How to Winterize Outdoor Fountains

Outdoor fountains add a touch of class to your yard, but also add more work to do. When the late weeks of summer have arrived and the days are getting shorter, you’ll need to start thinking about winterizing your outdoor fountain for cold weather. Small fountains can be stored in a garage, shed, or empty closet. However, heavier fountains will need to stay outdoors all winter long. A fountain cover will help keep your outdoor water feature protected, but you’ll need to follow a few steps to get it ready for covering.

Can I Leave Water In My Fountain During The Winter?

No! When temperatures drop below freezing, the water in your fountain will freeze, cracking your fountain. Even if the water is running, droplets will jump out of the stream and hide in small cracks along the walls of your fountain. As the water freezes and melts, expands and contracts, the walls of the fountain will weaken and crack. Existing small cracks will grow, and new ones will pop up. Water can also freeze inside of the fountain pump, damaging or breaking it.

Frozen fountains may look pretty, but the ice causes irreversible structural damage.

How To Winterize Outdoor Fountains

Drain the fountain. Unplug the pump and drain all the water from the fountain. Some fountains have a plug on the bottom for easy draining. If yours doesn’t, scoop the water out with a small bucket or use a piece of tubing to siphon it out. If you have a tiered fountain, disassemble it after draining the water. Clean it as usual and store the individual pieces in a garage or shed.

Clean the pump. Take the pump out of the fountain and wipe away visible debris with a soft cloth, both inside and outside. If your pump doesn’t have a lot of algae or mineral stains, you can try using a simple solution of warm water and a couple drops of dish soap to clean.

For tough stains and heavy algae buildup, mix 1 cup of distilled white vinegar with 1 cup of warm water. Soak a sponge or cloth with the solution and wipe down the exterior of the pump. Use an old toothbrush to scrub hard to reach areas on the inside of the pump. Allow the pump to soak in the vinegar/water solution if you still see staining or algae buildup after scrubbing. Thoroughly rinse before storing indoors.

Clean the tubing that connects the pump by spraying water through it with a garden hose or outdoor faucet.

Clean the interior of the fountain. If you have a tiered fountain, disassemble it before cleaning. Use a soft bristle brush to scrub the inside of the fountain using a mixture of hot water and mild dish detergent. Remove calcium and lime buildup, also called white scale, using a mixture of water and distilled white vinegar or baking soda. Allow the mixture to sit on the fountain for a few minutes before scrubbing. If you don’t frequently clean your fountain, you may find yourself facing a large buildup of calcium and lime. A specialty fountain cleaner will usually do the trick; avoid using any abrasive cleaning supplies as these can cause more harm than good. Remember to always test your cleaning solutions on a small, inconspicuous spot to make sure it won’t negatively affect your fountain’s finish.

Avoid using vinegar or calcium, lime, and rust store-bought cleaners on natural copper fountains as this can remove the patina finish.

Be sure to use a soft cotton rag to clean copper and resin fountains as they are relatively soft and can be easily damaged by rough materials and rigorous scrubbing.

Do not use strong, acidic cleaners on concrete, marble, stone, or limestone. Harsh cleaners can dissolve the stone and will cause irreversible damage. Before using any store-bought solutions, check the label on what it is safe to use on.

You can also use a pressure washer for quick cleaning solution. Use a fan tip and hold the wand about one to two feet away from the fountain. Point it at a 45-degree angle to blast away mold, mildew, and stains.

Thoroughly rinse your fountain to ensure all cleaning solutions are washed away. Rinsing removes both the cleaning product and the dirt you were just working on. If you don’t rinse your fountain now, you’ll find a dirty, soapy residue on your fountain when you take it back out in spring.

Allow your fountain to dry before protection. Stone is a naturally porous material that will absorb water, meaning it needs to dry longer than other materials.

Regularly cleaning your fountain and replacing the water will help prevent algae growth.

Protect it. Use a winter fountain cover or store your fountain indoors to keep your fountain dry during the winter. Store the fountain pump indoors to protect it from moisture and cold temperatures. For copper fountains, apply a thin coat of car wax or furniture polish after cleaning and drying the fountain.

For extra protection against moisture, you can put towels in the basin of the fountain to absorb any stray moisture that gets in through the cover. This is also a good idea if you are storing it uncovered in a garage or shed. Be sure to replace the towels with dry ones after a big rain or snowstorm.

Cast stone fountains are at risk of ground moisture seeping up into the base of the fountain. Once temperatures drop below freezing, the water will freeze and can cause stress fractures. Apply a concrete surface sealer after the fountain is clean and completely dry.

Garden fountain protected by a Coverstore cover
Covering your fountain will not only prevent cracking, but will also keep it clean and ready for spring.

After Winter

When freezing temperatures are behind you, fill your fountain with distilled water. Tap water contains more minerals than distilled, leading to faster calcium buildup. If you plan on using tap water, treat it with a fountain enzyme product. This will help deter buildup and stains caused by minerals and algae.

Place the pump back in the water, plug it in, and enjoy the warm weather.

Fountain Maintenance Tips

Care for your fountain throughout spring and summer so fall winterization is easier and faster. Remove leaves, flowers, bird feathers, animal droppings, seeds, nuts, and twigs from the water as frequently as possible. If you have a small fountain with poor circulation, dump and refill the water daily or every other day to keep it fresh. For larger fountains, drain and clean at least once a month or whenever the water looks dirty. Keeping the water clean will reduce algae buildup and keep mosquitoes uninterested.

Keep your water pump covered by at least two inches of water. Leaving the pump fully submerged will help it operate efficiently, keep the water running smoothly, and reduce unwanted spraying and splashing.

Buy “mosquito dunks” to kill mosquito larvae. There are several kinds, but most float on the water and slowly dissolve. Choose one with the active ingredient Bti – Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. These are toxic to mosquitoes but will not harm other living things. Always check the product labels to double-check for any negative affects it may have on birds, fish, pets, and wildlife.

Cover your fountain any time damaging weather is headed your way. Even if you don't have time for a total deep clean, draining your fountain and throwing a cover on will keep it safe.

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