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/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

Water Features in the Fall


By Bob Fenner

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

            'All the leaves are brown'¦ (Refrain), and the sky is gray'¦' Come about late September, October folks with outdoor ponds,

The Big Clean-up: Not Spring'¦ Fall 

            'But I cleaned out the pond thoroughly in Spring time''¦ well, it's time to at least do a series of sweeps with your leaf rake, a bit of vacuuming to removed muck and gunk, backwash your filter/s thoroughly, remove litter from intake traps'¦ do a general spic and span removal of biological materials that can cause you trouble as the water cools. 

            Excess carbon in the form of leaves, fish wastes, uneaten foods et al. can create oxygen deficits during the cooling months, depriving your oxygen-using livestock of this essential matter'¦ besides, all that 'stuff' will likely contribute to next Spring's algae-bloom/s. Best to remove a good part of it (remember, 'cleanliness is NOT sterility however), before the water in your pond gets too cold. My general rule of thumb is to try to get all major work for the year end done before the temperature of the system stays below 50 F. Can be done before, but it gets harder and harder on your livestock (and likely you!) as the winter nears. 

            A large water change should be executed along with this cleaning'¦ best done while 'vacuuming' the bottom, backwashing filters'¦ There are some very innovative products nowadays that you can hook up a corrugated (pool) hose of good diameter (1 ½, even 2') and with a swimming pool/spa extension pole and one of a selection of sweep or roller heads you can make short work of the muck on the bottom while draining (or re-circulating the pond water). If you have a bunch of debris, a word to the wise here: do look into 'in line' sediment and leaf' filters'¦ very handy for saving your back from NOT having to continuously empty the pump basket'¦ 

            Take care in re-filling your pond in the fall'¦ the difference between the new water temperature and your system is only one worry here. There is a chance of giving your fishes the 'bends' from too much dissolved gas in the new water, as well as the usual concern with toxic chloramine/chlorine sanitizer to contend with. You are encouraged to refill the system very slowly'¦ if you can with the hose discharging the new water over the waterfalls (to dissipate excess gas, dilute the sanitizer, and keep your fishes from 'swimming against the current' and hence toxifying themselves'¦ Whatever way you refill your system, take my advice and set an alarm clock or such to remind you to periodically check on how full it's becoming'¦ many systems are overflowed, sometimes with loss of livestock, other times with neighbors disgruntled, ofttimes both by having this water going on and on and on'¦          

Checking Your Gear: 

            Now is the time to make sure that all your pumping, filtration, plumbing and controllers are in good working order 'not during the winter when you will be miserable being out trying to fix something. Inspect all electrical fittings and connections to ensure they are solid and protected from moisture damage. Pressure test or actuate all valving to make sure it's operable.  

Checking Your Livestock: 

            Fall is the time to do a thorough accounting of the life in your pond. Examine all your fishes carefully. If they have sores, obvious parasites, NOW is the time to treat them, not waiting through winter (which they may not otherwise survive). Such medicine administration is best applied in smaller quarters, like a kiddie wading pool or aquarium, supplied with filtration and aeration. Do make sure these are covered, as pond fishes are wont to jump out when least expected.  

            Some koi (Japanese ornamental carp) keepers go to the nth degree in detailing the growth (measuring them in a calibrated trough arrangement) and making photographs of their fishes at this time. Easily done while doing the twin duty of checking over each specimen for disease problems. Koi and 'regular' varieties (e.g. comets) of goldfishes are fine to leave out in the pond all winter, given a good depth (3 plus feet) and that you have taken precautions that the surface of the pond does not completely freeze over, but fancy goldfish like Wakins, Ryukins and Lionheads should be removed to indoor quarters at this time.  

            Leave off feeding your fishes once the water temperature stays at or below 50 F. all day. Fishes can't utilize foods efficiently at this and lower temperature, though they may be 'begging' and consume it. It is bad, perhaps deadly for them to be fed when it stays cold. Even with the pond being in the 50's it's a good idea to switch to lower protein content feeds (see the packaging), often a 'green' variety versus a 'red' one.  

            Plants of the potted variety should not be fertilized as the weather cools. Leave off with tablet or granular applications a good two months before actual winter weather sets in. Most all dead plant material, whether you intend to 'bring yours inside' in a garage or protected patio or not, should be removed. Likely all old 'lily pads' will have turned yellow to darkish, and can be pulled free by their stalks.  

            Do you have tropical plants, like water lilies of cool color, stems that jut above water level? These should be removed at this time and stored as tubers in damp moist media, tied in bags, in a cool, dark place, e.g. a garage. Marginal plants will likely need trimming back as well, leaving a bit of their tubular stems above water for gas transport. Floating plants like Hyacinths and Water Lettuce must either be removed indoors or sacrificed. While we're mentioning marginals, do check your surrounding foliage for signs of aphids and cutworms. Now is the second of the biannual spray periods. I recommend (and have used extensively) Volck Oil'¦ safe (as long as it does not coat the pond surface) for all pond livestock.



My computer with the pix/scans on it

Is bunked out 'sorry


About New Livestock: 

            Some writers advocate the purchase of especially new koi/Nishikigoi during the months of October and November (in the northern hemisphere). I do not'¦ as there is just too much risk of introducing a pathogen and the further stress within the pond, interactions with other livestock may well be enough to push your stock over the edge from a condition of health to disease. 

Losing Old Livestock: 

            With the onset of fall, dying back of floating, emergent and marginal plants, your fishes will become easier targets for marauding fish-eating birds and mammals like Raccoons. Place some sort of cover, shore up your pond netting, do whatever it is you do per your conditions/setting to ensure your livestock don't become meals.

            Tropical lilies will need to be brought indoors about now and kept in aquariums in their pots, or cleaned entirely and their tubers stored in damp sand or peat moss. Unless you have especially cold weather you may cover your marginal and bog plants after they've been trimmed and allowed to rest for a few days, with a cover of mulch or plastic sheeting. More tropical marginals will have to be re-located to a greenhouse, garage'¦ 


            Remember that Momma's and Poppa's song'¦? You want to keep those leaves out of your pond if you can, either by erecting some sort of shade or net clothing or being diligent with your leaf rake. Excess overburden ignored during the autumn can rot and spoil your pond over the winter. Some tree leaves are toxic in their own right and should not be planted near ponds, others become poisonous over time soaking in the system. Keep them out or remove them.  

            Fall is a time for contemplation, including reflecting on what your pond will be doing during the winter months. But don't just sit there meditating. Get off your duff, clean that system out, and prepare your livestock for the upcoming inclement weather. With some forethought and action here your aquatic charges will slide right through the cold spell and rally in spring. The actual what to do will of course vary with the make-up of your system, local weather conditions, the types of livestock you have, but do have a plan'¦ and a thermometer and keen eye for observation for gauging when to implement it.  

            Contrary to what many folks believe, autumn is the most important time of the year for ponds. What you do here will preserve your livestock and gear through the winter and pre-prepare all for the upcoming New Year.  


Bibliography/Further Reading:

Cohen, Sandy. 2002. Installing your pond filter and preparing to winterize it any time of the year. FAMA 3/02.

Di Fiore, Tony. 2001. Your pond in four seasons. TFH 9/01.

Kelbus, Myron. 1998. Stress- It's a killer. Even for your fish. Here's what the good doctor orders to get rid of what stresses your fish most during the fall and winter. Water Gardening Fall, Winter/98.

Lambert, Derek. 1997. Gardening with water. Fall Maintenance. TFH 11/97.

Malfin, Larry. 2004. A beautiful pond all year round. AFM 5/04

Meyer, Stephen M. The nature of ponds. Seasons of the pond. AFM 2/96.

Speichert, Greg. 1998. Fall plant care. A warm, sunny day in autumn is the perfect time to prepare your marginal water plants for winter. Water Gardening Fall, Winter/98

Spindola, Pam. Undated. Things to do prior to winter. Associated Koi Clubs of America, V.2, p. 66.

Uber, William, 1988. Water Gardening Basics, Dragonflyer Press, CA.

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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