Planning Ponds, Fountains, Waterfalls, and Water Gardens

Use a water to bring your outdoor space to life

Wall fountain

On the hottest day of the summer, you probably wonder why you didn't get that pond, water fall, or other water feature built so you could sit outside listening to the musical splash as light glints through the cascading water. In an increasingly busy and technology-driven world, water—that most elemental force—soothes, satisfies, and stimulates our soul, spirit, and creativity as nothing else can.

As a result, one of the most desired backyard improvements is some type of water feature. There are an infinite number of choices and types so there's one that will fit in a corner of your yard or garden regardless of its size, shape, or current landscaping.

What are the choices?

Any one or a combination of the following water features are viable choices. Pools and water gardens are typically still, but sound and light can be added by combining them with fountains, streams, and waterfalls.

Priorities and location

Planning is the key if you want to avoid making goofy errors that can turn your backyard oasis into a watery money muncher. Planning will also help cut down on maintenance.

First, establish your priorities. Decide what is most compelling for you personally. Is it the sound of water splashing, the view from the bedroom window, being able to raise prize winning koi or speciman tropical plants? Are you willing to trade off more maintenance for aesthetics? Once you know what you want from your water feature, the better you'll be able to incorporate those priorities into the plan itself.

Location influences what you can do as well as the size. Where you place your pond, stream, or waterfall depends on your yard and it's shape as well as existing landscaping. Will you need to do any substantial plant removal or earth moving first? If you have large overhanging trees that drop stuff all year long, you'll need to make peace with cleaning your pond often. On the upside, the shade from the tree may block enough sunlight to prevent algae from blooming. If you're planning a waterfall, you'll need to build up the location as well as dig a pool. Working with your lot's geography makes sense from both a design and maintenance standpoint. Most often homeowners want to enjoy the water feature from the house, though it's fine to make it a destination of its own. Look out the windows and imagine the placement of your pond or waterfall. The point is to make sure that you build something you'll enjoy for many years.

What style?

You'll likely have specific styles that appeal to you. The formality or naturalness of your pools or fountains should work not only with your lot, but also with the architectural style of your home.

From not only the standpoint of your enjoyment, consider the value your project will add to the overall landscape. Deviating too radically from your home's style to create an "art" statement could result in a water feature that detracts instead of enhances your home's value. If your heart is set on an ultra modern fountain in the naturalistic yard of your Colonial style home, consider hiring a landscape designer to make it work. They can help you break the rules so your project is a success.

How big should it be?

To plan effectively, collect ideas. Of course cutting pictures out of magazines or adding sticky notes to books will help, but take field trips to see fountains, pools, and other water features in new developments in model homes, home and garden shows, parks, and private gardens.

Take pictures and measurements. You'll likely find that the larger the pool the more appealing it is to you. Compare its measurements with the space you have available. It may look big on paper and even in real life, but the minute you add a couple plants it's going to shrink. Often people build and then wish they'd made their pond bigger. Consider making it as large as the space and your budget allow.

How much do you have to spend?

Budget is frequently the final determinant in what kind of feature you end up with. There are a couple ways to look at this though. First, the more money you spend up front, the more likely your project will be lower maintenance in the long run. Excavating a large pond, adding liners, multiple filters, low voltage wiring, to say nothing of plants and fish, can add up to a substantial investment. However, by planning carefully, you can design a water system that is balanced and relatively low maintenance.

A smaller, less expensive project on the front end can turn into a constant maintenance project.

To get closer to your personal desires, consider planning your dream water feature, then build it in stages. If for example you want a pool, a stream, and a fountain, you might create your pool first, then add the fountain and stream later. After all, liners can be fused together as your project is developed. The caveat is that your pond or fountain should be built as you ultimately want it, then add more features to it. By starting small with a plan to expand, you'll learn a lot along the way. That means that your original ideal plan may not look like the final project, which will ultimately be the product of your on the job education and imagination. The final result though will be great.

A word about safety

Many ponds, pools, waterfalls, or fountains rely on low-voltage electrical pumps to circulate water and power filtration systems. Those, and the presence of the water itself, can pose a safety hazard for children or guests.

Once you have a plan sketched out, check with your city or county building office to find out what ordinances apply to your project. Obtain the appropriate permits and follow the guidelines carefully. Inspections may be required, especially with the addition of new electrical circuitry, so hiring a qualified electrical contractor to install the new wiring and circuits could be very cost effective.

Check your homeowner's policy or check with your insurance agent to make sure you're covered in the event of some type of accident. In some areas, water gardens, ponds, and pools may have the same legal consequences as if an accident had occurred in a swimming pool.


All About Building Waterfalls, Ponds, and Streams by Ortho.

The Complete Pond Builder: Creating a Beautiful Water Garden by Helen Nash

Building an elaborate pond or waterfall can be a big job. Get help from a qualified landscape architect at ContractorNexus .

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