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I want to leave my pond running through the winter. Can I do so without damaging the equipment? – Water Garden & Features Q & A

Picture of a water garden in winter.

Water Garden & Features Q & A

Q: I want to leave my waterfall running through the winter. Can I do so without damaging the equipment? – Karen in New York

UPDATED: A: A majority of water garden owners will shut down their water gardens entirely during the Winter, but there are a few that don’t.

It’s really beautiful to see a waterfall with pieces of ice around it. You’ll actually begin to see sections where the water flows underneath the ice throughout the stream. It really is a beautiful scene.

Here are a few factors to be aware of when running the waterfall and stream throughout the Winter:

Pump Size (Gallons Per Hour): The amount of GPH or gallons per hour of a pump must be greater than 2,000 as the water is coming down the waterfall and stream. If this flow is not obtained, then there is a greater possibility the water could freeze, causing ice dams in the stream and pushing the water over and out the side of the stream. If this happened, your water garden would be drained in no time.

Pump Location: If your pump is located directly in the pond and not in a skimmer, make sure that it is located in at least 24″ of water. Don’t place the pump on the very bottom of the pond. Your fish go to the bottom of the pond to hibernate during the winter.

Long Streams Beware: Even if you have 2,000 GPH of water coming down the stream, if the stream is quite long, longer than 10′ or 15′, then I wouldn’t suggest to run the system throughout the winter. In long streams, there is more opportunity for ice dams to form and thus draining your water garden. If your stream is longer than 10′ to 15′ and you still want to try and run your system I would advise you to use a little bit more flow than 2,000 GPH and to watch it regularly to make sure these ice dams are not created.

Pressurized Filters: If you use a pressurized filter in your pond I would recommend NOT to run the water through it during the winter time. It is best to drain the pressurized filter to prevent any water from freezing and damaging the equipment.

Consider a back-up plan: If you live in a freezing climate and you keep your pond running, you run the risk of damaging your plumbing and filtration system if the water stops flowing. If your pond design allows the water to flow back into the pond in the event of a power outage, you can avoid the problem.

In freezing climates, certain water features, like spitters or decorative fountains, will need to be shut down until spring. Simply drain the water from the feature and remove the pump. Submerge the pump in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water (or per manufacturer’s recommendations), and store it in a place where the water will not freeze. If you don’t keep the pump submerged in water and it dries out, the seals inside the pump could crack, causing the pump not to work properly.

POND TALK: If you’ve kept your pond running through the winter, what challenges did you face?

15 Responses

  1. I have a pond that is 22′ x 12′ with about a 6′ high water fall on one end. The guy that built it put a fountain at the top of the waterfall that is powered by the sump pump in the basement of our house. The pond does freeze over some but the waterfall never freezes completely over. I almost never have to add water except during the dry summer months and the sump pump can be diverted to a bigger pond on the property if needed. One downside though, when we had our house painted the painters cleaned the buckets out beside the house in a graveled area and later that day the water in the pond was matching the house. Luckily it was Latex and none of my fish died and the water cleared in a couple of days.

  2. I have an amazing little water feature that I built by myself for my 12′ x 6′ pond. The waterfall is 5 feet above the pond water cascading down into 3 different level pools before dropping into the pond itself. A smaller water fall, only 12″ drops directly into the pond keeping the ice from freezing in this area thus providing aeration for the fish (8 altogether). I love the winter scenes here in DE because the temperature hovers around 28 to 32 f. just enough to allow the pond to partially freeze and the waterfall and cascading stream to freeze into beautiful ice formations. I only disconnect the UV lamp but I never stop the filtering system. I also never stop the little trumpet fountain in the middle of the pond. This accumulates ice formations too. I guess I am lucky but in 7 years I have never had a pump freeze up or water escape from the pond. Instead I just have beautiful views from my picture window and wonderful pictures to prove it. If I knew how to do it I would post a picture of my pond for all to see.

  3. I have been told by so many people that it could not be done, but I am the type of person who just has to ask why. I just came across this page doing some random searches

    I live in Calgary Alberta and this past winter has been a cold one, only a few days above 0 c. I have yet to shut off my pond, and some days it looks amazing and other days I can’t see anything but snow.

    I solved problems by building a utility or pump room under my biggest waterfall. This room houses a pump, bag filters, sand filter (not insalled yet) bio filter, and filter full of carbon, 50w aerator (wonderful thing) and an inline hottube heater with added aquastat. the room is fully insulated and the pump keeps it nice and warm.

    Calgary has reached temperatures constantly around -30c this winter, and only once have we really had temps above zero. my water maintains a constant temperature of 1.7c passing through my pipes. and the sound is absolutely amazing. I love the privacy that a waterfall adds.

    I have to cut this short, but would love to answer more questions. sorry for not prof reading this, but I must go

  4. I am looking for some advice. I am planning a garden stream for the front and side of my house and would like to run the stream 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The stream will be 40-50 feet long, on average
    1 foot wide, and on average 6 inches deep. The head will be approximately 18 inches higher than the low point. The stream will dump into a gravel basin designed to hold three times the amount of water
    contained in the stream. I am placing the gravel basin directly below the stream. It will be 2 feet below ground level and will measure 2
    feet * 3 feet and run the lenght of the stream. I intend to insulate using the water basin using 1 inch foam board on the bottom, sides, and top. The pump will be located at the bottom of the low point of the stream and will pump water through a 1 1/2 inch poly pipe that will run along the bottom of the gravel basin to the head of the stream. This pipe will be 5 to 6 1/2 feet underground (6 1/2 feet at the head, 5 feet at the bottom of the stream). This is well below the frost
    line. The basin, however, crosses the frost line with 1 1/2 feet above and 1 1/2 feet below.

    Given that I am insulating this basin, need I worry that the water in the basin will freeze? I live in Fort Collins, Colorado and we have fairly mild winters but can get hit by sub-freezing temperatures at times.

    I am also considering an in-line heater to heat the water at the head of the stream, just enough, hopefully, to prevent ice dams from forming during really cold periods of the winter. The in-line heater wouldn’t run all the time, just enought to keep the
    water flowing and in it’s bed.

    Perhaps you can offer some comments?

    • Sounds like you have a pretty large project on your hands but you’ve done all the necessary ground work to make sure it is a success. Many customers try to leave waterfalls on during the winter months however this can be tricky. The steps you are taking to reduce the chance of ice build up will help and the waterbody itself may not freeze, but when you have a large amount of surface area exposed to the cold that water will cool down quickly. A cold wind may also cause ice to form over the stream even with the water underneath continuing to flow. Even small sections of ice may cause the water to divert from the stream bed emptying out your basin. As long as you keep an eye on your waterfeature and adjust accordingly you should have no problem being successful with wintertime operation. Good Luck and enjoy!

  5. My husband submerged a cinder block in each of our ponds (with solid side parallel to the surface, leaving portals that the fish can swim through) and it gives shelter to the fish from the sun and a place for them to hide during the winter. We have always used a ‘defroster’ in each pond. I’ve mentioned before that we spent $65 to save $1.50 worth of fish that first winter. They are still with us 6 years later so it worked! When he put in the second pond we got a different type of defroster. The first is a dome with a light that lets you tell from the house when it is on and working. The second one is a red one that’s donut-shaped and, although it doesn’t have a light, it always keeps that center ‘hole’ thawed. The dome one is apt to sink a bit with the buildup of ice even though the water below it is still thawed. I would definitely go with the donut one if we need a replacement. Last year we left tubing in the pond with the air running but I have learned from your wonderful info that we should use an airstone instead to really release the air IN the water..not in the bubbles that rise to the surface to break. Thanks for all the comments and for your excellent articles. We would be lost without them!


  6. My energy bill has been six hundred dollars every month this summer. So I was thinking of turning it off for the winter. My builder,Luke Landscape, didn’t put in a heater or aerator. I am researching aerators now. I don’t know if I can turn down my flow. A friend mentioned turning off one of the pumps. Luke still hasn’t told me where I can replace his lights that quit cause of broken seals so water entered. I hope my liner doesn’t cave in again this winter.
    Happy Trails, Jeannie

    • Jeannie,

      $600/month? That must be one heck of a pump =). I would like to see pictures of that waterfall!

      Couple questions for you so I can better help you out.
      1.) Approximately how big is the pond?
      2.) How many fish do you have in there?
      3.) As for the lights, do you know the brand name of them? I’m sure either we may have replacements or I can point you in the right direction.
      4.) What you say your liner caves in? What do you mean by that? Is it lifting from the bottom of the water garden or falling in from the sides?

      Let me know, I’d like to help you out!

  7. I have seen surface devices in your catalogue to use to prevent the surface of the pond from freezing. How many watts would one use for a small 3000 gallon pond?

  8. Hi Pond Guy,

    I live in Northwestern PA where it gets subzero temps several times a winter. I have a very small front yard pond approx. 4 ft across and maybe 22 inches deep. I
    shut down the waterfall in the winter, but leave the bell fountain head on. I have several rock caves and plastic flower pots in the bottom of the pond for the fish to hide in. For the last 3 years this has worked, my pond has only frozen over 2 or 3 times, the bell fountain helps keep it from freezing totally. I had never heard of super cooling the water, but I will be more careful now. I love your blog,

    Thank you

  9. We have a relatively small backyard pond (18 ft x 6 ft x 2-1/2 ft deep) and we leave our waterfall going all year. Both of our pumps sit on the bottom of the pond. We have not lost any fish in over 10 years! Our waterfall develops a tunnel of ice under which the water keeps flowing. The grandkids get mesmerized watching it.

  10. Every fall I disconnect the Bio filter that feeds the waterfalls and just run the mag type pump with the “fountain” type cap off. I set it on a brick at the bottom of the pond (24″) and only one winter did the top freeze. The hole in the ice around where the pump tube came up out of the water was not frozen and the fish continued to have air in their water. I didn’t have a problem with algae until the weather warmed ! The pond was crystal clear all thru the winter even tho that previous summer I had a heck of a time getting it to clear.

  11. Hi Pond Guy! When I lived in Tahoe there was a casino that had a large outdoor rock waterfall fountain. Every winter the falls would freeze solid. It looked pretty, but as for us ponders gardeners – it was not practicle. Love your blog! I’m book marking it.


    Pond Plant Girl.com

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