Outdoor water features can work wonders on the mind—there’s nothing quite like the soothing power of lightly rippling waters. Since there are so many different types of water features available, almost every home’s landscape can tastefully incorporate one. Adding a water feature can be as simple as building a do-it-yourself fountain or as involved as hiring professionals to transform your lawn with a stream and waterfall. By keeping some of the following tips in mind, your dreams of having your very own peaceful haven can soon become a reality.

Designing a Water Feature

Figure out the basics. Almost anything can be done in terms of a water feature’s size, shape, and location—it all depends on the vision you have for your yard. The basic water features include:

  • Ponds: These can be built in the ground or above the ground. Inground ponds look more natural, but aboveground ponds are easier and faster to build; plus, they’re safer for young children.

  • Streams and waterfalls: Streams can be created in the ground through digging, or they can be made into aboveground features using a stone base. Waterfalls can be incorporated when the stream is built at a slope and steps are dug out; two- to four-inch-high steps create a babbling brook, whereas ten-inch-tall waterfalls generate more significant noise.

  • Fountains: These can be a feature on their own, or they can be part of a body of water. The design possibilities are endless—materials can include concrete, metal, and cast stone; they can be multi-tiered, hung on a wall, or made out of a simple bowl or pot; or they can incorporate a statue.

Complement the surroundings. Your water feature will be more aesthetically pleasing if designed to complement the style of your home and existing landscaping. For example, if you have a Victorian-style home, a geometrically shaped pond placed in a central location may be more suitable than a free-form pond in the corner of the yard. You might include a bamboo fountain if you have Asian-influenced landscaping or a tiered, concrete fountain if you have Spanish-inspired decor. If your yard’s more of a blank slate, you can design softscapes and hardscapes based on your water feature.

Carefully choose the location. Sunlight is the primary factor to consider when choosing a location, especially if you want a water garden. Aiming for at least six hours of daily sunlight usually allows for optimal growth for a variety of aquatic plants. However, make sure those six hours don’t all occur in the heat of the day—too much afternoon sun can overheat the water, encouraging algae growth and harming the plants.

If you want your feature to be easy to care for, don’t place it next to trees; otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning leaves out of the water. Plus, while digging, it’s possible to injure a tree’s roots, and in the future, growing roots can damage the water feature’s liner.

Consider critters. Water features not only entice people to their quiet waters, but they also lure wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and frogs. They can also incorporate different types of fish, including koi. Consider the wildlife you’d like to attract when determining the best style and location.

Keep the water moving. Circulating the water with a pump, waterfall, or fountain will keep mosquito larvae from hatching; plus, some animals, like birds, will be more attracted to the water. Moving water also increases aeration for fish. Make sure your water feature will have access to a power source so that a pump can be used. Some water features, like streams, will need a pump in the lower basin to push the water back to the top.

Maintaining a Water Feature

To keep outdoor water features as lovely as possible, it’s important to regularly maintain them. The extent of upkeep will depend on the type of water feature you have, but here are some general tips to incorporate in your maintenance plan:

  • Skim leaves weekly. If leaves and other debris build up, the water can turn brown, and toxic gases that harm fish may be released into the water. Trimming plants regularly can also keep debris to a minimum.

  • Remove any algae with a bristle brush. To combat algae buildup, regulate nutrients and light; for example, scavengers can help control pond waste, and floating plants can limit sunlight. Additives can also be used—barley is a natural deterrent to algae, and EPA-registered algaecides are also available.

  • Ensure that equipment like pumps and filters are free of clogs and operating properly.

  • Test the water weekly, especially if you have fish, as excessive amounts of chemicals like ammonia and chlorine can wreak havoc on them.

  • Perform a deep clean every spring and fall, and carefully check your water feature for wear and tear, like potential leaks, that may need to be addressed. Winterize your feature appropriately before cold weather arrives.

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Sources: Better Homes and Gardens; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Pond Trade Magazine; The Family Handyman; The New Complete Backyard Book.

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