Landscaping a pond into your backyard is a great way of giving it character and creating a tranquil space. In our modern lives, it can really pay to retreat to a quiet space every once in a while and reset.
The serene sounds and sight of water are scientifically proven to give people a feeling of calm, and you can’t argue with science.
The only thing that could make your backyard pond (see also ‘5 Cover Ideas For Your Backyard Pond‘) even more special is if you fill it with a thriving underwater ecosystem. However, as always, there’s a catch.
If you happen to live in a northern state where freezing through the winter is a regular occurrence, then knowing how to protect your fish from the big freeze is essential pond knowledge.
In this article, we will present you with a bunch of methods that will go a long way in keeping your pond fishies swimming, and all without electricity.
By ditching electricity, you will be able to dig your home pond anywhere that you very well please as well as save on maintenance costs – both very good things.
Table of Contents
Why Is a Frozen Pond a Problem?
If your pond is strictly an ornamental one, then its surface freezing over is not an issue (unless you were thinking of taking a Wim-Hof style dip in it).
The problem arises when your pond has fish and plant life that require an ice-free surface for their survival.
If you live in a state like Minnesota or Iowa where bitterly cold winters are a given, it’s safe to assume that you have already factored in freezing temperatures for your pond’s plant and fish species. This is an essential first step.
However, even the most cold-hardy fish and plant species can’t survive without oxygen. If your pond’s surface is to completely freeze over then the water underneath it won’t have a chance to aerate.
This is deadly news for the life underneath the ice.
If your pond does completely freeze over and its plant and fish life die as a result, then this is even worse news.
Rotting fish and plant life can form noxious fumes and other questionable toxins that would naturally filtrate into the air.
When the ice does eventually melt, these concentrated toxins could expel rather quickly and cause major concern for your entire family, and that includes the pets!
How To Prevent Your Pond From Freezing
There are multiple ways to prevent your pond from freezing without electricity. That’s not to say that any of them are 100% effective, but they will certainly help.
Obviously, it all comes down to where you live, and the subsequent weather conditions and temperatures that your pond will be faced with.
Have a read-through and think about the preventative methods that are likely to work best for where you live and your pond below.
We would suggest combining multiple measures is the best way to prevent the deep freeze from wreaking havoc over your pond this winter.
Adequate Pond Depth
An easy one straight out of the gates is to have a think about your pond’s depth. If you are yet to dig your pond, and you’re worried about the likelihood of it freezing, then it is imperative that you make it deep enough now to prevent any mishaps later.
If you recently bought a home with a pond and are eager to fill it with fish, make sure to measure its depth first. Why? Because it’s so much easier to dig it deeper before you fill it with fish.
If you find out after the fact that it’s not deep enough, you will need to re-home the fish while you dig and let the sediment settle down. This is both more effort and stress, and nobody wants that (especially your fish).
When it comes to a perfect pond depth, depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer every time.
However, to ensure that your pond doesn’t completely freeze, we would suggest digging it 18 inches deep at the bare minimum. If you can, digging your pond 24 inches would be preferable.
A deep pond won’t necessarily mean its surface will stop freezing. However, with enough water, if the surface does freeze for a day or two, your fish should be able to survive off the water oxygen alone.
Any longer than a couple of days though and your pond stock levels will be in grave danger of diminishing.
Solar Pond Aerator
The main goal for keeping your pond and plant species alive is ensuring there is at least one hole in the ice where carbon dioxide can escape and oxygen can enter.
Pond aerators are a very popular and effective means of ensuring that your pond doesn’t completely freeze over. Keeping the pond water moving will help reduce the chances of its surface freezing.
Unlike electric pond heaters which are super costly to run through the winter, solar pond aerators are a much cheaper alternative. Solar-powered pond aerators are free to run and ditch the reliance on electricity, but they do come with their downfalls.
They work perfectly fine during the daylight hours and on particularly sunny days, they work even better.
The problem is, that the months when your pond is most likely to freeze are the same months when daylight hours are minimal and the hours spent in darkness are extended.
This means that solar pond aerators may only be able to charge a little through the day and won’t have enough sustained charge to last the long and bitter nights.
One idea is to have both a solar panel and battery pack linked up to your pond aerator.
This will allow you to cut back on electricity costs while also ensuring your pond has good aeration at all times of the day and night through the depths of midwinter.
Solar Water Heater
A solar water heater is a no-electricity way to heat your pond water and keep your pond life alive through winter.
Now, we are all for renewable energy and the use of natural resources as a source of fuel, but solar water heaters do have their flaws.
Just like a solar water aerator won’t have a great output through winter, neither will a solar water heater.
If you can manage to sit the solar panels in a high-sun location without obstruction, then you will definitely get some use from a solar water heater.
However, the fact that a solar water heater also requires a pump to pump the water to and fro your pond in order to warm it means you will still need electricity to power the pump.
Yes, technically, you could use a solar pump in conjunction with a solar heater, but there will be days of no end when your backyard is severely lacking in sun, rendering the entire system useless.
For this reason, we would suggest not relying solely on a solar water heater, and instead, using it alongside an electric system in conjunction with the method below.
Placing a floating device into your pond is one of the most cost-effective and useful ways to prevent its surface from completely freezing over.
Almost every pond owner will use this trick as a no-fuss way to prevent ice from forming on their pond’s surface.
It is so effective that even farmers are known for using the age-old float trick to keep their farm animal water tanks ice-free through the winter.
Whether you go down the DIY route with saltwater-filled water bottles and ping pong balls, or you buy a specially-designed pond floating product matters little.
What does matter is that you have something, anything floating on your pond’s surface? This will go a long way in keeping its water moving and allow your fish to survive the deep freeze.
Obviously, the more floating devices the merrier, so fill up your pond and keep your fishies happy little swimmers.
Winterize Your Pond
A preventative method that will help your fish survive winter and freezing incidents is to winterize your pond. Winterizing essentially entails giving the pond a good and thorough clean before winter arrives.
This means getting down and dirty in your pond and removing any and all wayward debris and gunk leftover from decaying plant matter, fish food, and poop. It is this same decay that, if left to rot, will give off harmful gases when trapped under a sheet of ice.
When the mercury does drop, it is also advisable to cut back on the amount of food that you feed your fish. No, you’re not putting your fish on a strict winter diet to get them in shape for the coming summer.
Fish lose interest in food when it gets really cold because they are less active, and in their own way, almost go into hibernation.
Cutting back on food will ensure there is less wasted food sitting at the bottom of the pond. This, in turn, will be the root cause of a toxic gas event.
What Should You Do If Your Pond Does Freeze Over?
Even with every preventive method put in place, at certain times of the year, there is still a chance that your pond may completely freeze over.
If this happens, don’t jump into panic mode straight away, because you have time.
Depending on how many fish call your pond home, they should be able to survive under the ice for at least one day and probably a few more.
If a total surface freeze does occur, you will want to get a big bucket of warm water and pour it, in the same spot, until a hole in the ice forms.
Using boiling water may seem like a better (and quicker) idea to break through the ice (especially if it’s thick). However, it’s not, because boiling water could cause serious harm to your fish.
They could become inquisitive and intrigued by this sudden rush of water, swim towards it, and get burnt for their efforts. Warm water, although it will take longer, is a much safer idea.
Another thing to avoid is going into the garden shed and grabbing a hammer, pickax, or any other tool that could break a hole through the ice.
Your pond’s fish will have been enduring the cold in a meditative-like state and a sudden and extremely loud bang above them will stress them out like you would not believe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Does Water Freeze On The Top Of A Pond?
When the air temperature above a pond reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the water on the surface of the pond will become prone to freezing.
If the surface does freeze, the ice will stay on the surface because ice is less dense than water. This means it will essentially float above the rest of the pond water.
How Does The Water In A Pond Not Freeze If The Surface Has?
Water below the surface of a frozen-over pond can, quite astonishingly, plummet below 32 degrees Fahrenheit without actually freezing.
This phenomenon is known as “super-cooling” and it is a big reason for the survival of animals and plants that survive under ice through the winter without being frozen solid in ice themselves.
Can Fish Live In Frozen Ponds?
Yes, fish can live in frozen ponds so long as there is a sustained hole in the ice.
If you don’t regularly check your pond and the hole freezer over again after a particularly frosty night then the carbon dioxide created by the life underneath the ice crust will have no escape route.
Over time this will spell disaster for the fish and plants as they won’t be able to take in oxygen and be surrounded by a world of C02, which, as we all know, doesn’t bode well with life.
Can Fish Freeze And Come Back To Life?
Fish are incredibly hardy little creatures, so much so, that they can actually freeze and come back to life.
Although it’s not a nice way to spend any amount of time (even for fish) it is possible for them to be completed frozen in ice and come out swimming once the ice melts.
So there you have it. You now know the best methods for keeping a pond from freezing without electricity. Incorporating a few of these methods together is always the best policy when it comes to pond safety through winter.
For instance, a solar pond aerator coupled with multiple floating devices will keep the water moving and the surface stirred.
This will have the desirable knock-on effect of making it hard for a complete sheet of ice to form.
Implementing these methods before the weather gets too cold is the best chance you have of making sure your pond life survives the entire winter.
If your pond does freeze over, at least you’ll be prepared with a few proven remedies to rectify the problem before the oxygen levels plummet and the carbon dioxide can’t rise.
We hope very much that this article has been a useful one for you and that your backyard underwater ecosystem can thrive for many years to come.