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North Central USA

Ice Sculptures

by Joe Summers, St. Louis, Missouri
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I hope that you were able to find the time to properly prepare your pond for the autumn leaf drop. (See When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall) If you did not have the opportunity to install a leaf net over the pond then your task of scooping out leaves should continue until most if not all the dead leaves are removed. You should continue with the cold water bacteria treatments through out the winter months. The cold water bacteria will help digest any debris missed by your new favorite task of scooping frigid wet leaves from the pond. Lesson: put up a leaf net next year.

In our region, we usually feed our pond fish until the water temperature has fallen to 39°F (4°C). The warm winter so far this year is the reason we go by water temperature and not a calendar date. The fish do not need to be fed during the winter months. No food should be offered until the pond temperature has reached 55°F (13°C) in mid- to late March. Don't worry -- there is enough natural food in the pond for the fish during the winter months.

The only concern that you as a pond owner should have during the winter is ice. Ice is actually a good part of our overall ecosystem. However, the pond owner needs to be prepared for an ice-over. An ice-over can cause your fish to die if it lasts more than three days. The buildup of toxic gases trapped under the ice will speed up if there is an over-population of fish in the pond. Another contributor to fish death during an ice-over is the amount of debris or sediment in the pond bottom. Eliminating this will aid in successfully overwintering your fish.


Keep and eye on your stream, as this is a likely spot for problems with ice. An ice dam can be created and actually pump water outside the pond.

De-icers or pond heaters are ideal devices to guarantee that you do not suffer from an ice-over. The heater is not designed to heat the entire pond, but just to allow a portion of the pond to remain in contact with the air. This will allow the gases to transfer from the pond to the air. An open area in the ice can also be maintained by leaving your waterfall pump, bubbler or air pump running during the winter. Place any of these devices in the upper one third of the pond. You want to leave the deeper part of the pond undisturbed.

If by chance Mother Nature moves faster than you and you suffer an ice-over before you've obtained a de-icer or air pump you should not break the ice with hammer or shovel. The fish will not like it much, just as you see the signs at the aquarium store saying do not tap on the glass. To remedy your oversight until you can install the de-icer, you can take a pan of boiling water and set it on the ice to melt a hole. This may take multiple trips. You can also use a drill and open up several holes. These methods are tricks just to make it through in a pinch. I would not plan on this way to ice-over prevention because it will be very cold drilling a hole in the pond twice a day or carrying boiling pans of water out of the house when it's 5 below zero.

With proper preparation you can sit back with a mug of hot cocoa and enjoy the natural sculpture that a waterfall creates during the winter months. Pond keepers know that the best season is the current season no matter what season it is.


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