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Gardening & More: Keep pond fish healthy all winter long, even under the ice

SALMON SAYS — To make sure the fish in your pond stay healthy from fall until spring, Jeff Salmon of Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping suggests making sure your pond is deep enough, cleaning out the debris and installing a bubbler or deicer. Photo courtesy of Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping.

BUFFALO — To help keep your fish happy and healthy in your pond, all winter, try these tips from Jeff Salmon, president of Arbordale Nurseries & Landscaping in Amherst.

A common mistake people make is that they install a shallow pond, perhaps 18 inches deep, as a garden feature. Then they decide to add fish.

“In year one, two and three, the fish may have overwintered fine,” Salmon said. “But now, they’re a foot long and their needs are totally different.”

You can’t reasonably sustain fish in a shallow pond over time. If you’re thinking about installing a pond and would like to add fish, make sure the pond is large enough to support them as they grow larger.

Once you have a pond, an important step is removing debris from the pond in the fall.

“Most fish don’t die in the winter,” Salmon said, “they die in May, after problems occur during the winter.”

During the winter, the fish decrease their activity. They don’t eat much and go into a state of torpor, which is like hibernation. It’s almost like suspended animation, Salmon said.

Their biggest threat is bacterial infections, so you need to get rid of anything that provides a home to bacteria.

Remove debris, including excess fish food and waste. Vacuum that out or use enzymes to help it break down. You want the bottom clear of debris.

You also need to remove plant material that can decompose and add debris to the pond that could breed bacteria. This usually becomes a problem in March and April, when the water warms up. You get algae blooms and in May, the fish die.

Another important step is to keep a hole in the ice of your pond, during the winter. You don’t need a big hole, and you don’t need to heat the whole pond, Salmon said, but you need a hole in the ice.

There are two ways to do this.

One way is to use an air bubbler. This device produces vigorous air bubbles to keep the hole open. It uses low wattage.

The other way is to use a deicer, which heats some of the water, to keep a hole open. It is more expensive than an air bubbler to run, however.

You can use one device or both, depending on your pond. If you have named your fish and they are pets, use both devices, Salmon said. Doubling up increase the chances, for your fish.

Salmon will provide more advice on closing your pond for the winter in a free class to be held at Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping, 480 Dodge Road, in Getzville. The class is about 45 minutes long and will cover what to do with pond equipment, fish care, cleaning, plant care and more. It is repeated on several different days.

Classes will be held at Arbordale at:

– 11 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 28.

– 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9.

– 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 19.

Register online at or call 688-9125, for more information.

Salmon will also give free classes on various topics at the Clearfield Library, 770 Hopkins Raod, Amherst. Register at the library or call 688-4955. Those classes are:

Pruning the Landscape, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16 at Clearfield Library

How and when to prune, tool selection, the difference between pruning and shaping and long-term plant health will be discussed, at length.

Landscape Design, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Clearfield Library

Plan before you plant. Bring photos of your project area for class discussion. Arbordale designers will challenge you to rethink how you use your outdoor spaces, your curb appeal, seasonal color, winter interest, privacy and more.

Indoor Gardening, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30 at Clearfield Library

Have you ever wanted to enjoy gardening, even in the cold winter months? Find out how to get started setting up your indoor garden. Determine what type of indoor set-up is right for you.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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