Maintaining Your Water Feature

You can find a lot of different opinions on the subject of water feature maintenance on the internet. I am constantly adding to the way in which I maintain features depending on the individual feature, as well as new research. The reason for installing your pond to begin with was to lower the stress in your life, instead of adding to it. 

Let me share with you some of what I’ve picked up along the way … the way to achieve a low maintenance water garden is to keep your new ecosystem in balance! 

Each of the following are involved in your feature

Mechanical and Biological Filters

Pumps and Plumbing

Rocks and Gravel

Aquatic Plants


The skimmer should be checked every week, and emptied if needed. We will add bacteria with each monthly visit.

Pondless Waterfalls 

These are easier to maintain. They can be run 24 hrs. a day, or turned off as needed. A auto-fill is recommended with the pondless water falls as with any feature.

If you hear the pump “gurgling” or sucking air, you know it is time to add water. 

General Maintenance 

The Skimmer 

Depending on the season, the skimmer should be checked weekly. Again; Every pond is different, so you may find it fine to check the skimmer once a month if there is little debris in the net. Too much debris can slow down the water flow which can cause the auto-fill to add water and cause the pond to overflow.

Filter Mat 

The filter mat below the debris basket is the second stage of the skimmer. The mat is designed to handle any debris that finds its way past the basket. The mat will not need maintenance as frequently as the basket, since the basket will remove the majority of debris from the water. The mat may need replacing every couple of years.

The Pump 

Sometimes the debris may get by the filters and impede the flow of water through the pump. The pump may need to be removed and the debris cleaned out.

BioFalls (Water Fall)

The BioFalls filter is where beneficial bacteria grow which help keep the water clear. They should need cleaning only once a year. Replace these when they begin to disintegrate.

The Water Level 

Every pond will experience a little evaporation. It is not uncommon to loose 1/4” to 1/2” a day on hot windy days. The amount of water loss due to evaporation depends on wind, splashing water, temperature and stream turbulence.

For this reason we suggest an auto-water fill be installed. This is usually connected to your outside house faucet.

Fall and Winter Maintenance 

Trim any yellow or dead leaves off of the plants.

Stop fertilizing when the weather becomes cooler. This lets the plants know the season is coming to an end.

When the water temperature is around 55 F° (10° C), stop feeding your fish. Continuing to feed them could cause health problems or death for them, since their digestive systems are beginning to slow down for the winter.

As leaves fall empty the skimmer net daily. Net out leaves that have settled, leaving a few in the pond to give insects and frogs a place to over winter.

Activated charcoal will help clear the tannin from brown water. This is usually caused by oak tree leaves, pollen, and acorns.

As it gets colder, your aquatic plants will have all but died for the season. Now you can cut back the dead plant material and remove the tropicals. Cut back the cattails above the water level, or better yet, leave them up to see how magnificent they look in the winter.

Pond Shutdown for the winter....

If you’re fortunate enough to be where it stays warm all year round, you’re set for the winter.

If you live up north, where the surface of the pond freezes, you’ll need to prepare for winter by deciding whether you want to keep your pond running or shut it down.

To shut your pond down, first unplug your pump and pull it out of the water. The pump should be stored in a frost-free location, submerged in a bucket of water to keep the seals from drying. In some cases this may not be necessary.

A small re-circulating pump can be added to keep a hole open and add oxygen. I now use air pumps which have been more reliable. For backup I advise deicers. Controlled by a thermostat, the unit only runs when the water temperature is at or below freezing, heats the water to just above that, and then shuts off again.Deicers should be kept away from the bubbler/small pump because it moves the water causing the heater to turn on when not needed.

This is needed only if you have fish.It is not necessary to oxygenate the water or keep a hole open in the ice if you don’t have fish. If your pond does freeze over, DO NOT break the ice with a hammer as it can do harm to the fish. Pore hot water on one spot which should melt a hole large enough for oxygen exchange.

You can also choose to keep the waterfall running.  Keep an eye on any ice damn that may cause water to over-flow. You will also still need to replace water loss so the pump can continue to function properly. This extra effort during the winter will reward you with the most beautiful ice formations and patterns around the falls and stream beds.

Have a great time with your water feature. Timely maintenance will give you much enjoyment. Let us know if you need any further help.

Spring Maintenance 

Spring is simply the most exciting time of year. As things slowly awaken from their winter hibernation, there are some things that you can do to make sure your water feature gets off to a good start this spring. 

Does your water feature need a full clean-out this season or does it just need to be tidied up a little? There are a couple of things that you can look for to help you decide. First, if there is a layer of “crud” at the bottom of the pond and the water is dark in color, it would be a good idea to do a full clean-out. 

On the other hand, if there is just a small amount of debris that you can stir up and capture with a net and the water looks clear, a little tidying up is all that’s in order. Plan on spending a half to a full day to complete a pond clean-out. A pondless waterfall will take considerably less time. 

We can determine which course to follow. The best time to perform a pond clean-out is the early spring, before your water garden completely awakens from its winter dormancy – ideally before the water temperature in the pond creeps above 55º F. If a clean-out is performed when the water is warmer, after bacteria colonies form, the balance of the ecosystem will again be thrown off and your pond will go through another “green phase” before the bacteria colonies re-establish themselves again. 

If you have fish, use some of this pond water to fill up the holding pool. The fish can be removed from the pond using a net once the water is low enough so you can easily catch them.

Don’t keep the fish in the holding pool for more than several hours. Keep them in a shady spot with a net over the top of the pool to prevent them from jumping out.

Cleaning the Filters

Remove any debris from the bottom of the skimmer.

Remove the media nets and filter pads from filter. Once the filters have been removed rinse them free of accumulated debris.

The filter media and mats can be put back into place and the waterfalls pump can be reattached in the skimmer.

Putting Your Fish Back Into Their Clean Home 

Your pond clean-out is now done and it’s time to put your fish back into their home. Once your pond is half full, you can perform these steps to safely place your fish back in the pond:

Algae control is often considered to be the biggest headache in water gardening. There are different viewpoints as to how algae should be controlled or eliminated – naturally, artificially, or a combination of the two. 

Artificial Algae Control 

If you have a pond that’s suffering from green water and you can’t see your fish, you may need to use a UV filter in order to clear up your water. A UV sterilizer kills a lot of things – parasites, beneficial bacteria, insects, and most other microscopic organisms living in the water.  Personally I do not use a UV filter unless absolutely necessary. So far, I never have used one.

However, the UV filter is totally ineffective when it comes to string algae and may even inadvertently promote an increasingly larger string algae bloom. 

The Natural Way 

Mother Nature’s prescription for algae control is simple – make sure you have a balanced ecosystem! Many pond problems are symptoms of imbalances. Here are a few products that can help keep your pond in balance, in case it needs a little boost. We like to refer to them as complements to Mother Nature. 

A Few Algae Facts 

Types of Algae: The two types of algae that most water gardeners experience are suspended algae and filamentous algae. Suspended algae consist of millions of microscopic algae floating throughout the water. This causes the water to turn green or “pea soup” color. Filamentous, or string, algae forms long and short hair-like strands, attaching itself to rocks, gravel, plants, or any surface area it can find in the pond. 

The Annual Pond Cycle: Most pond owners will notice a similar algae pattern in their pond, throughout the year. The cooler temperatures of early spring and late fall typically bring increased algae growth. Don’t be discouraged if your pond turns “pea soup” green or you have string algae problems during this time. Be patient. The algae doesn’t mind cool water and can grow happily, but the bacteria that help fight algae growth are dormant. This lack of balance results in excess algae. But as the water warms and the bacteria become more active, the algae will be reduced. Some ponds take longer than others do, but your pond will once again be clear and string algae will noticeably diminish as the summer approaches. 

Top 10 Algae Control Methods 

Beneficial Bacteria: Contains bacteria and enzymes that are specifically blended to be effective at reducing sludge, uneaten fish food, fish waste, and excess nutrients that cause poor water quality and clarity. Blended and tested to produce maximum results in ornamental ponds. 

Plants: Plants, since they directly compete with algae for nutrients and sunlight, are probably the most important addition to your pond. Add a wide variety of plants to your pond. This not only creates a natural look, but also will help reduce the algae in different areas of your pond.

Place water hyacinth and water lettuce in your waterfall. These floating plants reproduce rapidly, using up enormous amounts of nutrients. A stick placed across the front of the falls filter will prevent the plants from flowing over the front of the waterfalls and into the pond.

Plenty of bog and marginal plants should be added to the pond. Plants such as cattails and iris take up large quantities of nutrients. They are hardy and will be back each spring to help you balance your pond.

Cover the water surface of the pond by planting lilies. Lily pads float on the top of the pond, shading the water.

Physical Removal: Physically remove clumps of string algae if it begins to overtake the pond. Pull or cut away the algae where it is attached. Think of it as “weeding the pond.” 

Koi: Adding koi over 10 inches in length will greatly reduce string algae. The koi, if not overfed, will graze on the string algae in the pond. Only feed the fish what they can consume within a few minutes. Fish food that is not eaten by fish will decompose in the pond and increase nutrient levels. 

Fix Leaks: Tap water can have an abundance of nutrients in it. Continually adding large quantities of tap water to compensate for a leak can actually promote algae growth. Fix leaks when they are discovered. 

Control Run-Off: Never use lawn fertilizer or insecticides on trees around your pond or on areas of your property that will drain toward your pond. Lawn fertilizer and insecticides will cause large algae blooms, as well as severely threaten the aquatic life inside your pond. 

Remove Debris: Keep your pond free of debris. Don’t let the skimmer debris net overfill with leaves. Decaying debris in the skimmer will contribute to unwanted nutrients.

© David Vernon Sibel Sr. 2017