Wondering what to do with your pond in the Winter?

If you are new to ponding and winter is approaching you probably have a few questions!
Before this Summer Garden


Turns into this Winter Garden

You should read this!!

Do you have a pond and live some place where your photo Christmas cards might contain photos of snow taken from your own back yard? Are your Christmas cards more likely to feature pine trees instead of palm trees? If so, you are probably familiar with the idea of the winterizing list. Its all those chores that need to be done as the nights get colder and probably starts with raking fallen leaves, has changing the car tires somewhere in the middle and ends with shopping for Christmas cards and the Thanksgiving turkey. If that's the case, and you have a pond, its time to add another line item to that list of yours! First things first. I live in Louisville Kentucky in the good ole USA. Zone 6. We usually see at least a few days below zero F each winter. Some winters we see more than a few. It's normal for our ground to freeze down a few inches or so. It rarely freezes deeper than 6 inches but it has happened in the past. We've had 20 inch snows but 2-6 inches at a time is more likely.

This page is based on my meager experience with my tiny goldfish pond under these conditions. If you have winters that are drastically different than this, you might as well move on down to the links area where you can jump out to folks who have experience with colder or warmer winters.

The FAQs begin here, there are links down page a ways.

Remember -- these FAQs are for zone 6 type weather unless otherwise noted!!

  1. What the heck is a FAQ anyway?
    FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions.

  2. What happens to my fish in the winter?
    This is probably the #1 question! In my zone, they stay in the pond. When the water starts to get cold, say around 40 degrees, they mostly stop activity and drift down to hover near the bottom of my pond. This is a good time to do a head count!

  3. Do I take my fish in the house in winter?
    See FAQ #2. Not around here. Remember I am talking about Goldfish, NOT tropical fish.
    Some folks do put tropical fish in their ponds in summer but those tropical fish gotta go inside for winter!
    Goldfish and Koi can stay outside with some help from you.

    Goldfish have been known to freeze in solid ice and survive but this is NOT recommended. If you let your fish freeze they might die and if they don't die, they will definitely be mad at you!

  4. Do I feed my fish in winter?
    General consensus is to stop feeding your fish when the water reaches 40 - 50 degrees F.
    I'm not quite that scientific. When my fish appear to be in slow motion I cut way back on the feeding - only once or twice a week. When my fish stop coming up to the top to greet me with open mouths, I stop feeding them!

  5. What about my filter and waterfall?
    If you have an out-of-the-pond type filter, you need to drain and clean it before it freezes.
    Remember, if your pipes or hose freeze and break, your pond water will turn your backyard into a skating rink and your fish will get mad at you!
    Some folks leave their waterfall running. If you do this, you should keep an eye on it for ice damming. If it ice dams, the water could be diverted to your backyard and once again, your fish will be mad at you.

  6. What about my pond plants?
    If you have any floating non hardy plants, you want to toss them on the compost pile at the first signs of "freezer burn" in the Fall.
    Generally you should trim the tops off most hardy plants and set them in the water at a depth that will not freeze solid.
    For more specific information on over wintering your pond plants see the links section below.

  7. What do I do about ice covering my pond?
    You want to keep a hole in the ice somehow. There are different ways to do this.
    One way to keep a hole in the ice is to leave your waterfall running or to set your pump on a shelf near the surface and point it's output at the surface.

    Another way is to get an aquarium air pump, several feet of air hose and an airstone. Place the air pump in a coffee can and slit the lid to let out the hose and power cord. The can will keep the weather off your air pump. Place the air stone a few inches under the surface of your pond and the rising bubbles will keep a hole in the ice.
    Lay a piece of PVC pipe across your pond with the air line taped to it. This will help hold the airstone in the center and at the right depth. (4 to 6 inches under the surface)

    You can buy a livestock watering tank floating heater. These are available from farm stores, pond stores and even pet food stores. They generally have a built in thermostat and will switch off and on to keep the water above freezing.
    They are usually around 1500 watts and this can add up to 20 or 30 bucks a month or more for electricity, depending on your rates and the weather.

    And now a word from your guardian angel: Remember WATER AND ELECTRICITY don't mix!!
    Actually they do mix in lots of VERY BAD ways. Always use caution, use ground fault outlets and keep power cords and ALL non-submersible devices well away from your pond!
    If you drop your extension cord in the water and then reach in after it, even your guardian angel may not be able to save you!
    Use common sense and follow all local and national laws concerning electricity, especially around water!

    (Plus if you do anything dumb with electricity around your pond, your fish will get mad at you!)
    We now return you to our regularly scheduled pond FAQs.

  8. What if I goof up and my pond freezes over anyway?
    Don't panic and hit the ice with a hammer to make a hole!! The shock-wave may injure your fish and it will for sure give them a headache and they will be mad at you!
    Most farm ponds freeze over all the time and those fish usually don't die from it.
    YOUR pond probably has a lot more fish per gallon of water than a farm pond so you should try to keep a hole in the ice for gas exchange.
    You can set a pan of hot water on the ice to melt a hole. Don't forget it or you will wind up with a pan frozen in the ice and then when you have company they will see the pan sticking out of your pond and you will have to go into this long and boring explanation about fish and water quality and gas exchange and why keeping a hole in the ice is a good and proper thing to do!

    I suppose you could use a blow drier to melt a hole in the ice but if you do that and your neighbors see you and call the guys in the white coats, you'll have to do some fast talking.

  9. When can I start feeding my fish in the Spring?
    See FAQ #4 above. I feed my fish when they come up to the top with open mouths and no longer look like they are in slow motion!

  10. I've got more questions that you didn't answer, what now???
    Please see the notes and links below and remember, any advice you get from me or most other web pages may be worth just what you paid for it!

Some general Fall pond notes, thoughts and er...... ponderings!

Remember, doing a little around the pond in the Fall, when it's nice outside is WAY better than being out there in freezing cold weather and freezing cold water trying to do something you should have done weeks ago when it was nice outside!

Leaf net over fish pond
If you have a relatively small pond, here is an easy and CHEAP way to keep the leaves out.

Black netting from the fabric department at Wal-Mart

If you need a wider piece, sew 2 or more together.

I have used the same net for 3 years and it's still in good shape. I think I spent all of about 6 bucks for the material!
Leaves in your pond are not a good thing. If there is a tree within 1/2 mile of your pond, the wind will blow it's leaves into your pond unless you take steps to prevent this from happening.

Keep the net out of the water with boards, pvc pipes or ropes so the leaves that fall on it won't sit in the water. Leaves in your pond, whether in a net on loose on the bottom will rot and make the water taste bad to your fish. If you let the water get bad tasting, your fish will be mad at you.

There are bound to be some leaves get in your pond no matter what you do. A few leaves in the pond aren't a big deal but a lot of leaves can be! Use a rake to pull out what you can.

If you shut down your pump for winter, you should remove it, clean and dry it and store it somewhere it won't freeze.

Don't get crazy!! It's a pond. There are ponds in nature that survive very nicely year after year! Wintertime is when you plan on improving your gardens NEXT summer.

Remember that lawn grass is simply flower gardens and ponds waiting to be dug.
The gardeners call to arms "I'll do it better next year" applies here!!

Links to other sites with pond goodies and tips.

I'll be glad to add your winterization and general pond links if you drop me a line with the URL.

These links are only a few of the many pond related sites out there.
I'll try to keep them current but there is no guarantee they will all work.

Commercial sites




"I feel closest to God when I'm sitting in my His garden".

I welcome email from my friends! You are invited to click the mail-dove to send me a message OR you may hand type my address into your message.
My address is "dan at ky-dan dot com". It looks funny when written out this way but it should fool those darn spammer robots that visit web sites gathering email addresses.

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This page created on October 24, 2000. Some links updated February 2010.
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