Although summer is still going strong, if you live in an area that experiences the changing of seasons, it’s time to get your customers thinking about preparing their ponds for winter. What climate zone you’re in, how large and deep a pond is, and what type of fish and plants are in it will determine what pond owners have to do to make it through to spring successfully.
This is a key time for establishing your store as a source of reliable information and quality pond products. Set up a pond winterizing display in the store with all the items they’ll need, and create a checklist for customers of the things they need to do and the items they need to buy.
Prepping the Pond
The first consideration should be the fish. In climate zones 5 through 7, ponds should have an area at least three feet deep to safely overwinter fish in the pond. Remember that many koi and pond goldfish these days are raised in warmer climates such as Southeast Asia and the southern United States, so these fish may not do well over winter in severe climates. These fish and those kept in shallower ponds should be brought in for winter, especially in more northern areas. Put together a few mid-size to larger aquarium setups designed specifically for pond fish with oversized filters and place them near your winterizing pond display.
If fish are going to be left in the pond over winter, the bottom should be vacuumed in fall using a Python Ulti-Vac or similar product. Leaves and organic debris deplete oxygen as they decompose, and this can be especially problematic where the surface freezes over, sealing the pond off and preventing gas exchange. Python Products also makes high quality pond nets for skimming leaves and removing larger bottom debris, as well as well-designed display racks. Make sure you stock and recommend pond-specific water conditioners such as Tetra Pond AquaSafe, Laguna Water Prep or API PondCare Stress Coat to remove harmful chlorine and chloramines when hobbyists fill their ponds up after vacuuming.
Keeping an opening in the ice is critical to a fish’s survival when ponds freeze over. De-icers like the Laguna Power Heat and Pondmaster’s Pond De-icer should be installed well before freeze-over, but keep them in stock well into winter months, as hobbyists often wait until the first hard freeze to install them. The Laguna Pond Closing kit is also a great turnkey value as it includes their PowerHeat De-Icer, Aeration Kit, protective netting and Spring/Fall Goldfish & Koi pellets. Where long term freeze overs are less likely to occur, aerators such as the Tetra Pond APK 100 or Laguna’s Aeration Kit will maintain oxygen levels in winter as well as during hot summer months, and are a great investment for any pond owner. They can also be used in conjunction with de-icers to help maintain a larger opening in the ice.
The question of whether or not to leave ponds filled or empty during winter often comes up and there are different opinions, depending on who you ask. Most experts recommend keeping a pond filled with water to prevent damage from ice and falling branches, and to prevent ground heave from below. Pond netting should also be installed across the surface to keep leaves out, especially if fish are to be left in water over winter.
In severe climates, waterfalls, streams and fountains should be turned off and pumps, UV sterilizers, canister and internal filters and all filter media should be brought indoors for storage. Submersible pumps should be stored in water to prevent seals from drying out. This is a great time to offer a pump, filter and UV sterilizer overhaul service so these items are ready to go in spring. Make sure you have impellers, seals and other service parts in stock for the products you sell.
Prepping the Fish
Feeding wheat germ food as cooler weather approaches helps prepare fish for the rigors of winter life. TetraPond Spring and Fall Diet and Hikari Wheat Germ Food are excellent choices that come in differently sized packages to accommodate a variety of needs. Keep plenty on hand and advise shoppers to slowly transition their fish over to it and to cut back on feeding as the water cools and their fish begin eating less. When water temperatures drop below 50° F, or when fish show little interest in food, pond owners should stop feeding altogether.
What About the Plants?
Lilies and other potted winter-hardy plants should be trimmed of all foliage and either moved to the deepest part of the pond or brought indoors. This is a good time to divide and repot overcrowded plants, so keep planter baskets in stock and include this on your “Things to Do” hand-out list. Tropical plants should be brought indoors and housed under high quality lighting such as CoraLife’s Aqualight high output T5 dual lamp fixtures or Marineland’s Reef LED lights.
Many pond owners procrastinate and leave things to the last minute, so getting them thinking about what to do in advance will save them a lot of stress and anxiety. Get the word out early on your store website and social media venues as well. And make sure your staff is trained to provide the advice and products necessary to see your pond customers through the winter. Your customers will thank you and you’ll be sure to see them in spring when they open their ponds for the new season!