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The Pros and Cons of a Pondless Water Features

November 01, 2023

Water features can be a beautiful addition to any landscape offering the soothing sound of trickling water while adding aesthetic appeal. There are many types of water features to choose from but they generally fall into two basic groupings:  those with a pond and those that are pondless. No matter what type of water feature you choose, Landscape East & West can design and install it, but here we’re going to look at the pros and cons of choosing a pondless water feature.

Basically, a pondless water feature recirculates water without the presence of a pond. Water is contained in an in-ground reservoir and is pumped out as a fountain or waterfall, and then the water flows back down into the reservoir. Looking beyond function, the options for a pondless water feature are anything but basic.   

The most common pondless water feature is a fountain that can be nearly any shape, size, or material and placed on patios, porches, or really in any space. Growing beyond fountains are options such as water walls, rain curtains, streambeds, disappearing waterfalls and geysers, bubbling rocks or pebble pools, and even tiered features.

  • A tiered water feature displays water flowing across multiple levels as a cascading stream or fountain.
  • Disappearing waterfalls flow down and seem to disappear behind a wall of rock or gravel as the water is simply being recirculated from a below-ground reservoir. A disappearing geyser is similar except the water shoots upward from the ground instead of flowing down.  
  • Rain curtains and water walls both consist of vertical structures from which water flows down. For rain curtains, the structure is more of a frame leaving the water to fall like rain, while a wall is a solid and smooth structure like glass or stone providing a modern and elegant look to outdoor spaces.
  • Pebble pools and bubbling rocks are good choices for a more natural look. Pebble pools are just what the name implies: pools filled with decorative stones that water flows over. Bubbling rocks are large bounders with a drilled hole at the top through which water is pumped and then flows down the sides back to the hidden reservoir.

From a practical standpoint, the choice between pond and pondless may depend on your irrigation and supply source for water and electricity, as well as where you want the feature located. A rain curtain in that far-off corner of the yard might look dramatic, but if there’s no power source it may not make sense. 

Pay attention to other landscaping elements as well. A pond next to a pine tree that loses its needles will be a maintenance headache. Consider the size, scope, and available space that will allow for irrigation while remaining code-compliant. 

When planning the design for your water feature, consider the style of your home and yard. Natural rock generally looks good in most yards, but a copper water wall may be the perfect accent for a contemporary design. And finally, think through how close you want your family, friends, and pets to be to the water feature. You may not want to shout to your guests over the sound of a waterfall or have your soundtrack backdropped by a bubbling fountain. 

The team at Landscape East & West can install any of these features and we can even help you customize a feature to meet your space requirements and taste.

If you’re considering a pondless water feature, here are some of the benefits:

Space Efficient: Pondless water features are an ideal solution for smaller yards that may not be able to accommodate a pond.

Safety: Pondless water features have no open water so they are safer for families with small children and pets.

Customizable: The choices for pondless water features are endless with a wide range of design options in varying sizes, shapes, colors, and even water flow patterns. No matter which design you choose, the feature will add beauty and tranquility to your landscape.

Low Maintenance: With no standing water to clean and treat against algae growth, and the ability to simply shut off the pump for the winter, pondless water features require much less maintenance than ponds.

Water Conservation: Running with recirculated water means less water is used in a pondless system than in a traditional pond that may require emptying and refilling. In addition, pondless water features have less evaporation. 

Lower Operating Costs: With smaller pumps and filtration systems, pondless water features use less energy and therefore have lower operating costs.

While there are many good reasons to choose a pondless water feature, if your dream yard includes water where fish swim, egrets visit, and pond lilies thrive, then a pond becomes a priority. If this is you, then choosing a pondless water feature instead of a pond does have some disadvantages:

Limited Habitat: Fish and water plants do not live in fountains, so if koi and an abundance of aquatic plants are your passion, pondless is not an option.

Sound: Sitting next to a fountain versus a waterfall and pond will offer your ears a different sound. Fountains, to some listeners, can give off a monotonous and more “artificial” sound than a water feature with a pond. Plus the sound of the pump working is more noticeable in a pondless system.

Reduced water quality: This is not a given, but water that is constantly circulated may not be as well filtered and clear as a pond system. Much of this depends on a good maintenance plan to keep up the appearance and functionality of the pump.

Cost: If going pondless doesn’t mean smaller, but means cascading waterfalls and bubbling streams, the cost will be higher than installing a basic pond.

If you ever regret going pondless, you can always install a pond at the base of a waterfall or perch your fountain in the center of one at a later time. Ultimately, whether a pondless water feature is a good choice for your landscape depends on your preferences, available space, budget, and how you prioritize the pros and cons. 

Landscape East & West can do a site visit to provide recommendations that match your space, and your budget. Contact us today to get started. 

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