When your backyard pond gets mucky and cloudy, you might be tempted to empty it and start from scratch. Sometimes, fully draining a pond for deep cleaning and maintenance is necessary. Still, you should know how to clean a pond without draining it to avoid disrupting the complex ecosystem when you don’t have to. Follow along to learn when and how to drain a pond for the best results year-round.
When to Drain Your Pond
An established pond is like a living organism comprised of various parts working together to keep it clean, clear, and thriving. A healthy pond ecosystem takes years to develop, and frequent draining can interrupt this process. You likely don’t want to start at square one every spring start-up, so it is important to understand when draining a pond is recommended.
The most pressing scenario when you should fully drain pond water is when you are combatting a systemic infection that could threaten the lives of your fish. In this case, a fresh start lets you wipe out harmful microorganisms and fully replace them with beneficial bacteria. Similarly, a derelict pond that sat stagnant for years is a great candidate for complete draining and deep cleaning.
Usually, it's more common to partially drain your pond annually as a part of winterization. This process includes lowering the water level for fall shutdown and swapping in 20% fresh water by volume during spring start-up. Draining your pond is also the perfect time to do a thorough cleaning and equipment check, and a complete evacuation is essential if your pond liner needs repairs.
How Do You Drain a Pond?
The fastest and easiest method involves using a pond vacuum or submersible pump to drain a pond. If you have a tight budget and lack a powerful pump, you can drain small ponds and water gardens with a siphon, but this will take much longer.
If you plan to fully drain a pond with fish, prepare a holding tank with an aeration system in advance. Mix any tap water destined for the holding tank with a dechlorinating conditioner like The Pond Guy Stress Reducer Plus. The holding tank should also contain some old pond water to ease the transition and prevent shock. For more fish relocation tips, check out our guide to Overwintering Koi and Goldfish Indoors.
If you aren’t moving fish to a holding tank, don’t let this nutrient-rich water go to waste! Pond water makes an excellent fertilizer, so consider using it in your garden for a boost come springtime.
Some other useful pond-draining tools and equipment include:
- Aqua Gloves
- Skimmer and Fish Nets
- Power Washer
- Pond Cleaner
Step 1: Skim Floating Debris
Use a skimmer net to scoop out large pieces of debris like leaves, twigs, and branches floating on the surface of your pond. Our Heavy Duty Pond and Fish Net Combo is the perfect multipurpose tool for the job. Skimming out organic matter will help prevent your pump from clogging and make draining your pond simpler.
Step 2: Lower the Water Level
Our heavy-duty Tsurumi Portable Cleanout Pump will make quick work of this job! Place the pump in the deepest part of your pond and position the drain hose where you want the old water to flow, whether in buckets, a holding tank, or your lawn and garden.
Lower the pond’s water level below the skimmer’s opening for a partial drain or down to about a foot deep for a full drain. Fish typically avoid the commotion, but you can slip The Pond Guy PumpBuddy Pre-Filter sock on your pump if you have smaller ones swimming too close to the intake for comfort.
Step 3: Relocate the Fish
Once you are down to about a foot of water in the pond, use a fish net to gently remove your finned friends and place them in the holding tank. Unless you are dealing with a serious fish disease, drain pond water into your holding tank mixed with conditioned fresh water to prevent shock and help your fish adapt to their temporary home.
Step 4: Remove the Remaining Water
Once you finish draining your pond and relocating your fish, vacuum up the remaining water and small debris with our ClearVac Pond Vacuum. It has versatile attachments allowing you to clean sludge from gravel, flat and uneven surfaces, crevices, and more.
The innovative attachments make it simple to remove algae and muck without clogging. Be sure to use clean water to rinse out the collection chamber, tubes, and foam filters before storing your pondvac.
Step 5: Inspect and Store Equipment
For ponds with waterfalls and skimmers, disconnect the pumps and check valves, then empty the water. For ponds with in-pond filtration systems, disconnect the system from the plumbing and drain the water.
Relocate any removable equipment indoors where temperatures stay above freezing. Submerge pumps in a bucket of clean water to keep seals lubricated and prevent drying and cracking.
Step 6: Deep Clean the Bottom
With debris and sludge cleared, you can now power wash the rocks in and around your pond to remove algae, muck, and build-up. Start from the top and work your way down, forcing the dirty water towards the bottom.
If you have stubborn stains and grime spots, sprinkle Oxy-Lift Defense over the area and let it sit before power-washing. Finish the deep clean with a thorough vacuuming and repeat as needed until your pond is sparkling.
How to Clean a Pond Without Draining It
Draining your pond isn’t always necessary for cleaning and seasonal maintenance. If you live in an area with water restrictions, don’t want to disrupt your pond’s balanced ecosystem, or lack time to drain your pond fully, there are other ways to clarify water and minimize muck.
- Skim loose vegetation regularly to keep it from decaying into muck and releasing excess nutrients that feed algae.
- Vacuum out muck and algae when they form to prevent them from taking over your pond.
- Install an aeration system to oxygenate the water, eliminate the debris-trapping thermocline, and inhibit the growth of harmful anaerobic microbes.
- Keep your pond clean year-round by adding water clarifier and beneficial bacteria that break down muck, like those in The Pond Guy DefensePAC.
Still have questions about cleaning and draining ponds?
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