Moving water is enchanting. Any backyard pond helps create a calming atmosphere and adds visual value to the landscape, but when water bubbles, trickles, or emits a spray that captures a rainbow prism of hues, the effect can be nothing short of magical. While attractive, nonmoving water is likely to stagnate, adding a pump to recirculate the water in a backyard pond or create a fountain helps keep the water fresh and free of mosquitoes.
The best pond pump varies by the type of water feature and the desired effect. Ahead, learn about the different types of pumps and find out why the following are at the top of their class for creating water-moving effects in the landscape.
- BEST OVERALL: VIVOSUN Ultra Quiet High Lift Water Pump
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Knifel High Lift Pump for Fountains, Ponds
- UPGRADE PICK: Tetra Pond Debris-Handling Energy Efficient Pump
- BEST FOR SMALL PONDS: Aquagarden Fountain Pump 5 in 1 Pond & Water Pump
- BEST FOR MEDIUM-SIZE PONDS: TotalPond 2000 GPH Waterfall Pump
- BEST HIGH-FLOW RATE: VIVOHOME Electric Submersible Water Pump Koi Pond
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pond Pump
Pond pumps come in a range of sizes and styles for a variety of uses. The best model for a concrete fountain might not be a good choice for a pond or other water feature. Whether the plan is to build a pond or install a cascading waterfall, consider the following factors to help find a pump that enhances the water feature rather than overwhelming it or not moving the water sufficiently.
Pond pumps come in two main types—submersible and external—and each has its own best uses and considerations. Rather than waiting until the water feature is complete, the best time to start thinking about the type of pump that will work best is during the pond’s planning stage.
- Submersible: Most backyard pond pumps are submersible, meaning the pump itself sits beneath the water. Because it often can be tucked out of sight, submersible pumps are the most inconspicuous, and they’re quieter than an external pump—the water helps muffle the sound of the motor. Submersible pumps vary in size and power, but in general, they’re less powerful than external pumps.
- External: On this type of pump, the motor sits above the water and connects to piping or tubing below water level. It offers the ultimate in water-moving power, but users are more likely to hear the motor. External pumps are often used in commercial water features.
Pond pumps also vary in how they operate. Operation affects both power and efficiency.
- Direct drive: The most common type of submersible pond pump, a direct-drive pump, has an impeller (the rotating, fan-like apparatus that moves water) that connects directly to the motor. Depending on other factors, such as size, a direct-drive pump is among the most powerful submersible options, and it’s less likely to clog with debris. Direct-drive pumps suit small or large backyard water features, but they’re not the most energy-efficient options.
- Magnetic drive: In a magnetic drive pump, a magnet turns the impeller. Like a direct-drive pump, it’s submersible, but not as powerful, making it better suited to smaller ponds and water features. Magnetic drive pumps are more energy-efficient than direct-drive models.
- Centrifugal: This pump can power large water features but may require special plumbing, depending on placement. In commercial applications, a centrifugal pump is often housed in a separate pump house. In a residential setting, users might find the noise distracting, depending on the pump’s quality.
Landscaping needs vary, and so do the styles of water pumps necessary to make different water features run smoothly.
- Utility pump: These multipurpose pumps can help drain ponds or remove water from basements. Utility pumps are powerful, noisy, and run on either gas or electricity. They drain ponds efficiently, but they’re not suitable for running a continuous water feature, such as a trickling waterfall.
- Inline pump: Another term for “centrifugal pump,” an inline pump connects to a hose or pipes to transfer water from one location to another. All external pumps operate on an inline basis, and, depending on the model, may feature one or more impellers.
- Solids pump: Designed specifically to be submersible, a solids pump can accommodate small debris, such as tiny bits of leaves or dirt, without clogging. It doesn’t require the use of a special filter, but it’s not suitable for use in ponds with goldfish, tadpoles, and other aquatic life that could be injured by being drawn through the pump.
- Solar pump: Well suited to small water features such as birdbaths, solar pumps draw energy directly from the sun and use it to circulate water. Most are relatively small and designed to float on the surface of the water.
Pump Size and Flow Rate
The amount of water a pump can handle varies from a couple of gallons up to thousands or more. To find the right-size pump, consider both the amount of water in the pond and the desired amount of water circulation. Flow rate indicates how much water a pump can move within 1 hour.
- For filtration: To recirculate the water in the pond through a filter to keep it fresh and clear of debris, the general rule is to buy a pump that will remove half the water in the pond within an hour. For example, to keep the water fresh in a 500-gallon pond, a pump that moves 250 gallons of water per hour (GPH) is desirable.
- For fountains: Pumping water upward requires extra power, and pumps designed for waterfalls or fountains will list both the GPH flow rate and the maximum amount of vertical distance the unit can pump water. This is displayed as the pump’s maximum “lift.” To pump water to a fountain height of 2 feet above the pump, a pump with a 2-foot lift is necessary.
- For waterfalls: Waterfalls often meander, and in some configurations, a pump might need to move water both horizontally and vertically. For the right-size pump for a waterfall, measure the vertical height just as for a fountain, but add 1 foot of desired lift for every 10 feet of horizontal tubing. For example, if the top of the waterfall is 2 feet above the pump’s height and the water will travel horizontally through tubing for an additional 10 feet, add 1 foot to the lift requirement, for a total lift of 3 feet.
In general, the larger and more powerful the pump, the more energy necessary for operation. The most energy-efficient of all, solar pumps don’t use electricity. Other types of pumps vary in energy efficiency, and a simple formula can help determine just how much energy they use.
- Locate the wattage on the pump’s package or in its description, and multiply the watts by 24 to determine the collective wattage used per day if the pump runs continuously. If the pump will run less than full time, guesstimate the hours per day and use that number.
- Divide the daily wattage by 1,000 to arrive at kilowatt-hours (kWh).
- Multiply that number by 30 to estimate how many kilowatt-hours the pump will run in an average month.
- Locate the price, per kWh, on your electric bill and multiply that by the monthly kilowatt estimate to get a good idea of how much it will cost to operate the pump each month.
Some of today’s outdoor water pumps come with the ability to aerate the water, which helps keep aquatic life healthy. In contrast, others emit shooting streams and showers of water above the surface of the pond. Yet others come with in-water light displays that serve as a decorative element.
Submersible pumps are among the simplest to install. Typically, the user selects the least-visible spot for the pump and runs the cord between rocks or other pond-scaping materials to camouflage it. Depending on the model, the pump may have an on-off switch on the cord or turn on automatically when plugged into an outlet.
In most cases, these pumps require no additional wiring or plumbing. Some submersible pumps may require plugging into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet (consult the owner’s manual), which should turn power off immediately if the outlet senses a surge in electricity.
External pumps are less DIY-friendly because they often require additional plumbing or constructing a pump house to hide the pump. It varies, though, depending on the size and complexity of the plumbing layout. A user might need the services of a professional plumber or an electrician (for direct wiring) for some water features or pond designs.
Our Top Picks
To qualify as a top pick, a pump should be durable and sufficient for handling the necessary amount of water. The best pond pump varies based on the type of water feature, and any of the following choices are suitable for a backyard pond, waterfall, or other water feature. Like most residential-type water pumps, all of the following picks except the last are submersible pumps. The “Best High-Flow Rate” pump is both submersible and external.
The 220-watt VIVOSUN Pond Pump is powerful enough to circulate the water in a 9,000-gallon pond, yet it’s ultraquiet, producing only a soft hum. It comes with a 20.3-foot-long power cord and operates on 220 watts of energy-efficient power.
Position the pump vertically or horizontally beneath the water to suit the water feature; it comes with suction cups to hold it securely. Designed for submersible or inline use, the VIVOSUN pump runs continuously. It comes with a built-in heat-overload sensor that shuts down the pump if it overheats.
This VIVOSUN also pumps water to a height over 18 feet to operate a fountain or waterfall. The cover on the intake filter detaches for easy cleaning, and the unit weighs about 9 pounds.
Enjoy the benefit of circulating water without spending a fortune with the Knifel pond pump, which is suitable for water filtration in small ponds holding up to about 1,600 gallons. The Knifel pump can lift water to 10.2 feet, and it produces only a gentle hum when operating.
This compact pump is small enough to position in the bottom reservoir of a tiered fountain, and it comes with a 6.1-foot power cord. The pump features a sponge prefilter that keeps debris out of the pump, and it has an auto-off safety switch if the water level drops or the unit overheats.
This Tetra Pond pump comes with a special protective filter that shields aquatic life from the pump’s impeller, while tiny bits of debris pass right through without clogging the pump. The submersible pump moves 4,235 gallons of water per hour, and it comes with a maximum water lift of 13.1 feet. It can both filter pond water and pump a stream for a fountain or waterfall.
Water that passes out of the pump is directed through a separate external filter for easy cleaning. A unidirectional impeller and motor add to the continuous-operation pump’s energy efficiency. The submersible sealed unit is low maintenance and comes with a 15-foot power cord.
Enjoy clear trickling water with the Aquagarden 5-in-1 Pump that does more than just pump water—it cleans it as well. The Aquagarden pump comes with a built-in UV clarifier light that destroys algae, and it has a polymer wood cartridge that polishes the water and removes cloudiness.
The Aquagarden comes with an LED spotlight that illuminates a spray of water. This pump suits relatively small ponds of about 200 gallons, and it’s safe for use with goldfish and koi.
The pump comes with three fountain nozzles that change the water spray configuration from a single vertical jet to a multijet spray or a sleek water bell. The pump comes with a 16-foot power cord.
With a maximum lift of 17 feet, the TotalPond water pump helps create a flowing waterfall. Featuring a 2,000-GPH motor, the pump can filter water in a pond holding up to 4,000 gallons.
The submersible pump comes with a mesh pump shield that prevents debris from clogging the motor. It also has a back-spitting feature that can cool the pump during operation to prevent overheating. The 2,000-GPH pump comes with a 16-foot power cord.
The VIVOHOME Submersible Pump can move some serious water—up to 9,000 gallons per hour. It comes with a maximum lift capability of 26.9 feet, suitable for tall waterfalls.
In addition to pumping water over a distance, the submersible pump can withstand short-term external use (out of the water). However, the manufacturer recommends in-water use for anything longer than a few hours, just enough time to pump out a pond or even a flooded basement in a pinch. The VIVOHOME pump comes with a 20.3-foot power cord.
FAQs About Pond Pumps
With so many different types and sizes of pond pumps to choose from, it’s natural to have a few remaining questions about selecting the right one and what to expect.
Q. How big of a pond pump do I need?
In general, select a pump with a gallons-per-hour (GPH) pumping capacity that equals half the pond’s gallon capacity. For example, for a 4,000-gallon pond, choose a 2,000-GPH pump.
Q. Should a pond pump be on all the time?
It depends on the pump. Some can operate continuously, while others may overheat and should run for only a few hours at a time. Check the owner’s manual for specifics.
Q. Does a pond pump use a lot of electricity?
The larger the pump, the more electricity it will use. Many pumps list the amount of wattage they use per hour. Multiply that by the number of hours per day the pump will likely run, and then multiply that number by 30 for a per-month wattage estimate. To estimate how much the pump will add to the electricity bill, multiply the final number by the cost of electricity (per watt) from your utility bill.
Q. How long do pond pumps last?
The pump’s quality is a factor, but, in general, expect a submersible pond pump to last 3 to 5 years.