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Article - Winterizing and Nature

Nature and Winter

Why can't I just let nature take care of my pond in winter?

All summer long, you’ve enjoyed the tranquility of the water garden-beautiful foliage, sounds of trickling water and colorful fish eagerly awaiting a handful of food.

The water garden didn’t get that way by itself. You added the right kinds of plants and fish to create a balanced ecosystem. The water gardens we create look beautiful and sustain life because we follow nature’s rules. It’s the same during the winter months.

Despite all outward appearances, the pond is active even when the water is cold or even frozen. Dead leaves, algae, insects and solid fish waste that have accumulated over the summer slowly break down during the winter months.

This natural decomposition uses oxygen and produces small amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that normally never reaches a harmful level. Few water gardeners realize that the pond must be balanced in winter too. Fish, frogs and other aquatic life are especially sensitive to poor water quality in winter.

A build-up of leaves and other organic matter can cause an imbalance, reducing oxygen to dangerously low levels and releasing poisonous hydrogen sulfide.

One autumn I decided to see how well nature would take care of my two ponds. I let the lily leaves die back naturally, falling into the pond. Leaves and sludge covered the bottom of the pond. What could go wrong? It looked natural. Come next spring when the ice melted, I was shoveling out black, stinky ooze garnished with dead snails, frogs and my prized fish. I learned my lesson well. Now I use a coarse net to remove dead leaves. I also use a fine weave aquarium net to remove sludge. You can reduce sludge build-up with bacterial "cleaning" products for water gardens.