Gladys wrote about “Preparing Houseplants For Winter” last week. Today a reminder to prepare your pond, your pond plants, and the fish so they can survive the winter, the reduced sunlight, and for hardy plants and fish left outside, the cold wintery weather. Do it properly so you can enjoy them for years to come.

          When preparing my pond for winter, the first thing I do is take all the tropical plants inside. Most of them can not take temperatures below 40 degrees F. Some are set back if the temps are below 50 degrees F. I have a blue Tropical Water Lily that I overwintered last year and has been blooming all summer. Tropical Water Lilies that are potted need to remain in water all winter with temps above 50 degrees F. I over winter my potted Tropicals in a 5 gallon bucket in a walk out basement. Any brown foliage is removed. I did not fertilize after August 15th but will allow the plant to stay alive in the bucket. I have also heard that one can clean off the root and put it in sand for the winter. The problem is, if it gets too wet, it will rot, and if it dries, out it dies. Some water gardeners don’t want to fool with their tropicals in the winter, so they treat them as annuals and replace them yearly.

          Tropical bog plants such as the Black Taro, Green Taro, Cattails, Umbrella Palm, Papyrus, Thalia, and Water Iris also need to have any brown foliage removed and placed inside. Mine are over wintered in my walkout basement in a south window in old dishpans or shallow containers filled with water. I did not fertilize them after August 15th as I did not want to stimulate any growth before being exposed to reduced light inside. I will fertilize and divide them in the spring after I take them outside and after they start to show leaf growth.

          I will start to clean the rest of the pond about the time the trees start dropping their leaves. I drain the pond and remove as much debris in the bottom as possible. I use a sump pump to get most of the water out. I do not waste the water but connect a garden hose to the pump so I can give my trees shrubs, and perennials a good watering for the winter.

          My pond is a 9 foot round fiberglass tank that is 24 inches deep and in the ground. Since the sides are hard I can remove the debris real easy. A friend has a pond that he built with rubberized fabric and has many rocks along the edges. It is harder for him to remove everything because of all the rocks, irregular edges and shelves. I have found that after I get as much water out as possible with the sump pump, my shop-vac works the best to remove the rest of the water and the debris that has collected over the summer. It is important to remove as much of the leaves and other organic matter as possible. If the debris is left to rot in the pond, it will decompose and produce gases that are harmful to fish and promote green algae. Also physically removing debris will make spring cleaning easier. The water and debris from the shop-vac is dumped onto my compost pile or tilled into the garden. I don’t want to waste that nitrogen rich organic material.

          I don’t have fish, I so can completely drain the pond. Gladys has fish and frogs, so she leaves some debris and mud in the bottom for the frogs to hibernate in. She also has to be careful to protect the fish during cleaning time, especially when refilling the pond. Take your fish out and put them in some kind of holding tank if you can. After refilling your pond with city water, if that is what you are using, wait long enough for the chlorine to dissipate before returning the fish, as it is toxic to them. The chlorine does not hurt most water plants.

          Hardy Bog Plants, Hardy Water Lotus, and Hardy Water Lilies should be trimmed of all foliage before the water freezes solid. Leave 2-3 inches of stems at the base of the plant then put them into the deepest part of the pond. They will survive in the bottom of a pond as long as the pond is in the ground and at least 24 inches deep. I do not divide mine until spring and I can tell what survived the winter.

          Since I do not have fish, I let my pond freeze over solid. Most winters the ice gets about 8-10 inches thick. The hardy plants survive as long as they are below the ice and since I have cleaned it, destructive gases are not created. For those who have fish, a hole must be left in the ice so the gases can escape, and a bubbler pump installed to aerate the water. To keep the pond water from freezing solid, Gladys has a tank heater while my friend keeps his pump and waterfall running all winter. The waterfall also aerates the water for the fish.

          If you run your pump all winter, one of the biggest maintenance responsibilities is to make sure there is enough water for the pumps to operate properly. It is not uncommon to have to go out a few times a month during the winter to “top  off” the pond. If your pond has a skimmer with a debris net, be sure to check and clean it regularly during the winter.

          Since I do not run my pump, I bring it inside and store it in a frost free location. Some people submerge their pump in a bucket of water. They say the water around the pump will prevent the seals on the pump from drying and cracking. The filter should also be removed, rinsed off and cleaned.   The last task is to put netting over the pond to keep leaves, pine needles, and other debris from the pond. This also helps to keep varmints and birds from falling into the pond. I have found that bird netting is the most economical way to cover the pond. There are heavier pond covers but are more expensive. I have to take the netting off from time to time to remove the leaves, pine needles and other debris that has collected on top. To keep the netting from sagging into the water, I put 2x4 boards across the pond under the netting. The netting really helps make spring clean-up easier.

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