As any avid collector of garden decorative items will tell you, although they may often need to make choices about which of their many garden statues and stones will make the cut for their garden display each year, one garden decorative item that always stands front and center is the garden fountain. A fountain on a pond or “water feature” as they are known today, is the “focal point” of every water gardener’s landscape. It’s no wonder gardeners are reducing the square footage of their lawns to make way for a tranquil space all their own or a delightful and whimsical water feature in their landscapes. They are not only good for the environment but also provide an element of individual style adding to decor of your outdoor living space. Some gardens go so far as to say that without a water feature in your garden, you are not only missing a real asset to your landscape but an asset to your piece of mind.

Esthetically speaking, no other garden decorative items can compare to the beauty that a water feature adds to your property. However, it’s the added benefit of stress reduction, most gardeners proclaim, that makes the upkeep of these water features worth every cent spent and every minute they spend maintaining them. Simply said, they sooth the soul.

Small or large, a water feature can transform your garden into a tranquil retreat that is all your own, a delightful and mesmerizing centerpiece for your garden, or used to complement the space you use for entertaining in your outdoor living area.

While landscapers can offer an almost instant and custom designed water feature, it can be very costly. With just a short trip to the garden supply store and a few tools, there is no reason you can’t do it yourself and save some money in the process. With a little planning, a little preparation, and a little digging, it is easy to create a water garden. Here’s what you need to know.

Planning Location, Location, Location! Just like real estate, you will want to choose a prime location for your fountain and pond.

Here are the things to consider:

First, decide how you want to use your water feature. Will you use it solely for a beautiful view from inside your home or will you want to create a environment for outdoor dining and entertaining? Are you someone who dreams of having a secluded and tranquil setting? Perhaps a meditation garden or a garden setting where you can simply sit and relax with a good book is what you have in mind? Think about your purpose and what you want to achieve by adding a water feature to your landscaping.

Think about whether or not your desired location will be beneath trees that will drop their leaves or needles. If so, this will add to the maintenance involved in keeping your water feature clean. Consider the slope of your landscape, your soil (clay is the best), the amount of sun and shade in the area, and don’t forget about access to water by either hose or water line, and access to an electrical outlet.

You’ll want to be sure you build your water feature on level ground and above the lowest elevation in your yard where rain water might accumulate. Setting your pond at a higher elevation than that of the lowest point will avoid overflow when heavy rain is present and prevent the possibility of washing away your fish, plants, and just about anything else surrounding your water feature.

Some other things to consider are how much sun and shade your water feature will receive each day. Ideally, about 6 hours of sun a day is perfect for both plant growth and keeping algae at bay. More than that, will not only limit the plants that are available for planting around the water garden but more importantly, will increase the amount of algae that will accumulate.

Consider the availability and proximity of your power hook-up. Is a GFCI available or will you need to have one installed? Keep in mind the average length of the cord on a pump is only 6′ in length. Lastly, and probably most importantly in selecting your location is to make certain that you avoid installing your water feature over gas, electrical, telephone, cable and/or sewer lines. Remember to CALL BEFORE YOU DIG! One easy phone call to 811 starts the process to get your underground utility lines marked for free. When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days. Once your underground lines have been marked, you will know the approximate location of your utility lines and can dig safely, because knowing what’s below protects you and your family.

Preparation What you Will Need, a.k.a. The Shopping List:

One Garden (submersible) Pump – This is the most important factor of a efficient and clean pond. Look at the GPH factor. This factor indicates how many gallons of water are displaced every hour. 120 GPH should be enough for a small garden pond. Every water pump manufacturer recommends that the water be turned between 1/2 time and 1 time per hour. With that in mind, you might think that a 120 GPH pump would be sufficient for a 240 gallon pond. However, keep in mind that you will want to have enough pump-power left over to give your fountain a good stream of water. Therefore, in this example, you would need a higher GPH pump to fuel your fountain. To figure it all out, it’s simply a mathematical equation. (I’ll wait while you get your calculator). There are 7.5 gallons of water in a cubic foot.

Multiply the number of cubic feet in your preformed pond liner by 7.5 and this will give you the number of gallons of water your pond will hold. Divide that in half to select the appropriate GPH for your pump for the pond and add a little more umph for the fountain. Another incentive for having a strong enough pump is that a pump that doesn’t adequately turn the water will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes prefer still water. You pump is not the place to try to save money.

One plastic pre-formed pond liner or flexible pond liner . Which one you need depends on the size of your pond. For a small pond, I recommend the pre-formed liners. Just drop it in the hole and you are almost done. For larger ponds, you’ll need a flexible liner and will have to form your own walls which means more digging on your part as ledges will need to be formed in the interior of the hole for securing the liner with rocks.

A Level, the length of the preformed pond liner. If you don’t have one of these borrow one from a carpenter or contractor friend or neighbor.

A Fountain. This is the fun part! This will set the style of your landscape. One word of advise here; this is your centerpiece and it should make a statement about what you are trying to crate. Also, make sure that your fountain is not out-staged by a larger element in your pond landscape. A common mistake that people make is planting plants around the fountain will grow taller than the fountain itself. Small fountain, small plants. You get the idea.

Tubing: buy tubing that is the same size as the as the discharge adapter on the pump. The discharge adapter is the “pipe” coming out of the pump’s hole where the water is pushed out. You will need enough tubing to reach from the pump to the top of the fountain and a little extra for flexibility in placement.

Several bags of sand. This will be needed to cushion the underneath of the liner, support it, and fill in empty space in the sides of the hole once your pre-formed pond is in place.

That’s really all you need. However in addition to the basic supplies above, I strongly recommend adding a few additional items to your pond. Although they are optional, they will reduce required maintenance to your water feature, and if that’s not enough, make it more pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul. Plants– Plants will keep your ecosystem in balance and attract birds, insects, butterflies, and frogs to your pond. Just as in true organic gardening, a proper ecosystem will sustain life in and around your pond while keeping pests and other unwanted elements away from your pond.

Plan to cover about 65% of the water surface with plants. This will reduce the water temperature and keep the algae growth to a minimum. Algae is caused by too much sun so if your location gets more than the recommended 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, plants are even more essential to the balance of your ecosystem and you will want to cover about 80% of the waters surface. Plant life in your pond also provides valuable biological filtration by removing nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other nutrients from the water that algae would otherwise feed on. If you are planning to add fish or other wildlife that live in and around your pond (or just want to keep the water clear), submerged and marginal plants will provide the food, shade, and protection for your pond residents. Parrot Feather, Foxtail, and Water Violet are referred to as ozygenators, these plants grow entirely submerged in the water and prevent growth of algae along with providing oxygen for the fish. Water Lilies, Floating Fairy Moss and Water Hyacinth, will float on top of the water surface and will provide shade thereby protecting your fish and keeping the water temperature down.

These plants also absorb dissolved nutrients that left alone, would encourage growth of algae. The roots of these plants also serve as a nesting place to protect fish eggs. Lastly, marginal plants are shallow water plants and sit in shallow areas of the pond. Their purpose is primarily decorative however they also add to and provide shade to the pond. Some examples of marginal plants include Winter Hardy Arrowhead, Yellow Water Iris and Cattail. Cattails also attract dragonflies and other mosquito-eating insects. In tropical climates, Nonhardy Taro, Canna, and Papyrus can also be used.

Rocks – I collect these everywhere I go. Rocks work well as decorative elements and equally as well for a border around your pond. They can also serve to keep predators away from your fish. Flagstones can be arranged around the pond to hang out and above the water providing more shade, keeping dirt out, and preventing access to your fish from predators. Rocks are a natural decorative element for use with any pond.

Garden Decorative Items: garden statues, garden stones, wind chimes, and birdfeeders all make wonderful additions to your pond landscape. A path of stepping stones leading up to your pond is also visually appealing and practical.

Fish – Once you have the proper ecosystem in place consider adding some fish to your pond. Adding pond fish will not only help support the ecosystem and reduce pond maintenance, but they will keep your pond free of mosquito eggs and larvae. A “mosquito fish” can eat up to 168 mosquitoes a day! Koi and goldfish are also good choices as they can tolerate fluctuations in water temperature and poor environments.

Installing Your Water Feature

Once you have planned and prepared you will be surprised at how easy the installation will go. There is really not much to it. Ready, set, start digging. Turn the preformed pond liner upside down in the desired location and trace around it with a shovel or hoe. Try to make the diameter of the hole the same size, or as close as possible, to that of the preformed plastic pond liner. Don’t worry too much if it’s not perfect as you can fill in with sand where the hole is too big but do your best to get as close to the actual size of the liner as you can. Do the same for the depth of the pond liner.

Once the hole is dug, put in about an inch of sand to cover the entire bottom of the hole. This will not only raise the liner about an inch above the ground and keep the dirt out of the pond but it will make it easier to move the liner around inside the hole to level it.

Put the preformed plastic liner into the hole and use your level to make sure it is level. Move the liner around until the liner is level from both front to back and side to side. You may need to remove the liner, add a little sand and/or move the sand around a bit to get it just right. Now, go get your fountain! Feed one end of the tubing through the top of the fountain and all the way through the fountain, leaving a short stub of tubing sticking out of the top. You will adjust this after hooking the other end of the tubing to the pump. Do not plug in the pump yet! Keep the plug end of the pump near the electrical outlet out of any wet areas. Never run your pump without water, it will overheat and damage the pump!

Fill the pond liner with water. You are almost there! Fill in any extra space around the pond liner with sand now that the water will hold the liner in place. Make it as compact as possible but allow a little room for expansion in freezing climates. Still without plugging in the pump, place the pump in the water.

Now situate the fountain in the desired location. I like the fountain to overlap the edge of the pond just a little. Sort of three quarters on the ground and one quarter over the pond. Use a brick or block to support if necessary. Take the plastic tubing that is coming out of the bottom of the fountain and attach it to the pump’s discharge adapter. Make any necessary adjustments to the fountain placement.

Now the big moment you have been waiting for! Plug in the pump and watch as the water shoots out of the fountain!

Add rocks, garden decorative items and plants both inside and around your new water feature and enjoy the gratification of all of your hard work for years to come.

Alison Dale,
Decorator’s Garden Supply

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