Water Feature Maintenance

By Staff
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My wife and I decided to add an outdoor water feature to our front yard to complement a recent landscape project. We settled on a fountain style water feature and were able to install it ourselves, but we also realized that we hadn’t considered that there would be some ongoing maintenance involved to keep the fountain in good condition and operating correctly.

The term water feature is a little ambiguous, but it can be broken down into two groups: water fountains and water ponds. Both involve the use of recirculating water by means of a pump, but the complexity of each may vary greatly based on style, size and design. I thought I would share some of the information I learned while researching the ongoing maintenance involved in keeping a water feature operating efficiently.

Water Fountains

Water fountains are self-contained and come in a variety of sizes and styles. Fountains can be large and weigh several tons or they can be very small and function as a center piece on a table, but most DIY styles of water fountains fall somewhere in the middle. From cascading waterfalls with multiple bowls to simple vase style fountains with water running down the sides, the choices are endless. The basic components involved in all fountains are a bowl or container to hold the water and a pump to cycle the water through the feature by way of plastic or rubber tubing. Other than the aesthetic look and style of a water fountain, the biggest difference between them is the volume of water circulated.

Water ponds tend to be more elaborate and require a lot more design and installation work than a water fountain. There are small ponds that compliment flower gardens and also large ponds that are designed to hold fish and cover large areas of a yard. An averaged size pond probably runs in the fifteen foot by twelve-foot range and may have a stream in the design.

The size and scale of the water pond and your personal DIY capabilities usually will dictate if you have the ability to install one yourself. You may want to consult a professional landscaper before you decide to start a big water pond project.

Water Fountain Maintenance

The soothing sound of a trickling water fountain can create a great outdoor ambiance on your patio or in your back yard. The flowing water will attract song birds and even butterflies to your landscape, but there is some basic maintenance that will go a long way in keeping the fountain both running properly and aesthetically attractive. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.

  • Cleaning the bowl or water container: The water holding part of the fountain should be cleaned on a regular basis which can vary from once a month to twice a year depending on the environment – moist, dusty, etc. – and how often it is visited by birds or other wildlife. Use a tiny net – like the ones used in an aquarium – to skim off daily any foreign materials that may have fallen in to the fountain. You should drain the bowl or water vessel and then use a non-abrasive cloth to wipe out the bowl and outside surfaces.
  • Deeper cleaning: If the light regular cleanings don’t seem to be keeping the fountain clean, occasional deep cleaning may be necessary. Again, drain the water and first try using a mild cleanser and a soft brush. If you have extensive buildup from minerals in the water or algae, you may need to switch the water source to distilled water if it’s not too expensive based on the fountain size. There are also a number of chemical additives that are sold for use in the fountains that will eliminate algae growth. Some of these additives can cause harm to pets and children so make sure you thoroughly read the label.
  • Clean the pump: The heart of the water fountain is the pump that circulates water. Most pumps come with a manufacture’s recommendation of care and maintenance, but you should plan on cleaning the pump every few months to keep it clean and free of debris. Once you have drained the fountain, disconnect the pump and soak it in a pail with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. After it has soaked awhile, give the pump a good rinsing with clean water and reattach it to the fountain.
  • Cold climate maintenance: If you are in a climate with weather that drops below freezing for extended periods of time, you will need to take extra precautions with the fountain. Drain, clean and wipe dry the bowl and surfaces of the fountain and disconnect, clean and store the pump inside. (You may want to store the pump in a bucket of clean water indoors to keep the seals from drying out but consult your owner’s manual for recommendations.) If your fountain is small enough to store indoors, bring it in for the season. If it is too large to move, consider finding a suitable cover to place over the fountain to keep it safe from the elements.

Water Pond Maintenance

As mentioned earlier, water ponds are usually more complicated to maintain than water fountains. Depending on the size and style of the water pond, they may be very elaborate and contain plants, rocks, waterfalls, flowing streams and even fish. With spring approaching, here are some maintenance suggestions for water ponds.

  • Clean out the pond: Ponds will accumulate leaves, grass clippings and dirt throughout the year. You can use a skimmer net – like the ones used in swimming pools – to collect debris and leaves. If there is a lot of sludge build up on the bottom of the pond, you can use a plastic shovel to gently scoop out some of the sludge being careful to avoid puncturing the liner. If you are doing a seasonal cleaning of a smaller pond, you may want to drain the pond completely using a sump pump taking care to remove your plants or fish and put them in a temporary tank until you are finished cleaning.
  • Pump and filter cleaning: Pumps keep your pond operating efficiently by providing circulation of the water which keeps the water moving to slow bacteria growth and provides oxygen for fish. Inspect and clean the pump on a regular basis by removing it from the pond and clean it by using a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water. A skimmer filter – which is installed in the circulation line of your pond – acts as a mechanical filter and also needs to be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis. (Again, make sure that you consult the operator manual provided by the manufacture of your pump and filters for proper maintenance and schedules.)
  • Add or remove plants: Plants are a natural source of pond filtering plus they add additional color and beauty to the pond. Plants use the excess nutrients in the pond which deprives the algae of its food source. Add new plants and remove any dead or dying plants.
  • Fish: Adding fish to your pond is a good way to help reduce algae and other microscopic organisms and they also are a good source of entertainment. Both koi and goldfish make great additions to a pond. Make sure your pond has adequate depth to support the type of fish you add to the pond.

Pond chemical additives: There are many companies that manufacture chemicals that can be added to ponds that will boost beneficial bacteria which will help keep your pond clean. These bacteria actually “eat” the sludge and debris caused by fish food, fish waste, leaves and other organic material that falls into the pond. Adding these chemicals won’t hurt wildlife and can be done manually or through an automatic pumping device set to periodic releases.