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Including a water feature in your backyard is an ideal way to make your landscape a tranquil space. But once your pond, waterfall, or fountain is installed, how can you best maintain it?  Here’s an introduction to the important tools, terms and seasonal considerations you should understand to help care for your outdoor water spots.

A Skimmer and its Parts

A skimmer is designed to sweep the surface of the water to keep it debris free.

  • Debris Basket - The debris basket, the first line of defense inside the skimmer, collects leaves, twigs, seeds, and other debris that falls or blows into the water. It only takes a few minutes every other week to empty the debris basket. It's important that the debris basket doesn’t become too full since too much debris can reduce the water flow to the pond or foundation pump.
  • Filter Mat - The filter mat is the second stage of the skimmer. The mat, located below the debris basket, 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. Filter mats are designed to last for about two years, so while they may be discolored and appear dirty and old, but will work just fine in your skimmer. Replace old filter mats if they begin to tear or fall apart.
  • Pump - On occasion, you may see a reduction in the water flow over your waterfall. This could be a sign that it is time to clean the filter screen on the bottom of the pump. This process should take no longer than five minutes. Simply unplug and remove the pump from the skimmer and physically remove any debris found on the bottom of the pump.

Water Level

Every water feature will experience evaporation and water loss; the amount of water loss depends on waterfall height, the amount of water splashing outside the pond, stream length, the amount of sunlight the feature receives, and the temperature of the region. During hot spells, most water features will need water added weekly to counteract evaporation.

The water level of a pond can be monitored using the opening of the skimmer mouth as a reference. The ideal water level should be set at about 3/4 -inch below the top of the skimmer mouth. You can check the water level each time you empty the debris net and add additional water when necessary.


If you notice you have to add water on a daily basis, or hear the "hissing" of your water fill valve constantly running, (after properly setting the water level) you may have a leak, which most often occur along the perimeter of waterfalls and streams. These leaks are generally due to the ground settling which causes the water to trickle over the edge of the liner. These leaks can be easily fixed.

  • Check the perimeter of the pond, waterfall, or stream for any areas that are wet. This is usually a good indicator that water is leaking over the liner.
  • Check to make sure any slow moving sections of the stream/waterfall have not become obstructed by leaves, plants, or other debris. This can cause the water to back up and leak over the edge of the liner.
  • Once you have found the leak, pack additional soil under the liner to raise the edge above the water level. Hide the exposed liner by replacing the gravel and add mulch.
  • Sometimes you may think you have a leak – but plants growing in your filter may be the culprit. Their growth can displace the water, causing it to flow over the back side of the filter. If this occurs, just remove enough of the plants to lower the water level.

Season Care of Your Water Features

Fall and Winter

  • As leaves fall from nearby trees, you'll probably have to empty the debris net every day to keep up with the influx of leaves. If you leave too much organic matter in your pond, the water may turn brown. If this happens, remove the excess debris and add activated carbon to clear the water.
  • If you live in an area where water surfaces freeze, 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.
  • If your area experiences long periods of extremely cold weather, you may consider adding a floating de-icer. 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.
  • You can also choose to keep your waterfall running. Be sure an ice dam does not form which could cause water to run out of the basin. You will also still need to replace water loss so the pump can continue to function properly


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. The best time to perform a pond clean-out is the early spring, ideally before the water temperature in the pond is above 55° F.

To clean the water feature, drain the water into the surrounding landscape. Then use a garden hose to rinse the rocks and gravel. Start at the top and work your way down to the bottom. Periodically turn the clean-out pump on to remove the dirty water. You can discontinue the periodic pumping once the water rinsing down to the bottom begins to look clear. Remove the pump and begin filling the pond.

Maintaining your water features is relatively simple process and doesn’t require a large investment of time.  For the little work that is required, these outdoor oases provide the setting, sound and beauty that add peace to any landscape.

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