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Gardening & More: Keep fish in ponds healthy all winter

JUST KEEP SWIMMING — To make sure the fish in ponds stay healthy from fall until spring, Jeff Salmon of Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping suggested making sure water is deep enough, cleaning out the debris and installing a bubbler or deicer. Photo courtesy of Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping.
HAMBURG — 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 to 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 cannot reasonably sustain fish in a shallow pond for a long period of time. If you are 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 cold season, the fish decrease their activity. They do not eat much and they go into a state of torpor, which is like hibernation. This is almost like suspended animation.

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

Remove debris, including excess fish food and fish waste. Vacuum this out or use enzymes to help break it down. Clear the bottom of debris.

Remove plant material that can decompose and add debris to the pond, potentially breeding 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.

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, but you do need a hole.

There are two ways to accomplish this.

Use an air bubbler. This device produces vigorous air bubbles, to keep the hole open, and 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.

You can use one device or both, depending on your pond. If you have named your fish and they are pets, use both devices, to be on the safe side.

Salmon will provide more advice about closing ponds for the winter, during a free class scheduled for Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping, located at 480 Dodge Road in Getzville.

The class will last for approximately 45 minutes and will cover working with pond equipment, fish care, cleaning, plant care and more. It will be repeated on several different days.

Classes will be held at Arbordale at: 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28; 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9 and 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19.

Register online at or call 688-9125.

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

– “Pruning the Landscape,” 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

This will include information about how and when to prune, tool selection, the difference between pruning and shaping and long-term plant health.

– “Landscape Design,” 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

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” will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

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 if indoor set up is right for you.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. For more information about this column, email her at

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