Pond work for December/winter

Last updated Nov 2020. From a series written by Alec and Val Scaresbrook for Koi, Ponds and Gardens magazine.

If your pond is unheated, it will follow the seasons, so plants and any fish will be slowing down. Here’s what to do in December to make the most of winter.

Koi tip: If you do choose to feed your fish through the winter, use sinking pellets that will reach the fish in the warmer depths.

Plants of the month: dogwoods and cotoneasters
Project for koi keepers: start planning pond improvements
Project for fishkeepers – educate yourself
Pond and fish care: start a diary or logbook

Plants of the month

Many dogwoods have brightly coloured woody stems that show up well in winter once the leaves have fallen. Choose Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ for yellow stems, and C. alba ‘Elegantissima’ or ‘Sibirica’ for bright red stems. They are happy in sun or shade, but do need moist soil to thrive. For the brightest colours encourage new growth by cutting all the stems down to within 6in of the ground in spring. And to enjoy the colours to the full, plant in front of a plain background such as a conifer or painted fence.

Cotoneasters are another excellent plant for brightening up the garden. There’s a huge range of plants in all shapes and sizes, from ground huggers to wall shrubs and small trees. Some are evergreen and some drop their leaves (after giving a good autumn show) but all have masses of berries (usually red) that glow in the low winter sun. Cotoneasters are not fussy plants, growing in sun or shade, so all you have to do is pick the one that will not outgrow the space that you have for it. Trees add height, and low growing shrubs make a good backdrop in your garden.

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Project for koi keepers: Start planning pond improvements

Whether your plans are to buy more Koi, create an oriental backdrop to your pond, or travel to the home of Koi breeding itself, now’s a good time to do some research. Scrutinising the adverts in specialist magazines (not that many are left now that so much in only online – see one survivor: Practical Fishkeeping), browsing websites of koi-keeping equipment suppliers (eg specialists such as Absolute Koi, East Riding Koi Co, Five Acre Koi) and more general pond/fish-keeping equipment suppliers (eg Bradshaws Direct, Pondkeeper), and getting on the mailing lists of Koi dealers will keep you up to date with what’s available and for what price. With good background knowledge you’ll soon be able to spot a bargain at 10 paces.

You could begin a wish list of Koi, equipment and ornaments so that you know exactly what you’d buy should you have a windfall. And in the run up to Christmas, you could always leave your lists around the house in full view of those who usually buy you socks and hankies.

However, your plans may entail work rather than a shopping spree. Perhaps you’d like to extend or re-build your Koi pond. What about a fish-free pond, or a water feature? But where would be the best place to install them? With various online garden planning apps, you can re-arrange your garden time and time again without even venturing into the cold. Then there’s the most ambitious plan of them all – a trip to Japan. Start your information search at the UK office website of the Japanese National Tourist Organisation.

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Project: Educate yourself

For your own enjoyment and information, and for the well-being of your fish, make use of all this free time to find out as much as you can about your hobby.

There might be aspects that have always puzzled you which you can find the answer to by studying back numbers of the various koi and fishkeeping magazines (eg Koi Carp Magazine (now ceased publication but you might find old ones being given away via Freecycle, Freegle, Gumtree, or a koi keeper’s forum) or Practical Fishkeeping) or reading a good reference book on koi (see Foyles, Waterstones, and Wordery – for Wordery, select non-fiction from left-hand menu). Not only do these books provide answers to many queries, they also contain all sorts of fascinating background information.

The same goes for water gardening; in addition to articles on this website, there are lots of ideas in home and gardening magazines from Buy Subscriptions and Magazines Direct. Also Good Housekeeping ( which has a gardening section) and water gardening books on constructing ornamental ponds and attractive water features (eg from Foyles, Waterstones, Wordery).

You can’t beat talking to other water gardeners and fish keepers for hints and tips either, so it pays to track them down. Visit a relevant show to find out about national societies and local branches, and talk to your specialist supplier about any local clubs. Your library for information on local clubs too – for Koi keepers, water gardeners, garden designers or Japanese gardening enthusiasts.

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Keep a logbook/diary

If you don’t already keep one, start a logbook. It could be a loose-leaf file of punched paper or plastic sleeves, a bound exercise book, a diary or even a computerised spreadsheet. Decide what are the most important records to keep and how to note them for easy reference later. You’ll find it useful to keep one logbook for the pond and another logbook for its inhabitants.

In your pond logbook record the date, air and water temperatures, and water parameters. Also keep note of equipment, dates of purchase, servicing and repair, with receipts, warranties and contacts in case something goes wrong.

In your fish logbook, note their supplier, origin, breeder, characteristics on purchase, any health problems, symptoms and any treatment given. Record their growth too, their markings and how they change.

With records like these, you can look back with pleasure over the history of your various Koi, spot trends and improve your Koi keeping techniques. If you do suffer problems, you can also look back and see early indicators, and perhaps pinpoint a common cause, such as a supplier, or a different water treatment.

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