Did you know that the most common reason for winter fish loss is gasses getting trapped under the ice? It's really a lack of a pond de-icer? Yes! Often referred to as a "floating pond heater", they are invaluable to a Oklahoma ponds. Many people think it is because it got to cold or the fish froze.....not so.
A de-icer or heater doesn't exactly heat up a pond like a warm swimming pool. They actually keep one small area from freezing over. Gases form in the water when decaying organic matter like leaves break down. Gasses from the fish themselves build up in the water when it is iced over. These trapped gasses can actually suffocate the fish! A de-icer produces enough heat to keep the water from freezing around the unit. This allows these gasses to escape the pond. If you have lots of plants in your pond or more than 10 fish, you may want to consider using more than one de-icer to make sure there is enough ventilation.
Although fish don't do a lot in the winter, they do need oxygen. When aerators are used in combination with a de-icer the fish have a good supply of air and a way for off gasses to get out. This benefits the plants as well as the fish. To have healthier fish, plants and a thriving eco system use both throughout the winter.
Placement of Aerator
It is important that aerators are not placed at the bottom level of the pond. There is a thermo-climb temperature gradient with in the pond during the winter. Simply said, the bottom of the pond is warmer during the winter than the top because the earth is not frozen so far down. The more shallow the water gets, the colder the water gets. If an aerator disc is placed at the bottom level of the water, the fresh and very cold air that it brings in will disturb the natural temperature and make is too chilly for the fish. To avoid this, place aerators on a top shelf in the pond. No shelves in your pond? Tie the aerator disc on the side at the level it needs to be. Just use fishing line to attach it to something outside the pond.
Ok to Freeze!
It is actually ok for a pond to freeze over........as long as there is a hole for gases to escape. When snow accumulates on a pond, it acts as an insulator from the harsh winter wind and dry Oklahoma air. It keeps evaporation down and keeps the temperatures from fluctuating too much. In the picture above, you can see the that waterfall does have snow on it, but that the moving water is still moving under it. Moving water in pipes doesn't freeze! The hole with arrow pointing to it is from an aerator bubbling up. In very cold weather the water bubbbling can freeze over like a dome and may need to be broken up.
Be Careful with Outlets!
Typical outlets have circuit breakers of 15 or 20 amps and are 120 volt outlets. If GIFs are tripped during the winter, heaters, aerators and pumps can get shut off just when you need them to run. Pipes can freeze int eh middle of the night when pumps suddenly turn off. Be sure your circuit can handle the volts of equipment you need to plug in for the winter at the pond. Remember, that the circuit might be carrying load from the house as well.
As we all know, Oklahoma winters are hit and miss. We have had some Winters with lots of ice and snow and others with virtually none. If this years late October ice storm is any indication we are in for a long Winter! Now back to the topic at hand, below are my thought on needing/using de-icers and aeration for Winter fish care.
Well now you have a decision to make, do you "need" one or not for your Oklahoma Pond? If you are like me and do not travel much during the winter months and like to tend to your pond you DO NOT need a pond de-icer or aerator. Just make sure you always keep a hole in the ice and you will be fine.
On the other hand if you travel alot or just do not care to mess with your pond during the Winter get a pond de-icer or aerator and be done with it. Thus, you will not have to worry about your fish until Spring!
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Tim Trammell has been building, designing, servicing and maintaining pond in the Oklahoma City Metro area for over 20 years. His company Continental Ponds, is Oklahoma's first Master Certified Aquascape Contractor and is an national award winning pond and water feature builder.