Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Here's how you can create a peaceful water feature for people, animals

By Diana C. Kirby
Special to the American-Statesman
For a more permanent structure, you can create a pond with a fountain surrounded by rocks.

The new year is traditionally a time of personal reflection and focus. It also offers an opportunity to consider adding focus to your landscape.

We often resist making changes in the garden because the project seems overwhelming, and we don’t know where to begin. One of the best ways to help pull things together and freshen your space is the addition of a simple focal point.  

Common focal points include benches, pottery, statues, obelisks, water features, trellises, gazing balls, trees and other striking or sculptural specimen plants. A focal point draws the visitor’s eye and gives the garden definition. It adds interest, enhancing texture, color and contrast throughout the landscape.  

Designed to complement the surrounding garden design and style, a focal point should be chosen with intention.  

Water features bring wildlife to the garden.

Why consider a water feature focal point?

A water feature makes a beautiful, multipurpose addition to the garden.  Placed in a visible location, its soothing sounds imbue a sense of peace and tranquility. Creating a sanctuary and sense of serenity at home is more important than ever as the pandemic continues to escalate.

A birdbath, bubbling fountain or pond also entices wildlife into the garden. Birds, insects, frogs and other wildlife appreciate fresh water year-round, but especially in our hot, dry summers. With proper pond size and depth, koi and other fish can provide hours of enjoyment.  Beneficial wildlife attracted to your water will help control many undesirable insects like mosquitoes.

Interesting water spouts and catchment vessels offer focal points that don't feel like they came out of a box.

What’s the best water feature for me?

“When choosing a water feature, a customer should consider the purpose and amount of maintenance they want to undertake,” says Emily Walker, sales manager at Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery. “That will determine the type of feature best for them.”

Adding an inexpensive solar fountain disk offers the simplest option for do-it-yourselfers. With sufficient sunlight, a small solar disk can be placed in a bird bath or other shallow vessel to create bubbling or a fountain effect to keep water moving and prevent mosquito hatching. Our hard water can quickly calcify small solar pumps, so routine cleaning is key to their longevity.

Simple do-it-yourself, all-in-one container fountain kits are available at local nurseries and garden centers and online.  With a 5-gallon plastic bucket, a pretty container, rocks, some tubing and a pump, you can add a sense of tranquility to the smallest patio or tabletop.

Larger, more elaborate tiered and disappearing fountains or ponds are more complex, requiring more work and expertise. If you’re not prepared to dig a large, in-ground recirculating reservoir in our hard clay and limestone, many local nurseries and garden centers sell, design, deliver and install larger water features.  

A large ceramic pot can be turned into a water feature with rocks and a pump that circulates the water.

How do I keep it clean?

All water features require maintenance. Leaves and debris will find their way in and require regular clearing to prevent clogging of the filter and circulation system.  Disappearing fountains with underground reservoirs, mesh and rocks tend to be somewhat easier to maintain.  

Never use bleach in a water feature. You might think just a little bleach won’t hurt animals; just imagine if you put little bleach in your iced tea. Bleach also will degrade your equipment. Inner pump parts are plastic, and bleach will break them down quickly.

Walker recommends using a 20 percent horticultural vinegar (not grocery store cooking vinegar) or an algaecide to clean water features.

Contrary to common perception, algae improve water quality.  

“Algae helps clean the water, removing ammonia, phosphates, and nitrates,”  Walker says. “Water with some algae is actually good for birds and other small animals.”

For pond owners with aquatic life, experts recommend letting some algae grow.  If algae become too unsightly, algaecide can be used to keep them under control but not remove them entirely.

A steel barrel with water plants is a simple water feature. Add a solar pump to circulate the water.

Where to find resources and information?

Several local nurseries offer water features, supplies and custom design, installation and maintenance services.  

“At Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery, we cater to the DIY person and have many options for customers to consider,” Walker says. “We can help the person who wants a cute little patio fountain they can put in trunk and just plug in at home, as well as someone who wants a grand, tiered fountain. We can install any feature or give customers the tools to do it themselves.”

Landscape Designer Diana Kirby helps garden lovers by educating, designing and installing successful gardens. For consulting, follow her at dianasdesignsaustin.com, Diana’s Designs on Facebook or @dianasdesignsaustin on Instagram.

A steel container water feature surrounded by rocks creates a clean design.

Other Central Texas nurseries providing water features or supplies

Leaf Landscape Supply 

The Great Outdoors

Solstice Outdoors

Green and Growing