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Water Features for Your Garden

Water Features for Your Garden

Water Features for Your Garden: Ponds, Fountains and Waterfalls

A water feature such as a pond or fountain adds an element of relaxation and tranquility to your garden. Not only does this serve as a major focal point, but it is a welcome attractant for birds and butterflies. Water also adds soothing sounds as it flows gently from a miniature waterfall or pours over the sides of a pretty fountain.

From huge ponds to smaller fountains, there are a wide variety of water features to choose from to fit your space, style and preferences. The three major types we'll be discussing here are ponds, fountains, and waterfalls. Feel free to use these ideas as a springboard for other creative, water-focused additions to your front or back yard.

What will a water feature add to my landscape?

A water feature draws the eye and calls attention as the central focus. If you're willing to invest considerable time and money into a well-constructed water feature then get ready to give your garden a whole different look and feel.

A water feature cools the surrounding area. As the uncovered water evaporates into the atmosphere, water particles are released, making the surrounding air both humid and slightly cooler.

A water feature attracts local wildlife. Any place to drink or even bathe is a blessing for a bug, bird or beast living in Southern California! Don't be surprised to discover a bird taking a midday dip in your fountain or possibly a raccoon coming in for a sip or two from your pond.

The enjoyment of your own pond

Ponds offer live entertainment in the form of wild animal visits. Add some koi or goldfish to your pond and enjoy the "survival of the fittest" episodes that occasionally unfold right in your own backyard!

Ponds are perfect for growing water lilies and other water plants. These are really beautiful and add such a serene atmosphere.

Over the last few years it's become easier to build your own pond as supplies are more readily available. You can purchase a plastic pond mold, create your own custom pond, or enlist the help of a professional. Whichever you choose, get involved to some degree - ponds are a great form of creative expression.

Do it yourself pond installation: plastic mold vs. custom design

Plastic ponds

A plastic pond mold requires less work than a custom pond and most molds have appealing shapes and sensible sizes. The biggest step is to dig the hole for the pond mold, but other than that, everything else is much easier overall. If you'd like to try your hand at getting a plastic pond mold, simply do the following:

Step 1: Measure the size of your backyard and consider how much space you're willing to dedicate to the pond area.

Step 2: Find a hardware store that sells plastic molds in the correct size.

Step 3: Dig a hole big enough for the pond to fit into the ground.

Custom ponds

A custom pond is also considered a do-it-yourself pond. This type of pond requires the most work but the advantage is that you can design the pond completely around your own preferences. There are two ways to go about getting a custom pond put in:

1. Purchase a pond kit from a hardware store, or 2. Follow a custom pond making guide step by step

Either way, you'll need to procure materials such as pond liner and pond underlayment. You'll also be spending a good amount of time digging the hole for the pond and creating an adequate foundation so as not to have leaks or cracks. While this method is the most difficult, it happens to be the most rewarding. After all, you did it yourself and because of this you will understand completely how your pond operates in case of a problem.

Professionally installed ponds

If you don't want to design or install your own pond, you can always leave it up to a professional pond installer. Sure, it's a little more of an investment, but the benefit is that you get to relax and attend to other things. After researching and coming up with a rough draft of what type of pond you'd want, ask around to see what professionals do the best job and for the least amount of money. Explain your vision and what would best work for your unique backyard.

Waterfalls in your yard

A waterfall is easily the biggest water feature you might opt for. Consisting of both a pond part for the base and then an actual waterfall, they are both tall and wide. Of course, you can always choose to have a more miniscule waterfall built. Be aware, however, that this diminishes the soothing sounds of the water flowing down the rocks and slopes, which is why you likely wanted a waterfall in the first place!

Not to discourage, but often what a client desires in the way of a waterfall and what can be done are two different things. The good news is that once you get it right, a waterfall is easy to maintain as a pond and as gorgeous as any fountain.

The waterfall-to-pond ratio formula

There is a useful waterfall-to-pond ratio formula that many gardening sites point out. The pond's square-foot surface area must be at least 1.5 times larger than the square feet of the waterfall. So if the waterfall is 10 feet long and 4 feet deep, the pond would then have to be at least 60 feet in surface area. This ensures that the water can collect at the bottom without overflowing.

What type of waterfall is best for me?

Just like a pond, there are three ways to get a desired waterfall.

Method 1: Incorporate a weir.

A weir is a plastic box with both a low and high part that allows the water to spill over the edge and create the waterfall. As the water collects back from the bottom of a waterfall, it pools on the higher part of the box and then eventually spills over to the lower part and over the edge of the waterfall.

Step 1: Create the pond as described in the previous section.

Step 2: Connect the weir to the pump in the pond to create circulation.

Step 3: Add the desired plants around and in the water feature.

Method 2: Make your own waterfall.

If the idea of a plastic box does not appeal to you then you can always create your own waterfall. The biggest part of this job is finding or constructing the slope. Not a sharp enough slope and the water can pool in places instead of flowing freely. The degree of the slope and how far down the water falls also affects waterflow sound quality. Before settling on a certain slope, make sure to test how the water sounds when falling.

Once that's decided, determine if you'd prefer to simply line the slope with underlayment or cover the entire slope with concrete and then choose which plants and rocks would be best to plant around and in your water feature. The homemade waterfall has a personal touch and can be created to fit your garden's style.

Method 3: Hire a professional waterfall expert.

A professionally designed and constructed pond/waterfall is clearly the more pricy option, but the advantage is that you have an expert handling everything. This way, you can be sure that costly mistakes are avoided, your water feature meets all regulations, and the look and feel of it is to your liking and suits your landscape.


As mentioned earlier, a water feature can serve as a major focal point in a garden. There are so many great looking fountain styles, one for every type, size and style of landscape. For example, a fountain in an English garden would look very different from one in an Asian-themed or modern landscape setting.

Advantages of a water fountain in your yard

So many fountains to choose from. There are larger fountains with more tiers that have more of a majestic presence. Tthere are low lying fountains that your pets can easily drink from. Regardless of style and size, a fountain is a good idea if you don't have the time or money to invest in a larger pond and waterfall. Many fountains can be purchased fully equipped with pump and necessary parts. All you really have to do is place your fountain in the desired location, and then fill it with water!

Water fountains are versatile and easy to locate. Place yours anywhere you think it would look "right". You can suspend your fountain on the wall outside the house, rest it among low lying shrubs, or even center your fountain on a patio.

Fountains are even better than ponds for attracting wildlife, as they're smaller and shallower. Birds will flock to your fountain so as to bathe and drink from it, as will butterflies in the appropriate seasons. If your fountain is too deep for the local wildlife, simply pour less water into the base.

One thing to note about fountains: they lose water quickly if not shielded by a shade structure. Given that the fountain is not attached to a water system, it will be up to you to fill it to the appropriate level. Check the water levels of your fountain every so often. With the exception of possible evaporation problems, a fountain is rather low-maintenance way to beautify your yard.

Low water options for ponds, waterfalls and fountains

Love the look of a water feature in your yard, but hate the idea of wasting water? There are several options for conserving water in this case.

• Turn off your fountain or waterfall when not in use • Cover your pond with a tarp to stop evaporation • Install a "pondless waterfall" • Add a "brimming urn"

A pondless waterfall is simply a waterfall that lacks a pond. In place of the pond, you dig a large hole at the bottom, which is then lined with a pond underlayment and filled with gravel and pebbles. Like a normal pond, there also is a pump that circulates the water from the bottom where it trickles through the gravel and then is deposited back at the top of the waterfall. Since there is constant re-use of water, the water feature cannot overflow. This is one of the better choices if you're concerned about water conservation.

A brimming urn. Along with being more eco-friendly then the other water feature options, a brimming urn also costs less money and takes up less space. All that needs to be done in terms of hard labor is digging the hole. You'll save money as you won't need to purchase heavy pond lining or concrete. Water features for small yards

If a waterfall or pond are both too big to fit in your backyard then The Yard Fairy suggests a smaller fountain or bird bath instead. A bird bath is a simple basin atop a pedestal that allows for birds and butterflies to stop and drink. There are hundreds of birdbath styles to choose from and it should be easy to find one that suits your preference. Not only does a birdbath provide a glimpse of local wildlife, but a sturdy one is purchased they can look good for a long time.

Useful sites: Waterfalls

Attracting Birds and Butterflies

Attracting Birds and Butterflies

Digging the Dirt on Mulch

Digging the Dirt on Mulch