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DIY Water Garden in a Weekend

By Melanie Moffett
In p. Allen Smith
Jul 24th, 2015


Incorporating Water is Easier Than You Might Think

article by P. Allen Smith

Who doesn’t love to hear the bubbling of water in their garden? A water feature provides a pleasing ambience, serves as a focal point and the promise of a cool drink is the perfect invitation for birds and other wildlife you want to welcome into your garden.  When I say the word fountain, people often envision something large, permanent and laborious to install. But water features can be small and simple, too. No matter the size of your space, you can enjoy the relaxing sound of water.

Water features are not difficult to create and design yourself. All you need is a water pump, tubing, a watertight vessel or space, decorative cover or rocks and a few thirsty plants.

Oh, The Possibilities!
Decide what type of vessel will be the showcase for your DIY water feature. The container choices vary greatly.  The easiest and least expensive containers are the ones you choose to recycle from around your home. I once made a DIY water feature from an old galvanized washtub I found in the barn.  I was amazed at how it brought an element of whimsy to a neglected corner of the garden.

If your home has a formal architectural design, try creating the look of classic fountains or pools in geometric shapes such as a circle, rectangle or square. For a cottage style home, look for wooden tubs, whimsical fountains, and pools with curved and sinuous shapes.  For contemporary homes, choose a water feature with minimalist appeal, such as a boulder or large rock with natural indentions where water can collect.

If you want a smaller water feature for an intimate garden space, decorative ceramic vessels are always a good choice, because they are watertight and tend not to vibrate from the pump.  If there is a hole in the bottom of your vessel, simply fill it with plumber’s putty. Look for it at your local hardware store.  For the best results, choose a container that’s at least 8-16 inches across in diameter. Provide a depth of at least 4-6 inches.

Pump It Up
Water pumps are available in a variety of types and styles.  The most common types of submersible pumps are in-line, utility, solids, axial and solar pumps. In-line pumps pull water from a remote water source, such as an inlet or creek. Utility pumps filter water to screen out debris, mostly used in pond-size water features. Solids pump will allow small amounts of debris to pass through without clogging. Axial pumps will accommodate high flow, low pressure features, because they tend to be large and require large piping.  Solar pumps, which come in a variety of sizes, are a good option, when there is not a voltage power source nearby. What you choose will depend on the size and design of your water feature.

Set Up is a Snap
If you are using an electric pump, place your water feature in an area close to an outdoor outlet. You’ll need this power source to operate the water pump.  Surrounding plants make a good cover to conceal the power cord. Solar-powered pumps will need plenty of sunshine to work at an optimum level.

Place the pump near the center of the vessel and then fill the vessel with fresh water.  You will need tubing.  Tubing size will depend on your feature, but the most common size is 1/2″ inner diameter, 5/8″ outer diameter. Cut the tubing to a length that will fit your design.  Slip the tubing onto the pump spout. The water should cover the end of the tubing by at least 8 inches to reduce evaporation.  And make sure the pump is fully submerged to prevent it from burning out.

Turn on the pump and experiment with water patterns.  Decorative stones can accentuate rippling sounds and bring more depth and beauty to your water feature.  While covering the pump with rocks is not really necessary, it does make it easier to conserve room in a smaller container and helps muffle any humming noise. You may also choose to place larger rocks around the pump first and then fill with other small rocks.

Keep the Flow Going
You spent time and effort creating the perfect water feature for your garden.  So to keep it running beautifully, a little maintenance is required. Monitor your water level to keep the pump completely submerged at all times. Water should be added when needed. Remove any windblown clippings or dead foliage to keep water clean and pump clear. Debris like this can block the water flow through a pump, causing it to overheat. While most pumps are designed to shut off when they get too hot, it may cause your pump to malfunction. Investing this small amount of maintenance will keep your DIY water feature looking beautiful and working properly.

Water-Loving Plants
Water features crave plants.  Not only do they create a picturesque balance of beauty, introducing plants to your water feature will help maintain the nutrient balance by absorbing carbon dioxide and minerals from the water. This process will assist in keeping algae in check and naturally help ward off the murky, green mess.  When choosing plants for your garden water features, nature always has the best advice.

 Iris: Irises are popular and my favorite to place near a garden water feature.  They range in height from 6 inches to 6 feet, and their flower colors vary from white to yellow to purple. Their spear-shaped leaves provide a nice texture contrast to floating plants.

Yellow Floating Heart: Water floater with heart-shaped leaves no larger than four inches, this aquatic perennial produces a brilliant yellow bloom.  Blooms usually last no more than one day, but it’s worth the tranquil beauty and effect it brings to the water garden. Also known as water fringe.

Graceful Grasses® Baby Tut® Umbrella Grass: This elegant, rich green water garden grass can reach up to 24 inches.  This grass can be placed in shallow water or directly in soil of the surrounding garden.