give it an old-fashioned cleaning to make those bacteria’s jobs easier. Along with running your pond’s pump and filtration system, keep your aeration system going to help move the water, add oxygen and disperse the bacteria throughout the pond.

And before you add the packets, clean out any large debris from the pond. Branches, dead foliage, fallen leaves and any other easy-to-remove organic materials that wound up in the water over the fall and winter should be removed so that the bacteria can better spend their time breaking down fine debris and muck.

Pond Talk: What changes do you have planned for your pond this year?

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We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

20 Jan

Q: We've been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Q: We’ve been keeping our fish indoors for the winter and have filtration. Do we need to use any chemicals?

Shiela – Norton, VA

A:  No doubt your finned friends are enjoying the cozy indoors during the chilly winter season. With your tank’s filtration system turned on, you’re mechanically cleaning the fishes’ aquatic abode – which is a great first step – but there are a few more things you can do to make their stay inside a pleasant one. Here’s what we recommend.

No Chemicals Necessary

Unless your holding tank receives a lot of sunlight, you won’t need chemical treatments, like algaecides or water clarifiers. They’re not necessary, particularly if you use beneficial bacteria, stress reducer and an aeration system.

Boost Your Bacteria

Natural beneficial bacteria, like those found in The Pond Guy® Liquid Clear™, will keep your tank water clean (and give your mechanical filtration system a break!), so pour some into the tank. The tiny microbes activate as soon as they hit the water, multiplying every 20 to 40 minutes and digesting dead organics in the water. The result: crystal clear water and happy fish.

Condition the Water

A stress reducer, like The Pond Guy® Stress Reducer Plus, will help your fish enjoy their indoor stay, too. The water conditioner fortifies your fish’s slime coat, which is the natural slime secretion that’s lost when its stressed. It also removes heavy metals, chlorine and chloramines from tap water, making it safe for underwater living.

Aerate and Circulate

In addition to beneficial bacteria and stress reducer, you should also drop in some air stones into the tank and connect them to your aeration system. Because your fish are living in a smaller space, they’ll need even more oxygen than they did in your pond. Our PondAir™ Aeration Kits will infuse the water with plenty of fresh O2 for your fish until spring arrives again!

Pond Talk: Where do you overwinter your pond fish?

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Should I use just one type of filter media or are multiple types better? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

13 Jan

Q: Should I use just one type of filter media or are multiple types better?

Q: Should I use just one type of filter media or are multiple types better?

Christine – Mt. Clemens, MI

A:  Filter media—or the stuff in your filter that holds beneficial bacteria—come in a range of shapes, sizes and densities. Some are plastic balls; some are fibrous mats and blocks; some are plastic spiral-shaped things that more resemble fusilli than pond products. With all the different types, it’s tough to decide which is best.

Well, we’ll make it easy for you: Try a little of each type. Just like plants, different filtration media provide different amounts of water filtration, so we recommend a healthy mix of media pads, like Matala® Filter Media Pads, and Filter Media Pads pre-cut and by-the-foot; ridged plastic balls, like The Pond Guy® BioBalls™; and curly plastic strips, like Bacti-Twist® Biological/Mechanical Filter Media.

When choosing the filter media, regardless of type, look for these defining characteristics:

  • Durability: Your media should be able to withstand wear and tear. The Pond Guy® BioBalls™ are more durable and longer lasting compared to similar products.
  • Density: Your media should be the right density for your specific needs. Matala® Filter Media Pads come in 4 densities to suit your particular pond.
  • Surface area: Your media should also have a lot of surface area, which will result in more places for beneficial bacteria to grow.

Your filter media’s density and surface area are particularly important because they determine how much beneficial bacteria grows and the rate at which water flows through the material. Dense material allows for more bacteria colonization, while less-dense material allows for more water flow. By using all different types of filter media, you’re encouraging optimal biological and mechanical filtration—and that’s always a good thing in an enclosed system.

Already have filter media in your system? You may be able to use it for another season or two, but first give it a visual inspection. Is it beginning to wear on the edges? Has it compacted over the last few seasons? Worn or compressed material should be replaced to give your pond top-quality filtration, but fresh, fluffy material can be reused.

Pond Talk: What’s your preferred filter media type—and why?

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I would like to build a backyard pond. What do I need to know? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

6 Jan

Q: I would like to build a backyard pond. What do I need to know?

Q: I would like to build a backyard pond. What do I need to know?

Carolyn – Jackson, TN

A: Are you dreaming of summertime landscaping projects? Yep, we are too. With the cold season upon us, there’s nothing like some backyard pond planning to warm up those chilly days and get excited about diving in to your favorite hobby.

Whether you plan to build a half-acre pond with a recirculating stream and fish, expand on your existing feature, or install a petite 200-gallon in-ground aquatic water garden, you should consider these points as you design your backyard dream:

Start with a Budget

First of all, consider what kind of money you want to spend and develop a project budget. In most cases, the larger the water feature, the more expensive it will cost—but some of those top-of-the-line accessories for smaller features can cost quite a bit, too. If you need some help, call a pond-building professional in your area who can assess your needs and determine your budget.

Look for Higher Ground

Next, take a close look at your landscape and plan to position your pond on a high spot rather than a low spot. It might seem logical to locate your water feature in a valley, but it’s actually better to situate it on higher ground. This will prevent rainwater from running into your pond, which can cause water clarity and algae growth problems later on.

Size It Right

While you’re inspecting your outdoor space, consider what sized water feature will realistically fit within your existing landscaping. Do you have a large yard and want to go big? Do you have a small space that’s perfect for a preformed pond with a small fountain? Perhaps the area is best suited for a pondless stream or waterfall. Many seasoned pond hobbyists have admitted that, in retrospect, they wish they had gone bigger with their initial designs …

Consider Your Audience

Who will be enjoying your water feature? When planning your backyard pond, keep your audience in mind. Does it need to be kid friendly or a peaceful getaway? Pondless waterfalls are great for people on the go.  If, however, you and your family have a passion for aquatic plants or fish, it would make sense to go with a traditional pond.

Go with a Kit

As you’re planning your backyard dream pond, make the process easier by buying a pond kit, which comes with everything you’ll need. Different kits are designed for different types of ponds. Here are three that we recommend:

  • For a large waterfall with big sound: The RapidFlo™ Ecosystem Pond Kit is ideal for those who want a large waterfall or stream, lots of sound to drown out nearby noise, and a system with the capacity to deal with heavy debris from nearby trees.
  • For fish lovers: The AllClear™ Ecosystem Pond Kit is designed for hobbyists who want their pond to be all about their fish, not a waterfall. It works well in yards with full sun exposure and few falling leaves.
  • For easy maintenance: The Cascading Falls Pondless Pond Kit is perfect for busy people who want to enjoy the sights and sounds of running water but have little time to maintain a traditional water feature. It’s also well suited for small yards or families with children.

Have Fun with It!

The most important thing to know about planning a pond of your dreams is that you should have a great time doing it. You’ll enjoy this backyard feature for years, so do your research, think through these points, and spend time designing something that you’ll love!

Pond Talk: When you built your first pond or water feature, what inspired your design?

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I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

16 Dec

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Q: I have a de-icer but my pond totally froze over. Help! What do I do?

Maggie – Carlisle, PA

A:  When frigid weather persists for days on end – like those way-below-zero temperatures – a pond can completely freeze over, even if a higher-watt de-icer and aerator are used. The ice-melting combination works great in most scenarios, but it just can’t keep up in extreme conditions.

Do keep in mind that pond de-icers are not meant to thaw the entire pond’s surface or heat the water. Their primary purpose is only to keep a hole in the ice to allow gas to escape. With that said, if your pond has been totally frozen over for a day or so, your fish will be fine. But if it has been more than a few days or weeks, your pond pals could be at risk of oxygen deprivation or overexposure to dangerous gases trapped beneath the ice.

So what do you do?

Let’s start with what not to do – and that’s to try to smash the ice with a chisel or blunt object. The sound and vibration of that pounding on the ice amplify underwater, which can stress out your fish. They’re already unhappy, and so you certainly don’t want to make them endure more trauma!

Instead, use a pot of hot water to melt away the ice. If it’s particularly thick, you might need to repeat the process several times to open a complete hole in the frozen stuff. While the temperatures remain frigid, check on the pond every few days to make sure the hole is still open; if it freezes over again, use hot water to open the hole back up.

With several more months of winter ahead of us, it’s not too late to add a de-icer to your pond if you don’t already have one. Simply place a unit, like the K&H Thermo-Pond De-Icer, on the ice and turn it on. It will heat up and melt through the ice – as long as temperatures aren’t too extreme! For an extra boost, pair your de-icer with an aeration kit. The bubbling action also disrupts ice formation and even if the pond’s surface is covered with ice, an aeration system will still deliver oxygen into the pond.

Pond Talk: How is your pond faring during these extreme frigid temperatures?

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What items need to come out of my pond before winter? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

9 Dec

Q: What items need to come out of my pond before winter?

Q: What items need to come out of my pond before winter?

Charles – Billings, MT

A:  You probably spent a pretty penny on your pond equipment, and so there’s no doubt you want to make that gear last as many seasons as possible. Certain components will survive longer if you remove them from your pond during the winter, including:

    • All-In-One Filtration Units: Submersible mechanical, biological and ultraviolet filtration systems such as the ClearSolution™ G2 should be pulled from your water feature, cleaned and stowed away for the winter in a place that will not freeze.
    • Pressurized Filters: As with the All-In-One Filtration Units, plan to remove pressurized filters such as the AllClear™ G2 and put it up for the cold-weather season. Doing so will prolong the life of your unit’s temperature-sensitive parts.
    • Pumps: Whether your pump feeds a waterfall, fountain or some other decorative item in your pond, it will need to be removed and stored in water in a spot that won’t freeze, like a heated garage or basement.
  • UV Clarifiers: If your ultraviolet clarifier is separate from your mechanical and biological filtration system, be sure to remove it from your water feature and store it until spring, when you should plan to replace the bulb.
  • Ion Clarifiers: Algae won’t likely be growing out of control in the winter, so you can disconnect your ion clarifier and keep it stashed until the warm weather arrives.

Once all of your gear is removed and stored away, blow out the water lines with your air compressor and cap the ends until spring. You wouldn’t want that water to freeze and crack your pipes!

Add Winter Gear

While you’re doing some winterizing chores, now is the perfect time to add an aerator to your pond to keep the water oxygenated for your finned pals during the winter months.

Airmax® PondAir™ Aeration Kit is designed for water gardens up to 2,000 gallons. It’s powered by an energy-efficient diaphragm compressor and includes an airflow control valve, air stones and flexible black vinyl air tubing.

The Pond Guy® Water Garden Aeration Kit is designed to aerate medium sized water gardens and koi ponds up to 4,000 gallons. It’s powered by an energy-efficient aeration pump and includes a diffuser plate for maximum oxygen uptake and a weighted airline.

Completing these simple tasks will prolong the life of your pond gear and ensure your fish and other pond critters stay happy and healthy all winter long.

Pond Talk: Where do you stow your pond gear for the winter?

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Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

2 Dec

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Q: Will I need to top off my pond this winter? If so, how do I stop my hose from freezing?

Kirsten – Kalispell, MT

A: Though water fluctuations seem more pronounced in the summertime, winter water loss in your pond will happen. When it does, you’ll need to top it off – but access to liquid water can be a challenge in northern climates where landscapes freeze over.

Reasons for Winter Water Loss

Before we get into how to turn up the heat in your water garden, let’s take a look at why water loss happens during the cold season. It can be caused by the following:

  • Low humidity: When the air contains little moisture, evaporation rates increase as the dry air will absorb the water from your pond.
  • Windy conditions: Wind can also escalate evaporation in your pond. A 5-mile-per-hour wind at your pond’s surface, for instance, results in roughly three times the rate of evaporation on a still day.
  • Ice expansion, formation: Because frozen water takes up more space than liquid water, it will appear that the volume dissipates in your pond as ice forms and expands.

A small amount of water level fluctuation is OK – but if your pond is very shallow (18 to 24 inches or less) and stocked with fish, keep a very close eye on your water level. A few inches of water loss could leave your fish in ice!

Topping It Off

If your pond’s water level drops more than an inch or two, you’ll need to top it off. But how do you do that if the pond is covered in a sheet of ice, or if the water in your hose freezes solid as soon as you turn on the spigot?

First, you’ll have to break through the ice. To crack through it, remember to never use a drill, hammer or other blunt object, as the subsurface vibrations could harm your fish. Instead, fill a bucket with hot water and pour it on one area of the pond to melt open a hole in the ice, preferably near the edge.

Next, use the heated K&H™ Thermo-Hose™ PVC to fill up your pond through the hole. The thermostatically controlled hose prevents ice from forming in your faucet or hose. The unit’s built-in heating elements turn on automatically when temperatures dip below freezing so you’ll have liquid water coming out of your hose.

You can use the Thermo-Hose™ two ways: either keep it plugged into a power source all winter, or use it as-needed by plugging it in 30 minutes before use. Either way, hook it up to the spigot or water source only when in use and unhook it when you’re done.

Pond Talk: How much water loss do you experience in your pond over the winter?

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