P. Allen Smith: DIY Water Garden in a Weekend

Remember to vary the types of plants in your water features.

Incorporating water into your garden is easier than you might think.

Photography by Mark Fonville


Who doesn’t love to hear the bubbling sound of water? A water feature is the perfect solution, providing pleasing ambience and a focal point, and the promise of a cool drink is the perfect invitation to welcome birds and other wildlife 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. No matter the size of your space, you can still enjoy the relaxing sound of water.

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

Step 1: Decide what type of vessel will showcase for your DIY water feature. The container that holds your water can vary greatly; it’s all up to your imagination. 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 like circles, rectangles or squares. For a rustic or 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 in which water can collect.

If there is a hole in the bottom of your vessel, simply fill it with plumber’s putty.

If there is a hole in the bottom of your vessel, simply fill it with plumber’s putty.

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, which can be purchased at a local hardware store. For the best results, choose a container that’s at least 8 to 16 inches across in diameter. And make sure to provide a depth of at least 4 to 6 inches. Inadequate size and depth will require that you fill it with water more frequently.

Step 2: Place the pump near the center of the vessel, and then fill it with fresh water. You will need tubing as well, the size of which will depend on your feature, but the most common size is 1/2” inner diameter, 5/8” outer diameter. Cut the tubing length to fit your design.  Slip the tubing onto the pump spout and get about 8 inches or more of the tubing to elevate the water. The water will need to cover the pump; otherwise, it will burn 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 necessary, it does make it easier to conserve room in a smaller container and it helps muffle any humming noise. You may also choose to place larger rocks around the pump first and then fill it in with other, smaller rocks.

Step 3: Place your water feature in an area close to an outdoor outlet as you’ll need this power source to operate the water pump. Surrounding plants make a good cover to conceal the power cord.

Water pumps are also 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 pumps 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. And solar pumps, which come in a variety of sizes, are a good option when there is not a voltage power source nearby. Solar-powered pumps will need plenty of sunshine, however, to work at an optimum level. Another disadvantage to solar pumps is that water flow is not as lively as compared to those utilizing an electrical power source. What you choose will depend on the size and design of your water feature.


Step 4: 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, making sure the water level does not drop below the height of the water pump.

Also ensure that you remove any windblown clippings or dead foliage to keep water clean and the 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 still may cause your pump to malfunction.

Investing time into this small amount of maintenance will keep your DIY water feature looking beautiful and working properly.

tagged in Garden, water
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