Winter pond care is not complicated but there are essential tasks to look after to ensure your fish and plants survive the cold, winter months. I’ll show you what to do in fall, winter, and spring.
This is part of a series on Backyard Pond Ideas, which has everything you need to build and care for your fish pond.
NEW! Click play to listen:
Subscribe to our free podcast here: Two Minutes in the Garden.
I live in southwestern Ontario, Canada where winter temperatures dip to around -20°C (-5°F).
When I got my first pond, I kept hearing that there was no way I could keep the fish alive (and happy) all year round in a cold climate in a pond that was less than 2-feet deep. Thankfully, that was not correct.
The basic principle for winter pond care is, as long as the water is circulating and there is an air hole, fish and plants should be fine.
It doesn’t matter how deep the pond is, it just matters that the water is moving and not frozen. You also want to be sure the fish can go deep enough to avoid the hands of winter predators like raccoons.
The fish we’re talking about are cold water fish such as goldfish. You would not keep tropical fish in a garden pond in a cold climate.
If you are in a much colder climate than I am, I’m guessing it would require too much energy to keep a pond running throughout the winter, but it does not take much in a moderate cold climate like mine.
Pond Care Tips & Project Ideas
In the Fall
1. Lower Potted Pond Plants
Hardy plants (not tropical) and cold water fish can survive in a cold pond so long as they don’t freeze.
The fish will go dormant, gathering near the bottom of the pond where the water temperature is warmer.
A recirculating pump will keep the water moving, preventing it from freezing up. On warmer, sunny days, the fish may be more active near the surface.
Tropical aquatic plants should be removed and stored indoors. It’s also time to remove any debris including dead and decaying plants and leaves.
During the Winter
2. Check Pond Daily
Make sure the pump is running and there is always a hole in any ice surface that forms over the pond. Unhealthy gases can form under pond ice and poison the fish. Plus, the wildlife in your garden will rely on this fresh, moving water for hydration.
It’s amazing how many animals come to drink at my pond on a cold, winter day!
3. Have a Spare Pump Ready to Go
Buy an additional recirculating pump so you have a backup in case your main pump stops working.
If the temperature is below freezing, you won’t have much time to swap out pumps so always have a spare on hand.
4. Use a De-Icer
You can also use a floating pond heater.
Pond heaters are electric-powered, floating plastic disks with heat coils inside. You may see them sold as de-icers for livestock water troughs.
I use de-icers (pond heaters) in both of my ponds.
You do have to watch for warm spells though: the added heat (and light) will then encourage algae growth which starts speeding up at 16°C (60°F).
But, in the cold winter weather, they are excellent for keeping a section of the pond water liquid and not frozen.
In the Spring
When the risk of freezing temperatures is over, raise the plants back up to their usual positions, clear out any algae (I used a forked hoe), clean the pump filter (see my trick here for filtering pond water without chemicals), and the fish will take care of themselves.
Winter pond care is pretty simple. If you take care to keep the water running, your fish and hardy plants should be fine when spring returns.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛