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?

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.


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.

Don’t feed the beggars during this Mid Winter Thaw!

Ah, the mid winter thaw.  It’s like spring time out there.  The birds are singing.  One corner of my pond actually has some open water.  It on days like this that can bring your koi to the surface looking for food.  They are hungry.  They have not eaten all winter.  Please please feed us they say.

Don’t do it.  Or put another way, don’t do it!  Mid winter feedings can pr0ve deadly. Sure its warm today.  Maybe spring is here early.  The groundhog did not see his shadow in PA this month.  But, its more than likely just a little teaser of spring to come.  Next week there could be a blizzard, or at least more of the same frigid weather we’ve been having since December.

If you feed your koi now, the food will be in their digestion system for several days.  If the weather turns cold again before it is completely digested, the digestive processes will grind to a halt.  There it will lie and molder, releasing toxins, until the weather again warms up.  This can be deadly for your fish.  And it will be a slow agonizing death.  Your fish will look normal until the pond warms up, then one by one they will sicken and some will die.  At that point it is generally too late to help them.

So, be mean, ignore the little beggars, do not feed them.  Let them graze the mid winter algae that has suddenly sprouted up in your pond.  That is a better safer course of action.  Resist feeding the little cuties until your water lilies start to grow and then just feed them cold water feeds that are high in wheat germ such as Microbelift Living Legacy Wheat Germ Feed.

Do I need to heat and or deice my koi / goldfish pond in winter?

Should I deice my koi pond?

I get quite a few inquiries about the need to heat koi ponds in winter to keep them from freezing over.  There seems to be some confusion out there about what is needed.

  • Does this need to be done to protect the fish?
  • Do I have to keep all the ice off the pond all winter?
  • Is it ever safe for the pond to be iced over and if so how long?
  • If my pond needs to be deiced, how can I do this?

Generally ice on a koi pond for a week or two is not a problem for the fish.  At this time of year, the koi have already gone into hibernation and are not feeding.  This means that their metabolism has greatly slowed down and they are producing very little waste.  Plant life has died back and vegetative material has hopefully been removed from the pond so there is little to decompose.   Even if there is some vegetative material, with the water temperatures in the 30s and 40s, very little bacterial activity is occurring.  So, overall, the biological processes in the pond have slowed down to a crawl.  This means if any toxics are being formed, they are doing so at a very slow rate.  Therefore, a pond that is totally iced over is not in immediate danger of toxic poisoning to the fish.

Ice over does become a problem when this condition continues for more than a few weeks without respite.  Even though being produced at a very low rate, toxics can accumulate over time and stress or kill fish.  Unfortunately this stress is hard to detect while the fish are parked in the deepest part of the pond.

How will you know if you are having a winter fish kill? You may not know immediately as fish that die in cold water frequently do not immediately float up to the surface below the ice.  More than likely you will not know until the ice melts and the water warms just enough for bacterial activity to start decomposing the dead fish.  At this time, the bodies will bloat and be carried to the surface.  Not a pretty site.

Even if the toxics are not severe enough to kill the fish immediately, you may lose them later in the season.  Stressed fish this time of year typically show up when the ice melts.  At that time when the rest of the fish are beginning to surface on warm sunny days, the stressed fish will either hang by themselves at the bottom or if in dire straits, will gulp for air continuously at the surface.  By then the damage has been done

What to do?   It is not necessary to keep the pond all ice free all winter.  It is necessary to open some open water at least once every 10 days.   So, if you live in an area that has periodic icing in the winter, you probably do not need to take any action at all.  If you live in an area where ponds routinely freeze hard you can either periodically thaw your pond out as described below or invest in a deicer.

Deicing without a deicer: To vent toxics, you need only to open a spot a foot or two across in a backyard sized pond and keep it open for a day or two.  Here is what NOT to do.  Do not open the ice by pounding on it with a hammer or throwing rocks on it.  The vibrations from such actions will throw your poor disoriented fish into a frenzy.  Remember, your goal to provide a stress free winter for these guys.   What you can do aside from buying a deicer is:

1.      Hang a 100 watt light bulb about 6 inches over the ice, one with a utility deflector and cage, if you have one, to focus the heat down.  Leave it on until there is a hole in the ice at least a foot wide.  Yes, be careful.  Don’t climb out on the ice to hang the light where you will have to retrieve it later over thin ice.  Dah!  Just locate it over the edge of the pond.  Secure it firmly so it has no chance of blowing into the pond.  Plug it into a GFIC receptacle so if a blizzard wind comes along and blows it into the pond, your fish will not be shocked. (GFICs interrupt the power immediately when shorted and are required on all outdoor receptacles)

2.      OR, Pour a bucket or two of hot water over the surface of the pond until you have a foot wide hole in the ice.  Reapply enough to keep the whole open for a day.  Then let it freeze over again.

Deicers:  Pond deicers are made to be plopped into the pond before it freezes over.  They are made to be submerged so electrical shocks and shorts are not an issue unless you have curious pets that chew wiring.  These deicers are cheap to buy,(less than $50) but at 300 to 1500 watts, somewhat pricey to operate.

(At a typical $.12 per kilowatt price, a 1500 watt heater run continuously would cost about $4 per day to operate)

The better ones have thermostats so they are not running constantly.  A good substitute for a pond heater is a stock tank (horse trough) deicer.  They are built almost identically and can be purchased at most farm supply places like TSC at a lower price than a pond deicer.

In conclusion, only deice if your pond freezes solid for more than two weeks at a time.  Then open the ice gently at least a foot wide for a day, about every 10 days.

How long do you leave barley straw in a pond for algae management?

How long do you leave barley straw in the pond for algae management?

There appears to be some confusion about the use of barley straw to retard the growth of algae in ponds.  Some users have been directed to leave it in 60 days and then take it out.  Others were told it is only good for about a month. What is the real story?

Since I have probably sold more straw to more customers than anyone out there and have probably received more feedback on what works, I feel comfortable to advice on this subject.  Here’s the deal.  Put the straw in the pond any time of year and LEAVE IT THERE UNTIL ITS GONE. It the decomposition bacteria feeding on the straw that makes it work.  As long as there is straw there, it is working or will work as long as the water is or again warms to above about 45 degrees.  If after a period of effectiveness and while the water is still warm, if the algae begin to re-surge, you can add new straw to the pond.  But do not take out the old.  Even when the volume of the old straw diminishes, leave it in as it is well inoculated with the beneficial bacteria.  And, yes, it is recommended to leave it in over the winter as it will reactivate again in the spring when the water warms up.