Winterizing Your Pond in Hampton Roads
Pond care books tend to be written so that they can be used from Maine to California. Much of what they say in the way of seasonal advice does not apply to us here in Hampton Roads.
Start feeding your fish with fall food (wheat germ) in late September. This will allow your fish to build up their fat reserves for the winter. As the temperature drops, slow down their feeding schedule. Stop feeding your fish entirely at Thanksgiving and start feeding again at St. Patrick’s Day. Use our feeding chart and the water temperature to determine how often to feed until Thanksgiving. Keep in mind that your fish need at least two weeks for their metabolism to speed back up to the point where they can safely eat. Two or three days of warm weather in the winter does NOT mean that you can feed your fish, even if they beg for food and “well, the book says I can feed them if the temperature is over 55”. Remember, your kids want to eat the whole bag of candy at Halloween, but if you let them, they will get sick.
We strongly recommend a fall (and spring) parasite treatment for your pond. Parasites can enter your system on plants and from birds using your pond for bathing/ drinking. Treating twice yearly to prevent infestations will help keep your fish healthy for years to come. Continue to add beneficial bacteria to your pond monthly all winter. Take advantage of this time to check your salt level and adjust it for the winter. (About .1% to .15 % for a pond with plants.)
As the temperature drops and your plants start to die back, cut all dead leaves off. Some plants will stay green all winter in our area, so only cutback leaves as they turn brown. Do not pull out and remove the root masses in your waterfalls or stream beds, as these will come back next year. At the first frost, throw out all Water Hyacinths and Water Lettuce. With our mild winters, it is not necessary to move plants to the deepest part of the pond. Inspect their pots so that you can plan what plants to separate come spring. Repot into mesh planting baskets. We carry many different sizes.
If your pond is located under or near trees, we recommend putting netting over it to catch the leaves, as this is easier than scooping them out daily. Leaving leaves in the pond will add tannic acid to the water and give your water a dark iced-tea appearance. They will overload your bio filter as they break down. Fall is also the second most likely time to have visits from herons, spring being the first, so the netting will protect your fish. Put your netting up in such a way that it is supported in the middle and does not sag into the water. Even though some netting advertises itself as “floating” it should not be in contact with the water. Leaves on it will still release their tannic acid into the water and your koi can cut their mouths on floating netting.
Pumps and filters
Make sure your pumps and filters are operating properly, but with a waterfall filter or other large bio-media filter, wait for January or February to clean the bio-media. Leave your pumps running all winter, except for days where your pond is actually frozen over. Our more northern customers (Williamsburg, Gloucester, Mathews, New Kent) or those with small ponds of 400 gallons or less may want to use a pond deicer. Most ponds in Hampton Roads proper won’t need one for a normal winter. When ice forms on your pond, leave it alone unless it looks like it will stay for more than a day or so. If it stays, use very hot water to melt a hole in the ice. Do not break the ice, as the shock can harm your fish. If you don’t have one, consider adding an aeration system to keep a small area of your pond ice free even if you should have to turn off your main pump.
Though any time is fine for adding fish, fall, as the fish begin to go dormant, is actually the absolute best time to add new fish, causing them the least stress.
If you opt to clean your pond or have it cleaned, it can be done in either late fall or early spring, while the plants and fish are both dormant. We can rent you a pond vacuum and holding tanks if you want to do it yourself.