When season cools, heat the water in the pond and stop feeding the fish

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

October 03, 2004|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

I've really enjoyed the goldfish in my garden pond and would like to keep them over the winter. Other than a heater, what else should I do? Someone said you don't feed the fish in the winter; is this correct?

Stop feeding goldfish when the water temperature drops below 55 degrees, usually in mid to late November. Install a floating stock tank heater to keep a small portion of the pond free of ice. This is important for oxygenating the water, not for keeping the fish warm. A good heater has a guard panel to keep the fish from touching the heating element. Cut back the frost-killed tops of hardy plants and discard tropical plants. You may need to cover the pond with chicken wire or netting to keep out falling leaves. Too much decaying vegetation uses up oxygen that fish need.

I have a new hibiscus. Do I need to bring it in? The one I had last year died after being left out.

Indeed, tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) should be brought indoors by the first frost. Beforehand, check carefully for pest insects and wipe them off or spray with insecticidal soap. Place in a cool indoor location where your hibiscus will get bright light, with some daily direct sunlight. Let the top inch or so of soil dry out before watering, but do keep the root zone moist. Your hibiscus may lose some leaves. Next spring give it a pruning and resume normal watering and fertilization with a balanced fertilizer, containing nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

I have just purchased an old home with an old yard. Many things are in the wrong places. I need help moving them.

Fall is a good time to transplant, particularly for perennials, peonies, and non-evergreen trees and shrubs. For needled evergreens, the earlier in fall the better; this gives roots more time to become established before harsh winter weather. (Exceptions that do better with spring transplanting include broad-leaved evergreens, dogwood, magnolia, birch, beech, sweet and black gum, fringe tree, golden raintree, sassafras, walnut, white and willow oak.) It's surprising how well plants tolerate transplanting.

Have the new planting hole already prepared, so that your plant is out of the ground for a minimal amount of time. Keep the plant moist at all times and protected from drying wind and direct sun. Do not fill the hole with peat moss or compost. If the soil needs improving, dig compost into the top 8 inches of soil over an area two or three times the root-ball diameter.

During dry spells, fill your planting hole with water once or twice the day before and let the water soak into the surrounding soil before you plant. Keep the roots as intact as possible with a generous root ball and replant the plant at the same level, not deeper (the soil will settle).


1. Plant tulips at a depth of 3-4 times the height of the bulbs. Be sure to incorporate a balanced fertilizer before planting.

2. Rake up and dispose of diseased leaves that have fallen from fruit trees and ornamental trees.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to www.hgic.umd.edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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