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So, you want to install a water feature?

September 8, 2020 -  By
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Water feature (Photo: Aquascape Construction)

Photo: Aquascape Construction

When installing water features, it comes down to more than clients’ budgets and the type of water feature they’d like to install.

“There are a lot of things to consider because water offers more than a simple, static, testament in the landscape,” says Demi Fortuna, director of product information and education for Atlantic Water Gardens. “For example, a landscape plant, it just sits there, whereas water is about sight, sound and motion.”

Brian Helfrich, vice president of Aquascape Construction, agrees.

“Ponds, waterfalls and fountains bring an element of relaxation and refreshment to a landscape,” he says. “People choose water destinations, like oceans, lakes and rivers, for vacation because it helps them to relax and unwind. Having a water feature in the yard is like having your own year-round personal ‘staycation.’”

Landscape Management spoke with Fortuna and Helfrich to determine what types of questions contractors should consider to ensure their clients get the best bang for their buck.

1. Why does the client want a water feature?

Customers may want to install a water feature for a variety of reasons — for wading purposes, for children to enjoy a shallow pebble beach area or to attract wildlife, for example.

“If (the client) wants koi, the pond needs to be at least 24 inches deep,” Helfrich says. “Do they want to attract birds? If so, then include shallow areas where the water is slower moving, and the birds can enjoy bathing. Do they want to drown out traffic or neighborhood noise? If yes, then a louder waterfall should be installed, such as one that’s faster moving and slightly taller than a babbling brook.”

2. How much maintenance is the client comfortable with?

While some clients don’t mind getting into the nitty-gritty of water feature maintenance, for others, such upkeep is a chore. “It’s important to match the maintenance with the customer,” Fortuna says.

Helfrich adds, “Die-hard gardeners won’t mind getting in a large pond to divide waterlilies or do other basic pond chores. Avoid an area of the yard with a lot of trees if the homeowner doesn’t want to frequently empty the skimmer basket of leaves and debris, although this is a simple task, provided the skimmer has a basket inside.”

For clients who don’t wish to perform maintenance, Fortuna suggests installing a simple retaining wall waterfall where all homeowners have to do is flip a switch to turn it on and off and, depending on their region, pull out the pump in the wintertime with a quick disconnect that requires just a screwdriver.

He adds that if a client is willing to spend a little more money, many manufacturers offer automated systems that clean themselves.

3. Where should the water feature be placed?

When deciding the best location for a water feature, Fortuna says it’s important to determine from which windows and angles the homeowner will be able to view — and listen to — the water feature when inside.

Kitchen windows, dining room sliding doors and bedroom windows are optimal spots to meet those purposes.

Also consider the elevation and topography of a yard.

“If the elevation slopes away from the house, a berm will need to be built up so the waterfall can face the house, but don’t build the berm too high or the waterfall will look unnatural, especially in a flatter landscape,” Helfrich says.

For ponds, there’s the additional determination of whether to place it in a shady or sunny area.

“A shady pond will have less algae to deal with, but the type of aquatic plants that thrive in shade are limited,” Helfrich says. “A sunny pond will naturally produce more algae — this can be controlled with water treatments — but more types of aquatic plants will thrive in a sunny location. Waterlilies, for example, ideally need six hours of direct sunlight to perform optimally.”

Other steps to take include knowing which trees have more sensitive root systems, so crews can avoid disrupting them by digging a pond too close; checking easements on a property to avoid building on areas where the city might need access; and ensuring there is outdoor electricity available for the pump and water feature lights.

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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