Winter is a good time to lime your frozen pond

Frozen ponds are an opportunity to lime

If your pond freezes enough in winter you can spread your lime right over the ice

If you own a pond, you know the importance of liming. And if you own a pond in the far north, you know the nuisance of seeing your pond turn into a Popsicle. However, your pond-turned-ice-skating-rink has a special benefit that no other region does: You can lime it without the hassle of distribution.

If you live up north, and your water has been acidic (below a pH of 7.5) or you have a low Total Alkalinity (below 100 ml/g), right now is the ideal time to lime.  Fostering overall pond and fish health, liming definitely supplies the “biggest bang for your buck” for any pond practice. (And I don’t even sell it, so I’m not just trying to sell you lime)

Crushed limestone is cheaper than dirt. It can be purchased in 40 – 50 lb. bags from your nearby farm supply store for about $3 or $4 a bag, and even less if bought in bulk (ideal for large ponds).  Buy crushed or pulverized limestone, not hydrated lime (hydrated lime can kill your fish)

What prevents most people from liming is:

  • Weight:

o   You will need approximately one ton per acre (but check with your local Ag Extension Agent for the exact amount required for the soil under your pond)

o   If you have an acre pond, you can’t use your trusty ½ ton pickup truck, so you’ll need it delivered

o   One ton = 40 – 50 bags

  • Distribution:

o   Lime can’t be dumped all in one spot. That’d be too easy. It must be distributed evenly throughout the bottom of your pond, just like you would lime a garden.

o   A small boat or barge (a kayak or canoe is not the boat for this!) will suffice for this task, if the weather is warmer, however…

o   If you live up north, you can simply walk across the ice, distributing as you go.  All you have to do is wait for the ice to melt and the lime to sink for the process to begin.  Easy as pie.

So, for all you northerners, your job has been made drastically easier. Finally, a good liming will last for several years.  And whoever thought you’d benefit from that big old ice cube on top your pond?

Salt in Ponds

Salt as a pond Medicinal

Sal: Nature's Own Medicinal

Grandma’s salty chicken soup helped you get over your cold. Gargling with salt water cures your sore throat. Salt sprays clear up your sinus infection. So why not use the healing power of salt as a therapeutic for your pond? Salt can be used many ways, and in both tanks and large ponds.  Its benefits include reducing fish stress, reducing nitrites, and treating pond parasites.

Some Tips about Salt:

•             Caution: Whenever used, salt should be dissolved in a bucket of pond water, and not added directly – undissolved salt can irritate fish gills and lead to injury or death

•             Iodized salt should never be used, as iodine is toxic to fish.

•             Be careful when adding any kind of salt to an aquatic tank, as it can have detrimental effect on plant life

•             Before adding salt to a tank, make sure to remove all zeolite products

•             After using a salt treatment, test the water for ammonia spikes with Microbe-Lift Ammonia Test Strips, as fish tend to excrete high levels of ammonia after exposure to salt.

•             Dosing:

o             Small tank: ½ cup of salt per 10 gallons of pond water

o             Large tank: 5 cups of salt per 100 gallons of pond water

o             Stress reduction: 2 and 1/2 cups per 100 gallons of pond water

•             As a topical treatment for sick fish:

o             Mix salt with tank water until it reaches a thick paste consistency

o             Use a new basting brush to apply to affected areas such as excessive slime or reddened spots on the head, back, or underbelly

o             Take caution applying around the eyes and gills

o             Dispose of or sterilize the basting brush when finished to avoid cross-contamination

•             Salt does not evaporate from tanks and must be removed by water changes.

Remember this and you’ll always be a step closer to a healthy, happy pond with healthy, happy fish.

My fish are at the surface gasping for air? What to do?

If your fish are at the surface gasping for air you need to apply the following emergency first aid immediately, then figure out what caused this condition and fix it long term.

The fish need highly oxygenated water quickly.

Do this by turning on a hose or any other water pump and spraying the water up in the air so it gets oxygenated then lands in the pond. If you have a waterfall or fountain, turn it on and leave it on until the crisis is past. Add Stresscoat if its on hand.

If the pond is a large earthen pond, use the biggest pump you can get your hands on and spray water over the pond.  If you do not have a second water source, its ok to pump the water from the pond.


If it’s possible to also do a water change, do as deep a water change as you can.  If you are using chlorinated public water supply and do not have any dechlor handy, don’t change more than 10%.

If you are using groundwater or have dechlorinator handy, drain the pond down til the fish’s fins are starting to stick out of the water.  If your source of water is more than say 10 degrees different in temperature, so the water change over a several hour period.

If you have koi and  this is happening in the early spring, try to avoid netting and removing them from the pond unless you have another pond of better / safer water quality all ready for them to go into.  This time of year koi are just coming out of winter hibernation and their immune system is very fragile.  Netting and moving them would just add to their stress.


Review site conditions and get some test kits to find out what caused the sudden loss of oxygen.

If its hot weather and there is excessive algae, plus the weather has been cloudy, dead organics are probably the culprit and added oxygen will be needed until this is digested.  For earthen ponds, consider getting a bottom aeration system.

The above type of oxygen problem usually does not develop in lined ponds with a 24/7 pumping/filtration system running.

In lined ponds the problem more likely is an unexpected sudden overload of nutrients from storm water runoff, grossly overfeeding by’ helpful’ visitors, or a fish disease/ parasite infestation.  Water changes will help the first two issues.  Close examination of the ailing and or dead fish, (post mortem) is  needed for the later problem.  Get professional help if you suspect a fish disease or parasite.  Look up your local koi club or consult one of the on line fish health sites such as

If you used too much  Algaway 5.4 or AlgaeFix for the size of the pond and /or you did not keep your waterfall/filtration system going, this can lead to oxygen depletion.

If you had a massive algae bloom and treated it all at one time with any algaecide, the dieing algae can consume all the oxygen.

So, there can be many reasons why you had the problem and once you get past the crisis you can take the time to find out why it happened and how to prevent it from reoccurring.

But your first priority is to get some oxygenated water going to buy you some time until you can solve the underlying problem and the hose sprayed in the air over the pond will do just that.


Zombie Winter Algae won’t die.

Do you have zombie winter algae that refuse to die even though you have treated it?

Winter algae can begin to appear when the water reaches 45 degrees.  But, the beneficial bacterias that fight algae do not become effective until the water reaches 50 degrees.  In that 45 to 50 degree temperature range, the algae grows freely.  In warmer waters, the bacteria in the bio filter, the cultured bacteria such as Microbelift PL and PBL and the natural barley straw, do a great job.  But at these low temperatures, only the low temp bacteria such as Microbelift Autumn Winter Prep are active.

Many people resort to an emergency first aid for the algae by using algacides.  Hopefully they at least use the environmentally friendly algacides such as Green Clean and Algaway 5.4.    In warm water Green Clean usually works over night and Algaway 5.4 works within 2 to 3 days.  Results are frequently not as stellar in cold water. Why?

Why indeed?  Think of it this way.  If you go out to your garden in the summer and cut off lettuce, the cut lettuce is definitely dead.  Put the lettuce out in the sun on the picnic table and within hours it will wilt, turn brown and curl up, almost gone.  Now take that same piece of dead lettuce and put it in your refrigerator.  There, it is still dead, but it will stay green and crisp for several weeks.

So, even if you kill your winter algae in refrigerator cold water, it will still stay green and life like for several more weeks.

What to do?  One product that will block the growth of algae regardless of temperatures is Microbelift Barley Straw Extract. This works regardless of temperatures.  Another approach is pond dye.  Both Microbelift Bio Blue and Bio Black, added to the pond before the algae appear, will block algae growth.  The downside to the dyes is that they will also block your view of your fish.

There is an up side to winter filamentous algae.  Algae is a perfect spring food for your koi.  High in vitamins, low in hard to digest protein.  A true Popeye Spinach for your sleepy koi.  Later in the season they will turn up their noses at such fare.  But in the spring when they are very hungry, (and you are not yet feeding them, please) they will readily nibble algae.

Late winter pond chores: clean up pond side debris

Clean up pond side winter debris.

Those first few warm days at the end of winter are a good time to get started on a great pond season.  But  it is way to early to be working in the water where it will disturb the still sleeping koi.

This is a great time to rake up the late fall leaves and twigs.  I clean up most of the leaf fall in the Fall.  But, our willow tree holds its leaves late, and then drops them plus a zillion little twigs throughout the winter.  So in those first warm days, when I’m itching to get out there and get something done, I clean up this debris.

This helps the koi pond as it keeps the March winds from blowing debris into the pond where it only contributes to the ponds organic loading.  Those leaves that do get in, I will digest with Microbe-lift Spring Summer Cleaner once the water gets to 50 degrees.  But the willow twigs will need to be mechanically removed.  That means me wading waist deep into the water and collecting them with a grass rake.  Its an OK chore on a hot summer day.  Not something I want to do in cold water.  So, the less leaves and twigs that go into the pond, the easier all around.

So I do the late winter clean up and it has  become one of my savored rights of spring.  I rake then up and burn them in an old washtub placed on the the pea graveled shore.  I enjoy being outside after the long winter indoors.  And, the warmth of the little fire feels great.  Reminds me of camping.

Ice fishing in Maryland? Does that work?

Out riding my horse Colbert  in the woods today I came upon the oddest sight.  There, out on the ice of a  the little half acre pond sat a man on a little stool….. fishing.  I did a double take.  I’ve seen pictures of folks ice fishing up north, for pike and muskies.  But I’ve never seen anyone ice fish around here in Maryland.  I don’t even try to ‘wet’ water fishing around here to Aprilish as the only thing I know that feeds this early are the rock fish in Liberty.  My experience has been that the bass and sunnies are not going to be biting until the water gets up in the 50 more or less.  I ask him if he had caught any and he said he had gotten a few little ones.  He was too far away to talk to him much, and his dog was barking at my horse, so I did not get to ask what kind of fish he got.

Years ago that shallow pond had sunnies and a few juvenile bass.  We use to take our daughter there to fish back when she was 5 and loved to fish.  She caught a couple of little bass on spinner baits when she was just learning to cast.  Lucky girl.  She is 17 now and fishing is not cool. In dry years, it gets so shallow that the herons fish it out pretty well.  It had gotten quite shallow last summer in the drought, so I’m surprised there are any fish there at all this winter.

So, I’m pondering on this.  Does anybody you know ice fish in Maryland and if so where do they go, what bait do they use and what do they catch?  I’d like to give it a try next year if I could do so safely.