Bubble Rock - Converting a small pond to a bubble rock

Danville, IN

Bubble rocks* are becoming more popular, especially for gardeners who don't want to have a pond, but do want a water feature. Bubble rocks are easy to construct over a weekend, and usually involve using a liner. However, if you have any type of container such as a plastic barrel, old bathtub, etc., they work just as well. This past week, I converted a small ornamental pond I have had for many years into a bubble rock. It took just a few hours, once I had all of the materials, and cost well under $200. The original pond was constructed over 20 years ago using a farm supply store water trough. Now that I have two larger ornamental ponds, I wanted to re-use the small one that we enjoy from our breakfast nook.

*In this area, we call them bubble rocks, but I've heard them called bubblers, and other names. They are a variation of pondless waterfalls.

This first photo shows the cleaned out pond tub.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

You will need some sort of container with a lid to hold the pump. I've seen people use the containers that kitty litter comes in, but a 5 gallon bucket with a lid is perfect. This one I got at Lowe's, obviously. You need to drill lots of holes for water to get in the bucket, and one large hole for the hose to go from the pump to the rock.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

You will also need a pump and some tubing. This pump was only $40. I get my supplies from a local place that sells everything you need for making ponds, waterfalls, etc. You should be able to get most everything from a big box store.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

The pump goes into the bucket as shown. (Note: The size of the pump determines the force of the water as it comes out of the rock. Some pumps can have their flow adjusted, but it's wasteful to have a large pump that you have to slow down.)

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

I make a notch on the edge so that the electrical cord can come out and the lid snapped on flush.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

The tub was deeper than I needed it to be, so I filled up the bottom foot or so with upside down plastic pots, old bricks, etc. Notice the pump bucket is set on a plastic pot that was just the right height to make the top level with the top of the tub.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

Most instructions will tell you to fill up the tub or liner-created basin with large gravel. This works, but I find that if you use short sections of corrugated drain tile, you will have more space for water to store (the reservoir). The idea is to have enough water stored so that you won't have to worry about filling the reservoir all the time, as rain will usually replenish it safely. Using all gravel leaves only about 20% of the space for water. This "opens up" lots of room for water. I've seen special crates sold at pond centers for this purpose, but they cost over $20 each! For a few dollars, you can accomplish the same thing. (After the next step, I will be using some gravel.)

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

This isn't necessary, but laying some weed fabric over the drainpipes will keep the gravel from filling in around them.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

Now, I'm filling in the remaining space with coarse gravel. This is #5L washed river gravel, a local resource.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

The tub is filled to the brim with gravel, and I'm filling it with water. Now for the fun part!

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

I'd chosen a rock at the pond center, and paid them to drill the hole through it. It cost me only $15 for the rock, but $65 for drilling the hole. Any rock center usually can drill this hole for you.You can also buy rocks pre-drilled, but many are very expensive at garden centers (like hundreds of dollars!). I'd check rock supply places first. Be sure to specify the size of the hose you will be using!

This rock is called "sponge rock", and I believe it comes from Missouri. You might need to raise it up from the gravel by using some bricks or other rocks so that the hose won't kink when you set the rock upright.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

Once you set your bubble rock in position, you will probably have to make some adjustments to get the look you want. I propped up one side and the back so that the water flowed down the front better. I think it looks better when you add other pieces of the same rock, but I've seen and done others that have just the one interesting rock, kind of like a piece of sculpture. I like to plant around the tub of gravel to break up the edge. In this case, I used a Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota decussata) and some flowering kale (it is November!), adding to the existing landscaping. I also mulched.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

Notice that I used some other flat rock I had to break up the edge and hopefully make the whole feature not so stark in the setting. I also bought one bag of "Burnt Coral" rock to scatter on the gravel to help blend it in.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

One last photo to show the bubble rock up close. I'm happy with the way it turned out. It took just a few hours and will last for years.

Note: You must be sure that your "catch" area is large enough to contain any splash from the fountain. Generally, the taller the rock, or the stronger the flow,the farther it splashes... sometimes up to two feet from the rock. Using a liner is easier since you have some leeway to adjust before trimming any excess. When converting any container though, keep this in mind.

I'd encourage anyone to try construction of a bubbler. It's so easy, and so rewarding!

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

Lovely - I wish I could hear it.

Thanks for all the careful details.

I am emailing it to my husband as soon as I finish saying THANKS!

Phoenix, AZ

Great job! I bet the sound is lovely ☺

Ocoee (W. Orlando), FL(Zone 9b)

Outstanding! Thanks for including the pictures to go along with the instructions! I bought a round ball cement mold off ebay, for next to nothing, so thought I could run the tubing through it before the cement dries and have it all ready to go. I also have some large 14-16 inch ceramic tropical leaves that I thought about stacking at different levels, so the water will cascade down from one into the next, and next, and back to the rocks.
This set up will save me a great deal of money! Thanks!

Danville, IN

MerryMary: Sounds like a great way to construct your own water feature. I know you'll have fun putting it together. Be sure to post a photo of the completed project.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

Very nice, love it.
Sounds so much easier than all the DIGGGGGGGGING I am doing now :0

Nice Job!

I admire the way you kept the stone base and immediate surrounding rocks the same material as your water feature. Well done.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

I love it, you did a fantastic teaching lecture there. Now, we
can go out and build our own Bubble rocks. Go good with my Bog garden.
Watch out, summertime.
Thanks, I really learned a lot.
Charleen

Danville, IN

I think a bubble rock in a bog garden would be ideal. Be sure to post a photo when you've built it!

Bubble rocks are great for birds and butterflies. They are attracted to the moving water and can easily access it. I've seen groups of butterflies (flocks?) land on moist areas of the bubble rocks and on the wet gravel to drink up.

Here's a photo of another bubble rock I did for a landscaping client a year ago last summer. She had bluebirds drinking at it within a few hours of installation, and all that winter.

Notice the small water/bog plants in the gravel. They've done very nicely growing in the gravel this past year, increasing in size. They were planted directly in the gravel with just the mucky soil they were rooted in. I told the homeowner to use plant tabs if they seemed to need more nourishment.

This message was edited Dec 2, 2009 9:25 PM

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

That is beautiful. I have some fountains and you are right the one they like best is the urn that has the water bubbling out.
Finches, cardinals, they all love it.
new bog gardens I just put injust this fall. Still have to plant around them yet. I have a lot of rocks so had fun moving rocks to scape them.
Getting too old to move very many large ones. DH fusses but I usually use a wagon to move them.

Thumbnail by ridesredmule
Danville, IN

redesredmule: Looks like you've got some great rocks locally to work with. (Great Georgia red clay, too!)

I've seen some nice bubblers made from similar flat rocks. You can use masonry bits to drill through them, drilling the hole with a small size bit first. Then use larger bits to enlarge the existing hole until it's the size you need. You can stack or pile up flat rocks to suit your fancy and get a nice water feature that way.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

Could you use one of those bit that is used for Pottery or glass? I have one of those and you have to go slow, but it can be done.
some of these rocks have the Silica in them and they just glitter in the sun, they are so pretty. Yes, beautiful red clay, but it is surprizing what you can grow in red clay. i was born in Missouri so you can imagine my surprize that it grew things so well, after all those years of black dirt. But this is my home and I love it. I might try that and let you know what happens.
Charleen

Danville, IN

Probably, but if they don't work, a set of masonry bits is cheap at any big box store.
I hope you give it a try.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

I'll check them out at Lowes. Thanks

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

so what do you do with this in the winter? Doesn't it freeze if you leave it? I think it would freeze here and ruin the pump.

Danville, IN

Actually, for the past five years, since I started constructing bubble rocks for clients, I've never pulled the pump for the winter. The pump is in about 18" of water, and in the ground, so it actually would take quite a cold spell to freeze solid and threaten the pump. Most of the owners that have them let them run all winter, with no problem. Most winters in this area (central Indiana), the temps can get to below freezing, but rarely below 0, and then not for extended periods. Sometimes, the bubbler will start to freeze at the top, where the water comes out of the hole in the rock. You have to make sure the flow isn't plugged up by ice which would stress the pump. If that happens, I recommend that it be turned off until the weather warms up enough to let it melt. But, as for the main in-ground reservoir of water, it's never frozen that I can tell. Sure, to be safe, you can pull the pump out for the winter in really cold areas where the temps go below zero for long periods of time. With the design of the setup, it's pretty easy. However, I like to keep mine running for the birds.

Here's a new photo of mine. I fiddled with it, pulling away some of the gravel to create a small depression that allows the water to show. More splash, more sound, and a nice look, I think.

Thumbnail by HoosierGreen
Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Oh how I wish. The frost line here is 32". Everything here freezes to that depth most every winter. When we put a pier footing down for a pillar a contractor recommended 42" to be absoutely safe. During last winters brutal cold, with a 1500 watt deicer running in a 2500 gal. 3-1/2' deep pond I barely kept the water temp above 35 at the deepest part. All our outside water lines are blown out by Thanksgiving and all pumps pulled and safely stored dry. Winterization is a huge part of fall cleanup for plants and equipment.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

We have to water livestock we have a heater in the tank. We also have fountains out front, we use the small heaters in the fountain like they use for birdbaths. It helps keep them going, and I realize it is much colder where you live but maybe this would help you have a fountain. Tractor Supply has these heaters, I used to live in Mo. trying to think of livestock or farm supply in your area. Orschlein stores.
You could put a large rocker on the corner to lift and put the heater into the waterhole to keep the fountain from freezing. I do enjoy the fountains and the birds love them too.
RRM

Danville, IN

Snapple: I'm surprised that in your zone everything freezes that much. I'm sure you know what you're talking about, but luckily, although I'm in the same zone, we never seem to get that much freezing weather. We do have to do footings to 42", same as you though, just in case!

I bet with a bubble rock, you could put one of those small pond heaters in the bucket with the pump and you wouldn't have any trouble. (?)

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

It's possible. I do keep 2 heated birdbaths going all winter. One is store bought - just plug it in and keep it filled. The other is a homemade affair which involves a heating element for poultry, a horse bucket and shallow birdbath top on top of the water filled horse bucket. Kind of a double boiler affair which works surprisingly well. But running water? I'm not too certain. A local large pond and water garden store tried running a waterfall here a few winters back and it was a total disaster. They readily admitted that they weren't prepared for the ice dams that backed up the water flow and literally destroyed the waterfall rock work.

Danville, IN

Sounds like the adage "Better safe than sorry." is a good one for you to follow! So far, so good here, after four days of freezing weather, with highs in the low 30s.

Ah, I already long for spring.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Amen to that. I'm plant shopping already. I search all over the net and especially DG for interesting plants and make up sticky notes or sometimes print pictures. All go up on the side of a filing cabinet. Come March I start getting serious about new aquisitions. I look over the saved notes, winnow them down, and it's "let the ordering begin". I've already got an idea for using an Albizia julibrissin "Summer Chocolate" in a container. Winter plant shopping is the only thing that keeps me sane.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

I do ok in Dec. I cook alot and do some shopping and Christmas music and all keeps me busy. But come Jan I get the fever real bad, lol and it seems soooooo long to spring :(

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I hear ya. January and February and 4 months long.

Barnesville (Charle, GA(Zone 8b)

When I lived up there, it was the longest time til Spring.
Sometimes into April, Missouri is a beautiful state but my
home is Georgia.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Yup! And it gets longer every year! ;)

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

well we are in danger of frost really until the second week of may, you never know.
real bummer !

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