Wowing With Water Features: Create An Exquisite Focal Point

March 08, 2018

How to Plan, Design, and Maintain Your Water Feature

Water has long been considered one of life’s four essential elements (along with fire, earth, and air). It’s not only vital to survival, it heals, sustains, and balances. Research proves listening to water can decrease stress and lift the spirit, and watching it can dazzle and delight.

There are many reasons our Portland landscaping clients install water features. In addition to the intrinsic and aesthetic benefits of water, the sound of moving water is a great way to drown out traffic or other unwelcome noise. Water features also attract wildlife to your yard. If you’re interested in creating a Zen retreat or a meditation garden, be sure to include a water feature as a key ingredient in your overall design.

Landscape East & West has put together the following list of questions and tips to help with planning, designing, and maintaining your new water feature.

Step One: Planning Your Water Feature

1) Do you want fish and/or plants in your water feature?

This is a good place to start because living creatures will add organic waste to your water feature, requiring a certain type of heavy-duty filtration system to maintain proper circulation and water clarity. It’s better to answer this question up front to avoid any possible redesign costs down the road.

2) Do you envision a natural-looking water feature?

Think about how water flows in nature: It tumbles, flowing freely through landscapes. You won’t find walls or fences in natural water scenes. If you’re creating a more naturalistic water feature, consider a small stream or bubbler, and surround it with the right plants. If you want something more formal, a self-contained fountain system may be a better option.

3) What kind of sound do you want your water feature to produce? Swift-moving water cascading across rocks will help drown out traffic noise. If you prefer something more peaceful and contemplative, a soft trickle will suffice. Considering sound is an important part of water feature design.

4) Where will excess water go? Heavy water flow is always another important consideration for Portland landscaping maintenance. Consider adding a French drain or a catch basin .

5) What about lighting? Underwater lighting can produce dramatic and stunning results. Think about adding nighttime elegance by incorporating lighting fixtures in and around your water feature.

Step Two: Designing Your Water Feature

Once you’ve planned the basics, it’s time to dive into design. There are many types of water features to choose from, including Koi ponds, water gardens, waterfalls, and decorative fountains. As you plan, envision how your new water feature will fit in with current garden elements. Here are a few things to consider as you think about water feature design:

Include accessible, insulated pipes

Making water feature pipes and valves accessible makes plumbing repair easier (don’t hide pipes under huge, heavy boulders.)  Additionally, pipes need to be insulated. It may not freeze often in Portland, but when it does it’s best to be prepared. Pipes that aren’t close to the ground are more liable to freeze, crack, and break.

Get expert electrical advice

An electrician can ensure that your feature is properly supported. If Landscape East & West is designing and installing your water feature, we’ll handle this aspect of the design.

Decide between hard and soft liners

Soft liners work best for horizontal water features. If not cared for or used for vertical designs, liners tend to become punctured and leak. Gunite and concrete are better liner materials for more vertical, dramatic water features.

Carefully select water feature location

You want your water feature visible, yet out of the way of foot traffic. It will also need to be close to water access and electrical hookups, if required. Lastly, avoid placing your water feature in a windy area.

Important design considerations

Landscape architects ponder many design elements, including scale, setting, color scheme, and style (formal vs. naturalistic fountains) as they design water features. When it comes to the construction side of the design, things like choosing the right pump, nozzles, basin, and filtration system can get complex. Contact the experts at Landscape East & West if you’d like more information.


Water Feature Cleaning and Maintenance

Don’t let pipes break or freeze

As with irrigation systems, the best way to ensure your water feature still works after a hard freeze is to drain out all water before frigid weather arrives. Another option is to keep your water feature running—flowing water won’t freeze.

Water feature design determines which repair options are available. For example, since the pumps on some water features are practically inaccessible, when a pump fails you have to tear apart the water feature to gain access.

Keep water features clean

Your cleaning schedule is determined by several factors: The size of the feature, its filtration system, whether it contains fish or plants, and amount of detritus, like falling leaves. Some systems require cleaning every three months while others only need a good cleaning every two or three years. Pumps also need to be cleaned regularly and thoroughly. A toothbrush can be extremely handy when cleaning tough-to-reach nooks and crannies in your water feature. Be sure to ask your landscaping professional what cleaning schedule is best for your particular system.

Keep fountains filled with water

Evaporation and wind can slowly drain your water feature. This is dangerous because if a feature goes dry it is likely to destroy your pump. Be sure you refill your fountain regularly to avoid a burnt-out pump. Most water feature pumps are designed for continual operation so it’s best to keep them running constantly. Starting and stopping pumps can cause more wear and tear on the system.

Looking for a water feature design and maintenance professional in the Portland area?

From custom fountains to cascading waterfalls, Landscape East & West has the expertise to design the water feature of your dreams, seamlessly integrate it into your landscape, and bring your home into greater harmony with nature.

Learn more about our water feature design services.