How to Create a Pondless Water Feature

Pondless Water Feature, Garden Water Feature
Pondless Water Feature (courtesy Wendy Slatery) - Flickr

Gardens and ponds go together like two peas in a pod. Adding water, moving or otherwise, into your landscape evokes tranquility along with a sense of delight.

Full-sized ornamental ponds, however, can be expensive, messy and dangerous – not to mention maintenance headaches. But you do have an alternative – just install the “disappearing water” pondless water feature. You get the tinkling serenity of moving water in your garden without the mess of a traditional waterfall and pond.

A pondless water feature can be a simple rain chain hanging from a gutter over a small basin filled with river rock. Or more elaborate – a tiered waterfall tumbling into a constructed stream bed, where it disappears – seemingly by magic – into the ground.

Pondless waterfalls can fit almost anywhere – nestled within a small garden nook, next to an entryway, or as a focal point near the back yard deck. “Pondless” means adaptability.

Advantages of Pondless Water Features

What are the advantages of pondless water features?

For one, safety. Flowing water winds up in a bed of pebbles, a rock basin or something similar. Drowning risk is reduced substantially.

You’ll save money. Vanishing water features use less water and less electricity. And you can turn them off at night or when you’re away from home, either manually or by use of a timer. And since it’s a pondless feature, standing water evaporation is curtailed drastically. Some designs even utilize rain water.

Pondless water features are also easy to construct, making them great do-it-yourself projects for handy gardeners. You can use a kit or build one from scratch, with separately purchased materials (it’s cheaper that way – those kits can get expensive). Don’t want to do-it-yourself? These are perfect projects for contractors, who can build one in far less time than a conventional waterfall and pond takes.

Maintenance? That’s a breeze. Just keep leaves and debris from the area receiving the water flow, and clean the pump maybe twice a year. Because there’s no standing water in the basin, algae and stagnation isn’t a problem. Also, no stagnation means no mosquitoes.

Locating Your Pondless Water Feature

Where you wind up siting your pondless water feature depends on your goals – your design program. A small feature such as a pondless bubbler fountain can resemble a piece of sculpture. It will look good almost anywhere – even on an apartment or condo balcony. A feature incorporating waterfalls needs more space.

Site the pondless water feature in prominently – they make great focal points. Building one next to an entryway is a fine way to welcome your guests. Or place it next to a patio or within a relaxation nook, where family and friends can experience the sights and sounds of splashing, bubbling water.

Building Your Pondless Water Feature

Whether installing a small feature like a bubbler fountain, or a bigger one like a waterfall, pondless water features are easy to build – either by you as a do-it-yourself project, or by a professional.

Make sure any contractor you use is experienced in water feature installation. If you’re looking for a natural look, obtaining a design from a qualified designer like a landscape architect is critical. Some so-called “natural look” waterfalls are anything but. They fit into your site like a nudist at a church picnic. It takes talent and artistry to mimic nature, so make sure you take design into account.

Designs can vary from completely realistic features seamlessly integrated into a slope, to more formal terraced geometrical structures, to small, intimate sculpture fountains. It’s hard to convincingly portray realism, and formal structures may need to be engineered, so when considering these type pondless water features, it may be best to hire a landscape contractor who specializes in water features and is experienced in interpreting design drawings.

Generally, however, you should be able to construct a small pondless water feature like a sculptural-type bubbler fountain yourself. The one showcased below uses a stone as the focal point.

Constructing a Stone Bubbler Fountain

  • Find a large decorative stone at a quarry or other source. Ask the quarry to drill a vertical hole through the stone from end to end and deliver it to your site. If the stone is too heavy, have a friend help in placing it.
  • Next, prepare your basin. You may want to use a Rubbermaid tub, which looks sort of like a horse trough. Don’t use plastic, however – it degrades over time. The Rubbermaid tubs sell for around $40.00.
  • Dig a hole and bury the tub. Backfill around it so that 4″ of it’s rim is above ground. Use a level to make sure the tub is not canted to one side or the other.
  • Fill your tub with water, then use a hose to soak the backfill and settle the tub. Filling the tub with water first will prevent it from floating up from the ground.
  • Install the pump in the tub within an accessible place, so you can clean it in the future with no trouble. The pump provider can help determine the the right pump size for the type pondless water feature you desire.
  • Now, connect flexible tubing long enough to reach from the pump through the hole in the stone and back to the starting point.
  • Cover your pump with a piece of 8″ x 10″ PVC pipe. The end of the PVC should come just below the rim of the tub.
  • Fill Rubbermaid tub with rocks. Place the larger stones on the bottom.
  • Ensure the pump’s cord sticks out of the PVC, and then place a flat rock over the opening.
  • Place some topsoil around the 4″ of tub rim you left exposed.
  • Hide the top edge of the tub with more rocks.
  • PlantĀ  shrubs, flowering perennials or ornamental grasses around the tub, and then mulch the planting beds.
  • Using a periodic application of dry bacteria or chlorine will help maintain water quality.

Done right, a pondless water feature can provide the feeling of a cool oasis in your landscape, for all to enjoy.

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