As the weather starts to cool down in the fall, you'll want to keep an eye on the temperatures and be ready to start your cold-weather feeding schedule. This helps keep your fish healthy as they prepare for winter and your pond clean and free from uneaten fish food. A clean fall pond makes the transition to winter and closing down your pond much easier and safer for your fish. Learn more about pond fish care in the fall.
Have a Winter Plan
Fall maintenance is all about preparing for winter and closing down your pond. During the fall, you should plan out your winter strategy and how you'll shut down your pond for the season.
If your pond is deep enough, you can overwinter your fish in the pond, removing water features and letting the surface ice freeze over (but always keeping a section of the ice open). If you don't want to overwinter your fish outside (or your pond is too shallow), you can move them indoors in a temporary tank for the colder months.
Feeding Your Fish in the Fall
Fish are cold-blooded, like reptiles and amphibians. Humans and other mammals are warm-blooded; we create our own heat by converting the food we eat into energy. We also cool ourselves down when we get too hot. Cold-blooded creatures rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. They're more active in warmer weather and become slow and sluggish in cooler weather.
Fish's metabolisms and digestive systems begin to slow down in the late fall and, during the winter, almost stop completely. They barely swim and do not need to eat during the peak time of winter. If they choose to eat, the undigested food in their stomachs can cause sickness or even death.
Tip: In the summer months and early fall, feed your fish as much as they can eat in about three to five minutes. During these more active times, fish need to build up a layer of fat to keep them healthy while overwintering in the pond.
Fall Feeding Schedule
Once the water temperature drops to 70°F, it's time to start your fall feeding schedule. The colder the water gets, the less active your fish's immune systems will be. They need (and can only digest) less food compared to the warmer months.
When water temperatures drop below 60°F, you can start incorporating wheat germ into their diet and their normal fish food. Wheat germ is more easily digestible than your pond fish's normal higher-protein diet.
Tip: Use a waterproof thermometer (one designed for pools works) to determine the water temperature of your pond. Just because it's 70°F outside doesn't mean that that's the temperature of your pond. The water temperature could be much cooler or warmer than what it feels like outside.
Keeping Your Pond Clean
Once the leaves start to change, you know fall is just around the corner. Unfortunately, fall leaves can cause problems in your pond. It can't handle the breakdown of large leaves, especially in cooler weather, when the beneficial bacteria are less active.
Removing debris from the pond's surface before it can settle to the bottom is important. Scoop out leaves with a fish net or install pond netting. If leaves settle to the bottom of your pond, you can remove them manually with a pond vacuum or use a water treatment like a Sludge Remover.
Fish become more vulnerable to stress and illness during the fall and winter as their immune systems are less active. Water quality is vital for fish health, especially during this time of the year.
Once ice begins forming on the pond's surface, the gases can become trapped, and the water cannot allow oxygen to enter and gases to escape. Keeping your pond clean during the fall is essential for successfully closing down your pond for the winter.
Fall is a beautiful transitional time of year. Summer slowly fades as the weather gets cooler and the trees change color. It's important to prepare your fish in the fall for the winter, especially if you will be keeping them in your pond during the winter. Fish need less food as the pond gets cooler. Their metabolisms and immune systems slow down, so it's essential to keep your pond nice and clean so your fish stay healthy as you head into winter.