Few things are as soothing on a stifling summer day as the sound of water tumbling over rocks. More people are investing in water features for their yards, and it can be quite an investment. But it doesn't have to be. If you are on a limited budget, there are professionals ready with advice on how to create your own waterfall.
Pondless waterfalls are the cheapest way to go. They can be as simple as one standing rock with water burbling out to a creek meandering through the yard. With the addition of a recirculating pump, they are water-efficient. And no pond means no problems with algae or mosquitoes breeding in the water. Prices can be as low as $55.
Dennis Trost, co-owner of In Thee Garden in Medford, says the first — often overlooked — step in designing a backyard water feature is thorough planning.
"What do you want to accomplish?" asks Trost. "The site is always a real important consideration. Is it in a spot where you can enjoy it all the time? Pick a location where you won't run into roots or have leaves falling into it. The biggest thing people have problems with is they buy components before they have their plan together.
"There are formulas for determining the right-size pipe and pump for various types (of layouts). Often people buy pipe that is too small for the pump. There are many variables, and it is best to ask someone qualified."
Trost favors using rubber liners for water features because of the flexibility they allow in design. "You just dig a hole the size and shape you want and line it with rubber liner," he says. "But it is important to use the best, heavy, 45-mil. liner. It has a 20-year warranty."
Pondless water features still need a holding tank for the recirculating water, but now it is possible to have a hidden reservoir under the water feature. Trost says a 4-square-foot hole that is 2 feet deep will hold enough water for most small features. It is best to provide an underlayer of sand or even an old carpet to protect the liner.
Filling the hole with rubber liner and then concrete blocks allows it to be covered with a grate. Or the hole can be filled with pea gravel or small, round, drain rock. If using rock, wash it first to help keep the water clean, recommends Trost.
Grates come in steel or plastic. Covering the grate with small rocks allows it to be walked on.
Building the waterfall itself, using either mortar or Touch 'n Foam landscaping adhesive for small to mid-sized rocks, is a matter of duplicating the look of natural rock formations.
Pete Cislo, owner of Leave Your Mark in Phoenix, sells rocks of all colors and sizes from all over North America, including predrilled boulders that can be used alone as water features. He also has plastic reservoir tubs with screen covers.
"You want one heavy enough you don't have to worry about a deer or dog stepping in it," says Cislo.
Cislo recommends matching the rocks used to cover a grate with the rocks used as edging on the stream to make it look more natural. He also has an assortment of rocks with natural openings so it looks like the water is coming from a crack or hole.
Cislo says he has no problem with people who can't afford his full services and just want to create their own water features. He even will visit a customer's property to give advice. But Leave Your Mark will not deliver rocks where there is not a safe, outside, electrical outlet with ground fault interruption put in by a licensed electrician.
Trost says it is important to invest in a good-quality pump, as cheaper ones tend to burn out quickly. Good-quality, solar pumps are now available, and he can order them, but they are very expensive.
Both men agree that the addition of lighting adds immeasurably to the appeal of a water feature, and they offer numerous options.
So if your heart is set on adding water to your yard, talk to a local water-feature specialist. This is an area where experience helps.