A small pond and fountain add more than the illusion of luxury to landscapes; they also add the sound and sparkle of moving water and invite birds to join the party. Installing a pond and fountain can be heavy work, but it’s not at all complicated. If you can use a shovel and read a level, you can install a beautiful fountain like the classic Roman fountain shown here.
Most freestanding fountains are designed to be set into an independently installed water feature. The fountains typically are preplumbed with an integral pump, but larger ones may have an external pumping apparatus. The kind of kit you’ll find at your local building or garden center normally comes in at least two parts: the pedestal and the vessel.
The project shown here falls into the luxury-you-can-afford category and is fully achievable for a do-it-yourselfer. If the project you have in mind is of massive scale (with a pond larger than around 8 x 10 ft.) you’ll likely need to work with a pondscaping professional to acquire and install the materials needed for such an endeavor.
You can install a fountain in an existing water feature, or you can build a new one with a hard liner, as shown here, or with a soft liner. Have your utility providers mark the locations of all utility lines before beginning this or any project that involves digging.
The work necessary to install a garden pond and fountain will pay dividends for many years to come. The process is not complicated, but it does involve some fairly heavy labor, such as digging and hauling stones.
Installing Ponds & Fountains
A hard shell-type liner combines well with a fountain because its flat, hard bottom makes a stable surface for resting the fountain base. You may need to prop up the fountain to get it to the optimal level.
If you plan to stack your pond with plant life or livestock, it’s important to keep a healthy balance. For stocking with fish, the pond must be at least 24″ deep, and you should have at least one submerged water plant to create oxygen.
Most municipalities require that permanent water features be surrounded by a structure, fence, or wall on all sides to keep small children from wandering in. Good designers view this as a creative challenge, rather than an impediment.
Tools & Materials
Level; Compactable gravel; Tarp ; Shovel or spade; Interlocking paving stones; River stones; Hand tamp; Long, straight 2 x 4; Rope; Rubber floor mat; Trowel; Preformed pond liner; Freestanding fountain; 5-gallon bucket; Sand; Fountain pedestal.
Choose a flat area of your yard. Set the hard-shell pond liner right-side up in the installation area and adjust it until you are pleased with the location (it should be well away from buried utility lines). Hold a level against the edge of the top of the liner and use it as a guide to transfer the liner shape onto the ground below with a rope.
Cut away the sod within the outline. Measure the liner at the center and excavate the base area to this depth. Dig the hole 2 to 3″ deeper than the liner, and dig past the outline a couple of inches all the way around. If the sides of your liner are sloped, slope the edges of the hole to match.
Remove any rocks or debris on the bottom of the hole, and add sand to cover the bottom of the hole about 2″ deep. Test fit the liner and adjust the sand until the underside of the liner rim is slightly above ground and the liner is level from side to side.
Cut away the sod beyond the liner excavation area and dig out an area wide enough to accommodate your paving stones (coiled coping stones), about 1″ deeper than the average stone thickness. Flagstone is the most common natural stone choice for coping because it is flat; concrete pavers also may be used easily. Make sure the surface of the excavation is as level as possible.
Fill the liner with 4 to 6″ of water.Fill the space between the liner and the sides of the hole with damp sand using a 2 x 4 to tamp it down as you go. Add more water and then more sand; continue until the pond and the gap are filled.
Cover the pond and pedestal with a clean tarp, and add an inch of compactable gravel to the excavated area for the paving stones. Tamp down the gravel and check the area with a level. Cut a small channel for the power cord and route it beyond the excavated area toward a power source.
Ponds look more natural if you line the bottoms with rock. Small-diameter (2 to 3″) river rock is a good choice. Before putting it into the pond, rinse the rock well. One trick is to put the nozzle of a hose in the bottom of a clean 5-gallon bucket and then fill the bucket with dirty rock. Turn on the hose and let the water run for 15 minutes or so. This will cause impurities to float up and out of the bucket.
Remove the tarp from the pond and cover the bottom of the liner with washed river rock. Place the fountain onto the pedestal and submerge the cord, running it out of the pond in an inconspicuous spot, such as between two pavers.
Allow the water to settle for 30 minutes or so, and then turn on the fountain pump and test. Let the pump run for an hour or so, and then turn it off and remove the fountain head. Use a hose and spray nozzle to clear out any blockages. Perform this maintenance regularly and whenever you notice that the spray from the fountain seems to be restricted.
Power cord management
There are many ways to provide electrical power to operate the fountain pump. The best way is to add a new outdoor circuit, but this requires an electrician if you are not experienced with home wiring. The easier route is to feed your ountain pump with an exterior-rated extension cord that’s plugged into an existing outdoor receptacle. Because having an extension cord laying in your lawn is both a tripping hazard and an electrical hazard (lawn mowers and wiring do not get along), you can bury the cord in a shallow trench.To protect it from digging instruments, either backfill with rocks so you know the exact location of the cord or bury it encased in heavy conduit.
Avoid using this tactic if the pond is located more than 50 feet from the power source.