The Wonders of Water Features

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Consider your landscape a canvas. Your artistry with plants, hardscapes and other features can make the space a customized refuge where you can enjoy fresh air and a natural environment. Add a fountain, pond or waterfall, and you’ve got a relaxing, tranquil getaway.

“A water feature can increase a home’s resale value as well as add a unique aesthetic complement to a home’s landscaping,” says Keith Ray of pond maintenance company Pondkeepers. “And the sound of a water feature is not only soothing but also can help cover less desirable sounds.”

Perhaps you’d like a water feature in your landscape but don’t know what type is best for your yard. Or maybe you already have a feature but you’d like to revamp or add to it. Following are five expert-recommended projects to create the perfect waterscape for your outdoor area. Prices and time frame for projects have escalated in recent years. Please check with stores and professionals for up-to-date prices.


1. Install a new rainwater-harvesting fountain

Price: $2,000-$4,000, depending on size
DIY difficulty: Medium (obtain guidance from a pro)
Time: 1 day if professionally installed; 3-4 days if a DIY project
Maintenance: Minimal; keep leaves and debris off decorative gravel

While fountains are easy on the eyes and ears, the real beauty in rainwater-harvesting features is in their function. Surrounded by decorative gravel that absorbs the falling water, underneath these features are basins lined with rubber and special equipment to capture rainwater and circulate it through the fountain. Because the basin is underground, the water isn’t exposed to sunlight, eliminating the risk of algae growth. The water is also protected from contamination by leaves and debris.

“In some rain-harvesting fountains, the water feature pool may wrap around a portion of the house and have several chains directing the rainwater for collection,” says David White of Specialty Fountains. These kinds of systems can incorporate an underground cistern for additional water collection and can direct overflow from the fountain pool to an underground cistern for additional collection. A pump at the cistern then recirculates the water back to the water feature. “You can also locate your fountain feature below a rain gutter and have a rain chain direct the water flow down to the feature pool.”

With these water features, homeowners can be environmentally friendly and avoid the worries of maintenance while creating a peaceful, tranquil area.


2. Install a new pond

Price: $1,250+ for DIY; $4,500+ for professional installation
DIY difficulty: Medium to difficult, depending on size of pond and stones
Time: 2 days to several months, depending on size and scope of installation and whether performed by a professional or as a DIY project
Maintenance: Spring opening and fall shutdown; weekly cleaning; maintaining doses of beneficial bacteria

Having a pond means having a hobby—while the maintenance may seem extensive, a pond is a mini ecosystem, attracting frogs, butterflies, birds and more. “The transformation that a yard undergoes once a pond is designed and constructed is truly amazing,” says Shay Grant of Grant Garden Group, a company specializing in landscaping, hardscaping and gardening. “Within a few hours, frogs, birds and dragonflies will call the water theirs, bringing new life to the area.”

You can keep fish in the pond for added natural beauty and entertainment, and you can adorn the pond with aquatic plants. Required installation equipment includes a pump, liner and filters (both skimmer and biological).

The trick to installing a new pond is to make it appear as a natural part of your landscape—not just a hole in the ground. James Hartmann of Aquatic Innovations says that creating a pond that looks entirely natural is somewhat of an art. “Start with natural stone, using as little concrete as possible,” he suggests. “I use mossy creek boulders a lot in streams.” These are small boulders that already have moss and lichen growing on them, creating a truly natural look and feel.


3. Install a water garden with pond and waterfall or stream

Price: $7,500-$15,000+
DIY difficulty: Difficult—hire a pro
Time: 1-14 days, depending on size and scope of installation
Maintenance: Add water and beneficial bacteria periodically as needed; remove debris weekly; completely clean the feature once annually

The installation of a pond, waterfall and/or stream can be as extensive as you’d like. “Enjoy all the elements of water gardening—the sight and sound of a waterfall stream, areas to have beautiful water lilies and other low-maintenance aquatic plants and a home for colorful koi,” says Ryan Young with Aquascape Inc. Regarding the maintenance of such an extensive water garden, he adds that, “Homeowners typically comment that they spend less time taking care of their water feature weekly than they did mowing an equally sized patch of grass.”

“An ecosystem pond works with Mother Nature to provide food, shelter and safety to the wildlife around it, and it provides an all-natural, low-maintenance piece of paradise,” says James Darden of Water, Color & Stone, an environmental design company that specializes in sustainable outdoor solutions. He warns, however, that owners must ensure the balance of their ecosystems. “Every piece of the ecosystem puzzle must be present for a true ecosystem to function, and once you eliminate one of these elements, you’ve got an unbalanced ecosystem that won’t be so low-maintenance anymore.”


4. Install underwater, low-voltage lighting in your pond

Price: $60-$450+
DIY difficulty: Easy to medium, depending on how extensive the lighting system will be
Time: 1 day
Maintenance: None

“Many pond owners miss out on getting the most from their pond or water feature by not installing underwater lighting,” Darden says. Adding underwater lights to your garden brings the feature to life after dusk, creating a gorgeous focal point in your outdoor living area when entertaining guests at night. “If you enjoy watching your fish play in the pond, there is no better time than at night,” Darden adds. “It’s as though the pond takes on a whole new life, with your fish playing under the well-lit waterfall or actively swimming under the curtain of darkness above the pond.”

Darden also adds that low-voltage, 12-volt systems are a great way to go. “They offer a wide range of lighting levels that can be tailored to your landscape, and a 12-volt operation is very safe,” he says. A typical low-voltage system consists of a couple of different components, including a transformer, timer, photo cell, fixtures, wiring, splices, lamps and mounting hardware, such as stakes, deck mounts or tree mounts.


5. Add UV filtration to your water garden

Price: $80-$300
DIY difficulty: Easy
Time: Less than 1 hour
Maintenance: Completing this project lessens the maintenance of your pond

Upgrade your current pond filter to a UV clarifying and filtration unit. The unit works by exposing water to ultraviolet light, which causes algae to stick together, making it large enough to be filtered.

“Every pond should have a pump, filter, and UV light,” Hartman says. “This equipment will support all the fish and plant life required to have a backyard pond.” Cleaning should take place about once a month, and you should remember that pumps usually last around two years, while ultraviolet lights stop producing UV light after the same amount of time.

“The easy addition of UV filtration will minimize maintenance and simplify the homeowner’s quest for crystal-clear water,” says Doug Ward, president of GeoGlobal Partners, distributors of smartpond products. Ward also recommends purchasing pumps with the automatic shut-off feature. “With the auto-shut-off pumps, homeowners no longer need to worry about pump burnout if they forget to keep their fountains filled with water,” he explains. “When water levels become too low, the pump shuts off. As the water level is restored, the pump automatically resumes operation.”

Benefits of Rainwater Harvesting

Clean, filtered water collection and storage
•    While you enjoy the benefits of a decorative water feature, the rainwater-harvesting system filters the stored water to prevent stagnation and growth of unhealthy bacteria.
•    The rainwater-harvesting system reveals a beautiful water feature that integrates easily into existing landscapes.
•    Collecting and storing the water underground maintains the integrity and beauty of your home and landscape.

Attracting wildlife
•    Because the water stored in the system is constantly moving and being aerated, it becomes a sanctuary for wildlife.

A relaxing environment
•    Enhanced landscaping improves property value, and water features provide soothing sights and sounds that help you relax and de-stress.

Environmental Conservation
•    Capturing rainwater to operate the water feature creates true self-sustainability and drastically reduces the need for traditional chemically treated water sources. —James Darden, Water, Color & Stone

Winter care for your fountain

Most fountains need to be winterized to guard against frost damage during the colder months of the year. Any feature that can hold water, snow or ice, such as fountain bowls, shells or pools, may be damaged by winter freeze/thaw cycles.
Cast stone fountains can be vulnerable to cracks and crumbling, as the material is porous. Concrete has microscopic pores that absorb water. When the water freezes and expands in the pores it can cause the material to crumble or crack. To protect your fountain, all plugs and stoppers should be pulled. The fountain should be kept dry during winter months if you live in a cold region. It is also best when assembling the fountain to use a patio paver or stones on which to rest the fountain; this prevents ground moisture from wicking up the concrete material on the pedestal. In addition, it is wise to use a product such as Protecrete Repeller to seal the fountain.  The sealer will also make it easier to clean the fountain.
—David White, Specialty Fountains



Expert Budget Tips

Start with a smaller water feature, such as a fountainscape or pondless waterfall. If you opt for the pondless waterfall, an ecosystem pond can be added at a later date when your budget allows.

If you’re having a contractor install the water feature for you, be sure to check references. It also helps to find a certified installer who has to prove his or her workmanship and excellence in customer service before being certified. If you’re tackling the water feature on your own, purchase materials from a reputable water garden retailer that has the knowledge and experience to help answer your questions about maintenance and installation.
—Ryan Young, technical services supervisor, Aquascape Inc.

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