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North Central USA 

Was That Your Shadow?

by Joe Summers

You know the story. A groundhog is pulled from his burrow at the local zoo. If he sees his shadow, you will have six more weeks of winter. In the event that he does not see his shadow, an early spring is on its way. Most of our region, the upper midwest of the United States, has been cheated out of winter thus far. January was the third warmest in recorded weather history. But there is still hope for those who do enjoy winter weather. Historically, a colder than average February follows a warm January. Along with the colder temperatures, February promises to include more than normal snowfall.

Let’s learn together how a cold winter has advantages over a warm winter. Most pond owners do not realize that a warm winter can cause more problems for their pond’s ecosystem. The easiest problem to spot is string or hair algae. String algae just loves the cool flowing water found in streams and waterfalls. During a typical winter you may have warm spells that result in algae growth, but the cold snaps keep the algae from overtaking the pond. During a warm winter the pond temperature may be in the 40s and 50s, ideal growing conditions for string algae. String algae can become very unsightly if not treated.

Your pond fish should be of concern when your pond temperatures are in the 40s and 50s as well. When the water temperatures hover in this zone, your finned friends still are in a dormant or suspended state. Yet diseases and parasites are active and reproducing. These diseases and parasites can and do “attack” the fish during the winter. Careful observation keeps you in touch with your fishes’ health. Many treatments can be applied to prevent larger outbreaks. Do not use medicated fish food during the winter months. In fact no fish food should be offered until the water temperatures reach and stabilize in the mid 50s. In our region, it is not until Mid-March that your fish should be permitted to eat processed food again.

Our final reason for wanting a colder winter for your pond is purely artistic. Yes, your pond can be breathtakingly beautiful in the winter. The ice sculptures are wonderful. A waterfall can create layer on layer of ice candy that only grows more satisfying the longer it stays cold. Add a blanket of soft pure white snow and you will be amazed at the amount of time you spend enjoying the muffled sounds of moving water. In the evening after sunset your underwater lights pop on and you will again find yourself pondside, warming your spirit from the glowing jewels in the water.

In the US, the groundhog did see his shadow and retreated for at least six more weeks. This gives us more time to enjoy the winter pond. It also gives us more time to plan on the new plant introductions and fish additions to consider for 2006.

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