Planning to avoid pond winter kill

winter fish kills

It’s no secret that we are all drawn to water naturally. We flock to the beaches and oceans for our vacations. And if we are lucky enough to own property with streams or water nearby, we enjoy it.

I was fortunate enough, growing up, that my parents decided to put in a pond where we had a naturally wet and low spot in our pasture. It was perfect, and still is. It is filled with fish and bullfrogs, cattails and water lilies. My dad even built a dock. It has been a source of life and enjoyment, and many fond memories. But my parents have also taken care of it, and managed it well.

You can do maintenance on ponds, just like you would on your farm tractor or vehicle. And now might be a good time of year to do so.

Pond winter kill

We have been lucky to have relatively less harsh winters for the last couple of years. But if Mother Nature tells us anything, it is that we cannot predict her. If you have a pond that doesn’t have a spring feeding it, and we happen to have two or more months of below freezing temperatures, you could have a winter kill.

Aeration will prevent this from happening. There are several different types of aeration. The most common are sub-surface diffusers and floating fountain aerators. More energy efficient options are solar powered aerators and windmill aerators.

The bottom line is, when it comes to ponds, you can think of them as large scale fish tanks. If you ever had an aquarium or fish bowl, you know that you had to change the water, mainly to create oxygen — or your tank had to have a pump. Water needs to circulate and supply oxygen throughout the layers.

A fountain or diffused bubbler will also create oxygen in your pond, just like for a fish bowl or aquarium. This of course, is critical in any water environment with living organisms that need dissolved oxygen.


If you invest in water quality, taking care of your pond will be much easier. Depending on what type of aeration device you install, you might find that you really enjoy it. For example, a fountain can be aesthetically pleasing and help with aeration, and a bubbler type system works well too.

The added benefits are that both increase oxygen, and with the added water circulation, they decrease algae growth. You will naturally have a healthier pond.

Another less costly maintenance idea is to provide a buffer area around your pond’s edge — a natural grass barrier, if you will — that helps filter any runoff that may be entering your pond. Knowing the watershed, the land or drainage area around your pond and what type of potential nutrients may be entering it can allow you to minimize the impacts.

Thicker and taller grasses capture more runoff pollutants — and guess what? Those pesky geese don’t like it, either. They are wary that predators could jump out of the tall grass, so they prefer mowed lawns near ponds. Think of it as landscape modification. A 15- to 30-foot wide barrier of shrubs, ornamental grasses and tall perennials could be a beneficial change for your pond.


I recall ice skating and making a race track around our pond in the winter. Little did we know that shoveling the snow off of the pond, helped.

This was before we had an aeration fountain, so the ice was thick. But by removing 25-50% of the snow, we allowed enough sunlight in to permit sufficient photosynthesis to occur, which should have sustained oxygen levels under the ice, and prevented winter kill. We were just having fun, but we were actually helping our pond, too. Who knew?

People who have a pond or other water nearby can take steps to prepare and manage it in the future.

Each person may have a different vision for their pond, and ponds vary in their size, depth, shape and age. They are unique, and you may need a qualified expert to answer your questions or concerns, but I guarantee your investment now will be worth it for years to come. May you have a healthy and happy holiday and New Year.


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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at



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