Pond work for October

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Last updated July 2014.
From a series written by Alec and Val Scaresbrook for Koi, Ponds and Gardens magazine.

Here’s what pond work to do in October.

Koikeeper tip:
By now, if temperatures are typical for October, you should only be using winter feed. Stop feeding altogether once the water temperature drops below 8°C.

Plantcare in October – protecting plants
Plant of the month: Cyclamen hederifolium
Project: add a waterfall
Project: add lighting
Pond equipment/fish care: monitor water temperature
Fish care: deter predators

Plant care in October – protect plants

Not all pond and garden plants can survive frosts so if you live in a mild area there’s still time to bring tender container plants into a frost-free place over winter. Border plants that are well established (such as Gunnera manicata) but are affected by hard frosts can be protected with a covering of their own leaves, straw or sacking. This then protects the most vulnerable part of the plant near to the soil’s surface.

Some water plants, such as water soldier (Stratiotes aloides), survive the winter by sinking to the bottom of the pond where it is warmer. However, others (for example, water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), water chestnut (Trapa natans) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)) will need removing and putting in a warm place for winter. Gather them up and keep them together in some shallow water with good daylight in a heated conservatory, greenhouse or garage. To overwinter them in the house you could even make use an old fish tank. Alternatively, you can treat water plants like annual bedding plants by discarding them now, and replacing them next year once the weather warms up.

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Plant of the month: Cyclamen hederifolium

This autumn-flowering cyclamen makes a fine carpet of colour beneath a hedge, tree, or planted in a lawn. Just as everything else is closing down for winter this tuber brightens up the garden by pushing up 6in high rose-pink or white flowers. Once it has finished flowering, the marbled lobed leaves will appear.

For an instant display, look out for pots of Cyclamen online or from garden centres. Plunge these pots into the ground and then plant the contents next spring, but make sure that when you do this, you create a large planting hole to avoid disturbing the pot’s contents. Alternatively, wait and buy rooted tubers next summer and plant them out straight away. You can buy seeds but it will take a couple of years before the plants flower.

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Project: Add a waterfall

A new waterfall feature in your garden is easy to achieve in a day if you’ve planned it all carefully in advance. Choose materials to compliment your existing set-up. Pre-formed units are available from most water garden centres, but it’s a good idea to phone and check first, or buy online from specialists such as Bradshaws Direct or Pondkeeper.

For more design flexibility, use rockery stone from your local quarry (if such a thing exists) or stone suppliers, including some builders’ merchants and garden centres. Such stone is usually sold by weight, and you really need to select the individual pieces of stone for the most useful shapes and sizes for your project (and your back). Don’t forget to factor in the delivery charge either.

Place your waterfall on a natural slope, or make an artificial mound of building blocks or bricks disguised with rockery stone and soil at the sides. Route the supply pipe from the pump to the top of the waterfall, making sure it’s accessible but easy to hide. If using the filter return fit a bypass for winter use.

Position pre-formed waterfall units carefully. Bed them into a mortar mix (5:1 sand:cement) and check the sides with a spirit level. Place protective underlay before positioning rocks, and then a waterproof liner, and check the sides are level. Once you are satisfied with the design, mortar the larger rocks into place and disguise the rest of the liner with smaller pieces, pebbles or gravel to give a natural appearance.

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Project: add lighting

Extend your enjoyment of your pond with some lighting – either submerged or around the pond, or both. Read more about what’s possible on our pond lighting page.

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Pond equipment: monitor water temperature

It pays to monitor water temperature all year round, but it is particularly important in autumn because this is the time when Koi keepers need to switch from giving a protein feed to a carbohydrate one, and then stop altogether. For those of you with a heated pond, you need an indicator that all is well and the desired temperature is being maintained.

Simple floating thermometers (from Bradshaws Direct and Pondkeeper) that can be left permanently anchored to the side of the pond are readily available, but only measure the surface temperature. For an accurate guide to what’s happening further down you’ll need to find a koi specialist for a digital thermometer with a remote sensor. It’s also important to know the maximum and minimum temperatures that occur daily in your pond, and some electronic thermometers can record this too. Even better though are the wireless sensors that enable you to keep an eye on the temperature from indoors. These units have a range of 100ft and can take three sensors. This allows you to monitor the situation in different parts of the same pond, or several ponds all at once.

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Fish care: deter predators

Remain alert to the threat of predators in autumn because cats are just as curious now as they are in the summer, and herons are just as hungry.

Design your pond surround so that cats can’t take up a comfy position to dabble from, or use a cat deterrent. Ultrasonic devices can be very successful if set up carefully, emitting a signal that is unpleasant to cats so they won’t linger. The signal can’t be heard by humans but can damage our hearing, so switch them off when you are working in the garden. Alternatively there are devices (eg from Bradshaws Direct and Pondkeeper) that shoot out a jet of water when the sensor is triggered, but are not much use during freezing weather, and you do have to remember to turn them off before you go into the garden, otherwise you end up with a soaking.

Herons can be deterred by a variety of means (see Bradshaws Direct and Pondkeeper) with the simplest being a trip wire around the pond’s edge, since these birds wade in to catch their prey. You could combine this with a birdscarer device too. A pond net is also a possibility but remember that a sagging net can provide birds with a fishing platform, and nets also distort plant growth. Other measures to prevent heron predation involve provision of hiding places for the occupants of the pond, such as with overhanging evergreens, pergola or a bridge. However, don’t bother with a plastic heron – the birds are not that territorial, and we’ve seen several herons in the wild fishing close to each other.

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