Fish ponds in winter -- what needs to be done

tpolonyNovember 17, 2013

I know NOTHING about outdoor ponds, but I thought you all could help me, and let me know whether I need to worry.

I was visiting a public garden and came upon a man-made outdoor pond with fancy goldfish or some sort of small goldfish-like fish in it. They didn't have a pump running at all. Winter is coming, and this is in the DC area.

What needs to be done to keep these fish safe for the winter?

I'm so ignorant, I don't even know if the fish can stay in the pond over the winter. Can they?

Is it normal to have the pump off at this time of year? How do they get enough oxygen? The pond is 2 levels, with some plants in the upper level, but the fish are in the lower level and the water isn't circulating, so I don't think anything other than surface aeration is going on.

Does it have to be a certain depth so that the fish can live under the ice layer? Should a pump be running to prevent icing over, among other things?

Do they need plants for food throughout the winter? I know their become very sluggish, so maybe they don't need to eat.

When do they need to be "tucked away" by to be safe? A certain outdoor temp? A few nights we have actually gone into the 20s, but it's still mostly in the 50s and occasionally the 60s during the day.

I don't want to make an issue if this is all normal for this time of year. Bur rhis place has been known not to be the best at animal husbandry.

If there is reason to be concerned, I will make a list of problems based on responses so they can't just say don't worry, everything's OK.

Thanks for helping to educate me on this.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How deep is the pond?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 11:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Not sure, I'll have to check with a stick or something. I can try to check later today when I go there. It looks like it's at least 1.5 feet deep, based on seeing some stuff underwater that might be filters or something. Is there a minimum depth I should be looking for?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 1:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

18 inches would be the absolute minimum. Obviously deeper is better. But fish can, and do, survive under pretty harsh conditions. An attempt should be made to keep at least a small opening in the ice to allow for gas exchange, but there's no need to run filtration during the colder months when the fish are essentially in hibernation mode. Any aeration should occur only near the surface. The fish will naturally stay at the bottom where the water stays warmer so you don't want to move the water from the bottom.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 3:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

The average feeding cutoff temp is 55oF water temperature, However there is plenty of natural food such as algae available if they do get hungry. Feeding them only causes digestive problems in the off chance they do eat.

There is some movement in the water due just to temperature variations. If the pond is fairly clean to start with and there are rocks coming out of the water, ice and gases will not be a problem. The rocks usually have a slight gap surrounding them to let gases escape.

The larger the pond the less chance for problems in this case.

You don't say how small the fish are. You think they are goldfish but don't really know. Very small fish look remarkably similar to a novice. My new born goldfish grew from eyelash size to an inch in 10 days. You could be seeing any number of different fish. They aren't mosquito fish or they would be dead already.

Goldfish (Comets) are coldwater fish that do very well in conditions you would find in a Washington winter but it is entirely possible(read probable) the pond was not stocked by the Parks Dept. People are fairly persistent in stocking public access water with excess. It is against the law but the Park Dept. has more important things to do than chasing down 6 year olds who can't take their pet to their new home. So...Birds carry fish eggs on feathers and legs. Guess where some wind up? I once saw an Oscar in a reflecting pool. He probably kept other fish out that summer but wouldn't have lasted the late fall. Some Parks have had problems with Piranhas dropped in ponds especially in college towns. Nasty. Shopping Malls often wind up with fish in the water features and they are definitely not fish friendly.

Few parks stock their ponds but fish appear anyway. Some may actually survive and if there is access to a natural waterway it is a problem.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 6:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK, thank you for this information. I do have some updates.

I went to a garden center and asked some questions about ponds, and it turned out to be the place that actually designed and installed the pond. What luck!

The guy said the pond is about 4 ft. deep in the center. There are no rocks coming out of it to break up the surface, so if gas exchange occurs that way, it won't happen here. It has two levels, and if the pump were on, there would be a waterfall down to the level where the fish are.

This guy said that you don't need filtration in the winter, but you absolutely must have circulation for oxygen because the "other" bacteria -- that is, the non-beneficial stuff -- starts hibernating later than the good stuff and there is still decay going on in winter with dead leaves and such, and these "bad" bacteria will suck the oxygen out of the water. He also mentioned making sure there's always an open spot in the ice for gases to escape.

The fish are currently very near the surface. I don't know if this is normal when it's 55 degrees out. They are not doing the surface gasping thing you see when they are starved for oxygen. But they are not hidden in the depths, and if that's where the warmer water is, I wonder if this is a bad sign.

This guy said it's OK to have the pump off for a few days, but not for a few weeks. Since I only discovered this 3 days ago and it's been off the entire time, it's been at least several days, and I'm guessing a lot longer, that the pump has been off.

The fish are some sort of fancy goldfish, I think. They are probably about 3-4 inches long and have spots on them. It's part of a Korean garden, so whatever might go into that kind of setting, maybe someone can guess what they are.

Does anyone agree with what this guy said about the circulation (not to be confused with the filtration) needing to be on? Because I was going to go there tomorrow and insist that someone turn the pump on.

What do you all do? Do you keep the pump on and circulate the water in the winter?

I don't want to create a problem if there isn't one, but I do worry that they're hanging out near the surface.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 7:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
michey1st_gw Zone 7

I'm in the DC area, and today all of my fish were hanging near the surface... it was "warm" out and my water temp was in the high 40's. On the colder days, they have been down below, but they came up to say hi today.

My lower pond (where the fish are) isn't nearly as deep - only about 15 inches - and for the past few winters, all I have done when it gets freezing is a deicer to keep a hole open. Granted, I don't have a very high fish load (10 small feeder goldfish in about 125 gallons in winter -- 500 gallons when the connecting waterfalls are running to my bog and middle pond). Right now, the falls are off , the deicer is pulled and I am running a small spitter, since the weather has warmed these last few days - i've missed the sound of water in my back yard!

I've had this pond for 4 years and haven't lost a fish yet.

Not sure if this helps you at all - it sounds like you have reason to suspect abuse, so please don't take my word as gospel if you think something may be up,

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 8:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

By pump, do you mean waterfall? Or a fountain? In either case, the answer could be yes or no. Some people leave their pumps on all winter, some choose to shut down and just concern themselves with keeping a hole in the ice. This can be done with an air stone or other aerator just under the surface, a de-icer, or a combination of both. And I know ponders who never circulate or filter, summer or winter. The pond ices over completely and come spring the fish are fine. So it doesn't sound to me like the pond you're speaking of is anything to be concerned about, at least judging from afar.

Our fish were all near the surface today, poking around. It was warm and sunny, so they were a bit adventurous. We stopped feeding about three weeks ago when the water temp fell below 55 degrees.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 10:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you for all of your quick responses.

It sounds like I don't have so much to worry about after all. But michey1st, you mention having a small "spitter" being on because it's been warm. Should something be on on warmer days? I'm not sure what a spitter is.

There is a waterfall, no fountain. Waterfall is off, no water running,no current, no surface movement, it's just still. There's a gargoyle-like thing on the edge that would normally be spouting water if the pump was on, and water from the top pond is not dropping down into the bottom pond where the fish are.

I sure hope that these fish haven't been getting fed by all the people who show up and feed bread to the big koi that are in the main large lakes there. Being in a small closed system like this pond, I suppose that could disrupt their metabolisms and such.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 3:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
michey1st_gw Zone 7

Hi tpolony! A spitter is basically just a little fountain pump that splashes a bit of water around. As the water droplets hit the surface, it adds oxygen to the water, which in warmer weather, the fish need to survive. You get this same effect from waterfalls or rain.

Normally, I would have turned all of the fountains and gadgets off by now and just had my heater at the ready, but I put the spitter back in selfishly for the noise =D My backyard was too quiet and I could hear all sorts of animals traipsing around in the forest behind my property -- kind of unnerving late at night, lol.

I have never worried about aeration during winter months though others swear by it. The only thing I am sure to do when it's cold is to keep a hole open for gas exchange - that's where the deicer/heater comes in.

In any case, it's cold again, so the heater is back in and we'll see if it ices over tonight. One night last week (before the "warm" spell and before the heater went in, I woke up to a frozen over fish pond, but a few hours later, it had melted due to the daytime warmth. This is fine for short periods of time as well but if my pond was iced over for more than a day, I'd worry.

Does this help?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 9:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes, michey1st, this helps a whole lot! I'm no longer very worried, but will just keep an eye on whether or not the pond freezes over. Before I was worried about everything -- food, aeration, filtration. Now I just have to be concerned that there is a hole in the ice.

Thank you so much for your explanations!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 10:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The pump is a must, even in the summer. To be sure i'd remove the fish from the pond for the winter...

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 3:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kashka_kat(z4 WI)

Sad to say, some people don't have high regard for fish. When I first got my pond I heard the suggestion several times to just leave them outside over the winter and get new fish in the spring, didn't matter if they survived. Now of course as my fish have become beloved pets, it astounds me that anyone would say that.

Could you enlist the pond builder to speak to these people? It might have more credibility coming from him - if he as the builder has some concern about oxygenation I'd listen to him over the opinion of anonymous internet posters, however well intentioned.

Or, before bringing him onboard I might just go say something to them myself - I'd go in there NOT to be confrontational or anything - just friendly and informational. It very well could be that someone just thought oh well, summer's over, no need for the waterfall anymore. Without really knowing or understanding the needs of the fish.

If they didn't want a big dramatic waterfall going they could just have a small bubbler or air pump which pumps air bubbles into the water (actually if this is a professional set up I wonder if they might have an air pump going already?)

Another option you could offer is that some pond stores/pet stores will take pond fish back for the winter. You won't get any money for them, just the good feeling of knowing they'll be around to enjoy another summer of eating bugs and swimming around!

Thanks for your post and for caring about the fish.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 7:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can't speak for D.C. temps. or fish other than comets, but in North Carolina where we sometimes get down into the teens and the ponds have frozen solid so that they could be stood upon without any cracking, I have found that my comets survive with no problems. I keep my decorative stream and pond running 24/7/365. However, I also have a water collection pond that I use for irrigation and some pond refilling. This 'resevette' has no flow except when water is being used and the comets in it survive as well as those in the decorative circulating pond.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 7:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kashka_kat(z4 WI)

There's apparently enough oxygenation and circulation in your reserve that the fish survive - can't generalize to all ponds though - lots of variables - larger surface area with openings in ice will have better gas exchange than pond that is deeper/less surface area. That's why I thought the guy who built/designed it and knows the local climate would probably be the best judge of it.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 12:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have a related question. I have been keeping my goldfish indoors in an aquarium over the winter (at house temperature). What do i need to do to return them to the pond? Do I have to wait until the water temperature matches? What about water quality? Any ideas appreciated.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2014 at 9:03AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
dog pond
Dog pond/pool pics Image link:
Herron attack
Just want to vent. The day before Christmas I went...
Floating plants for my hot TX pond (other than lilies)
Any suggesting for good floaters or submerged plants...
Question about pumps
I have a 300 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank sunk into...
Dividing lotus this weekend
I have a Carolina Queen lotus that has to be divided...
Sponsored Products
Silver Chevron Wool Morro Wool Rug
$29.99 | zulily
New Hand Knotted 3' x 12' Oushak Runner Veg Dyed Light Blue Wool Rug H3215
BH Sun Inc
MaxLite BayMAX LED High Bay Pendant, 132 Watts Charcoal or White
Design House Jackson Outdoor Uplight - Solid Brass - 501486
$64.99 | Hayneedle
Stainless Steel Wall Mount Pumps
Area Rug: Candice Olson Pewter 5' x 8'
Home Depot
Bolton Multi-Sectional Sofa by Gus Modern
$2,719.15 | Lumens
Deluna Leather Sectional - Brighton Breeze Green
Joybird Furniture
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™