How to Look After a Pond in Winter

Freezing weather can be problematic for pond enthusiasts, but knowing how to properly maintain and care for your pond during the winter period will make this time of year much easier to handle. Following the cleanup of the autumn leaves, pond owners should immediately turn their attention to protecting their livestock, pumps and filters during the harsher winter months.

To help you with proper pond care in winter, we have put together an all-you-could-need guide full of helpful tips and advice. This guide will cover all aspects of winter pond maintenance to ensure your pond equipment continues to run optimally and your livestock remains healthy all the way through to spring! 

Pond Winter Care FAQs

Should I Feed My Fish In The Winter?

The good news is, fish are well adapted to the British weather. However, there are several extra steps pond owners can take to ensure the well-being of their fish during the colder seasons. Feeding your fish less food is one of them. As average winter temperatures dip, biological changes occur in your livestock which slows down their metabolism; meaning it takes longer for your fish to digest their food. Therefore, you must feed your fish less frequently during winter to prevent any uneaten food from impacting your water quality.

We recommend feeding your fish two or three times per week, as it can take fish up to three days to digest food during the peak of winter! 

Should I Change My Fish Food in Winter?

Changing your fish food is also essential during the winter. A wheatgerm-based pond food such as Tetra Pond Wheatgerm Sticks, explicitly designed to aid digestion during colder periods, should be used. 

Wheatgerm-based food is ideal for when the water temperature is between 4°C and 10°C as they contain less protein, which makes it easier for your fish to digest at lower temperatures. However, you should stop feeding your fish when the water temperature drops below 4°C until it warms up again when spring arrives.

What To Do If Your Pond Freezes?

If you wake up one winter’s morning to find your pond has frozen over, then do not break the ice. Breaking the surface ice in a pond sends shockwaves through the water, causing unnecessary stress to your fish that, in some cases, could lead to fish loss. We also advise against pouring hot water over an area of the pond ice, as this can have the same effect. Remember that fish are sensitive to extreme temperature changes.

However, silt, debris and waste continue to decompose beneath the water when frozen, producing toxic gases that can become trapped in the pond under the sheet of ice and damage your water quality. With this in mind, it is essential to keep a small surface area free of ice to let harmful gases escape and let vital oxygen in. Leaving the pond covered for more than a couple of days can produce toxic gasses and harm your fish. 

Should I Cover My Pond In Winter?

As previously mentioned, the temperature dropping during winter will affect your fish’s metabolism. This means that your fish will become slower moving and unable to find shelter in the absence of plants. This makes them vulnerable to herons, so you should install appropriate pond netting or heron deterrents.

Do I Need A Pond Heater In Winter?

Installing a pond heater is one of the most effective ways to keep your pond from completely freezing over and will allow the gaseous exchange required to keep your fish in good health. Here at Pond Planet, we have various models of heaters available from brands such as Superfish and Oase for this purpose, and each is suitable for ponds of all sizes.

The Superfish Pond Heater floats on the pond’s surface and provides localised heat to maintain a hole that is free from ice on the pond’s surface. The Oase IceFree 200 and Oase IceFree 330 pond heaters do the same job as that of the Superfish heaters and are safe to use down to -20°C – making them ideal for even the harshest winter.

The Oase IceFree 330 comes fitted with an integral thermal switch that switches the unit on automatically when the freezing point is reached and off again when the temperature goes above freezing – making it incredibly efficient, saving you energy.

If temperatures aren’t too extreme during the winter, merely aggravating the water slightly can prevent ice from forming on the surface. Using a pond skimmer will help circulate the surface water to avoid ice crystals forming whilst clearing any surface debris like remaining autumn leaves.

Preparing Your Pond Plants For Winter

As well as giving your pond a natural appearance, your pond plants play a vital role in maintaining a balance in the pond’s ecosystem, so they should be looked after during the winter months too. Plants provide a natural filtration system. This helps remove toxic chemicals from the water, such as nitrates, whilst providing shade and shelter to reduce your fish’s stress.

The first step is to prepare your plants for the upcoming winter. Ideally, this should be done towards the end of autumn. As your plants prepare for their rest period over the winter months, they will start to lose leaves and halt their growing process. The main risk here is depleted oxygen levels in your pond as the result of decaying leaves. This is avoided by simply removing any dead foliage and floating debris from the water’s surface.

There are very few pond plants in the UK that will continue to thrive in the winter, and the majority will die back until springtime. However, plants such as Elodea Crispa and Hornwart are evergreen plants and will continue to grow all year round – providing much-needed oxygen over the colder months. Plants such as Water Lilies must be pruned to their lowest point so they can restart their growing process in the spring. 

Don’t hesitate to explore our full pond plant guide for more advice. 

Should I Leave My Pond Pump Running In Winter?

Many guides will recommend that you completely shut down your pond pump over the winter to prevent the water from becoming super chilled; however, this isn’t necessary for our climate. The majority of these guides originate from countries where the temperature drops to much lower levels than what we experience here in the UK. Adopting the same practices here will provide more harm than good to your pond’s ecosystem.

As you know, your biological filter is teeming with beneficial bacteria that help break down toxic chemicals in the water to help improve water quality and, in turn, improving the health of your fish. Suppose you completely shut down the pump and filter for the winter period. This would mean you’re effectively stopping this process and allowing the helpful bacteria to die. Whilst this bacteria may become dormant in colder temperatures, supplying it with a constant oxygen supply from the pond water is enough to keep it alive until temperatures rise again in the spring.

Caring For Your Pond In Winter

Following these easy steps will provide your pond with the best chance of emerging winter unscathed, ready for the return of warmer temperatures in spring and back to running optimally.

A useful checklist of actions for you to easily follow includes:

  • Feed fish less often with wheatgerm food to adapt to their metabolism.
  • Install a pond heater to help stop toxic gases from affecting the water.
  • Remove dying/dead foliage from plants to prepare them for winter.
  • Add evergreen plants to provide oxygen all year around.
  • Prune plants such as water lilies as far back as possible.
  • Leave your pump running throughout the winter to promote healthy bacteria.

Take a look at our full pond product range here at Pond Planet that will have everything you need to keep your pond thriving during the winter months.

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