Pondless Waterfalls or Pondless Fountains

Orange Park, FL(Zone 9a)

I am interested in adding one of the pondless water features to both our front and back yards. You know, the kind where the water 'disappears' into the gravel at the bottom.

I have a fairly small area of hardscape I planning to tear out and turn into a gardern. Since it is right in front of the dining room windows and right by the front door, I think the sight and sound of moving water would add peacefulness and charm to the area.

My original plan was for a waterfall, but the area is only about 40" wide. It is a u-shaped area with the dining room facing East, the laundry room wall forming the North wall, and the Garage wall facing West so that the dining room view is about 1/3 brick garage and the other 2/3 looking on beyond, although most of that will be the extended garden.

We have beautiful blue bird bath that I think I am going to turn into a fountain that would be a nice accent color for the brick and the plants.

Just wondering if anyone has done anything like this and what recommendations you have to help make this project go smoothly. I am thinking maybe an ecoblox (http://www.atlanticwatergardens.com/prod_ecoblox.cfm) as the reservoir?


I have done a number of designs for ponds and pondless waterfalls. The last pondless waterfall I designed was part of a boulder wall that was 180' long, 7' high on the ends, and 25' high in the center. A waterfall was installed at the highest point.

I also installed a pondless waterfall that was only 4' long x 3' wide x 2.5' high. It turned out pretty good.

The major problem with pondless waterfalls is that the rate of evaporation is doubled (I think) compared to a pond. You do have to make sure the basin is full or the pump will seize up on you.

Orange Park, FL(Zone 9a)

Thanks for the tip. Given that I'm thinking about building this on/in a 3x3 shower stall bottom, I think I'm getting pondless envy!

Do you have any experience with the auto-refill, er, thingy? (Too late to be technically correct here)

Yes, they are hit or miss. What I mean by that is you always need to check the fittings because of freezing as well as the constant pressure on the spigot at the house, the pipe, and the auto-fill valve. Most of our problems occur because of pressure build up or freezing in the winter. They are great during the spring, summer, and fall season, but can be unreliable in he winter (up here). I have never heard of damage occurring to a house spigot except for once - the homeowner never shut off his spigot that winter and his first spring water bill was over $300.00.

Being that you are in Florida I think the winter months should be okay so you might be able to keep a auto-fill valve going year round, but one freeze can make a lot of trouble.

In ponds you can install a the auto-fill valve in the skimmer box (if you have this type of set up) and in pondless waterfalls you need to install it in the basin. Most pondless kits come with a fabricated structure of some kind that fits down in a basin the homeowner would need to dig. For home construction you would need to place a tube in the ground to keep the stone away from the auto-fill valve.

Pondless waterfalls can be tuff. If you don't have a big enough basin to hold a certain amount of water then you will constantly be filling your basin up with water. The key is the basin - it must be able to support enough water for the pump and the waterfall at a rate that will not tax your pump and provide a good flow of water to keep good circulation (this will keep the water cleaner) as well as compensate for evaporation.

Pondless waterfalls are really cool, but can be more costly to run and maintain then a pond with waterfall.

Orange Park, FL(Zone 9a)

Thanks for the info. Always great to get feedback from those with experience...

After reviewing the site size (tiny), I think we will be doing a disappearing fountain. We have a really nice cobalt-blue birdbath I am planning to convert to a fountain. Should be interesting.

Are you familiar with Eco-Blox? That is what I am considering for the basin water storage.

I'm also not sure how to calculate my water flow needs. The birdbath is about 24" across, and there are maybe 8-10 plant pockets in the pedestal that I plan to close up and turn into water sources. So I need enough flow to get a good sound from the birdbath plus enough to drive water out of the pockets.

The fountain sounds like a good choice. I think that you idea of transforming the birdbath into a fountain is pretty cool.

I checked out the Eco-Blox. I would not use Eco-Blox unless you were building a pondless waterfall or building a large water holding tank under a patio.

With the information you have given me I would go with a basin about 42-48" x 42-48" x 12-14" deep. This should allow for up to 75 gallon (estimate) of water in the basin. I would check online or at a local pond store to see if they have any pre-fabricated basins. I would want to put more time into my fountain design than fabricating a basin.

As far as the pump - based on the information you have given me I would think that you would need a pump that does about 750 gph. Here is the key to remember - It is FAR better to go with a bigger pump and restrict the flow a water with a ball valve adapter then it is to go with a small pump (which will consistently burn out your motor). You may want to get all of the specific dimensions of the birdbath and confirm the amount of gph with a pond retailer. Remember - go with a bigger pump and restrict the flow.

Orange Park, FL(Zone 9a)

Great tips! Thanks!

Prairieville, LA(Zone 9a)

Tropicool. When we put in our water feature, we also wanted a recirculating flow. I found a heavy duty bin at the farm supply store and used it for the reservoir. It was sturdy, rustproof and lightweight. And was less expensive than the stuff I looked at at the pond and water garden center. Just a thought...grin

Orange Park, FL(Zone 9a)

We have a TSC somewhere nearby! I'll have to check them out!

Does anybody have experience using a shower stall pan as your gravel pan?

I would say --- as long as the shower stall pan is big enough to support the water the pump will need --- then go for it!

Also, post a picture of your progress if you could. I'd like to see how things turn out for you.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

Oh the tales I could tell about a pondless stream with a too small reservoir. Sigh...

You have given some great advice.

Thanks for the compliment. It is appreciated.

I thought about building a pondless waterfall for a long time, but after designing and installing so many --- and then all the service calls --- I decided that I would design and build a large koi pond with a stream that flows around my Katsura tree in the backyard. I have heard that Katsura trees are not good to have by ponds (the leaves), but that is another thread.

Your sigh sounds like you had quite an experience with water sucking the human mind dry (pun intended).

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

and..... once I get tired of all the trouble that comes from a pondless stream with three waterfalls that eventually had to GROW so much of a reservoir that it became a POND ....and a pond without anything in place to FILTER IT.... it will surely suck my pockets dry too!!!

That sounds like the dream turned into a nightmare water garden scenario. I could definitely see a reservoir running dry with 3 waterfalls and a small basin. The 25' foot waterfall (mentioned above) that was only 3' wide at the initial drop had a basin that was 11-12' long x 10-12' wide x 4-5' deep.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

I think our's is 45 feet long - runs in front of the house. It was 4 feet wide in spots (narrower now) and I think it was at least five feet deep and maybe 7 feet wide (the basin)... now it is much much wider - more than double and instead of rock filling it.....the bottom is filled with the black corrugated plastic drain flexible piping --to create space for water - topped with a black sort of cloth and then topped over that with large, med, small river rock to dress it up. Making the basin wider exposed the return pipe that was situated right at the edge of the basin and ran underground back up to the fountain head (a drilled piece of flagstone). I am in the process of making a cover for it (got it half done a year ago and then got distracted) that will look like a rock (hypertufa) to cover up that length of pipe. This is before it was fixed.

This message was edited Nov 9, 2009 7:39 PM

Thumbnail by missingrosie
Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

Here's where it ended - the old 'basin'

Thumbnail by missingrosie
Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

now look what I have to cover

Thumbnail by missingrosie
Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

So Tropicool - you can see by my photo -- a real problem if water features are not figured/planned exactly as the feature requires for a reservoir. This was designed and built by a long established landscape business (in business for 20 plus years.) The owner has a huge nursery with very beautiful gardens and healthy healthy plants and trees --- the property has multiple installations of fountains for examples and all are functioning beautifully. There is a huge pond right at the nursery (all the kids go to feed the fish) all well kept and healthy. The owner has a masters degree from Duke (forestry). All the supervisors and workers are long standing employees. So, I chose experience and brains and a really honest person. My situation happened (I think) because of a miscalculation about what the reservior needed to be because of the width of the stream and the waterfalls. And, I am not complaining --- really --- it was just a miscalculation as Shrubbs has indicated -- with all the designing and installing experience -- still things can mess up. I would (and do) still highly recommend our landscaper. This was an expensive miscalculation for him -- it cost him in time and $$ wages. And, it took me over my budget too because I didn't think he should support all of the costs for material and the equipment to dig the hole bigger and to pull out all that rock that was in the first basin. So plan well!! And, I hope your disappearing fountain turns out really really well and is everything you hope for it to be. You will love the sound of the water.

Prairieville, LA(Zone 9a)

Even with the miscalculations, Missingrosie, you have a really nice water feature for your entrance. It will be so lovely when finished.

Your stream is great! Your landscaper did an excellent job with the stone placement.

In the pictures I see the pockets of water in the stream and that the original basin definitely would not be able to support this stream. That's exactly where things get tricky. Most streams are calculated based one length, one width, and one depth. Once you change any of those numbers with in the stream your results change - sometimes small and sometimes BIG. In your case the initial basin definitely looked small.

I am glad to hear that you worked with your landscaper. I greatly appreciate you working with your landscaper and not throwing him aside to get someone else - this often happens in this line of work. That is a tuff thing to deal with sometimes.

It is also VERY kind of you that you took some of the costs to make the basin bigger. If things are miscalculated on the front end then typically I bite the bullet and later have a ... meeting ... with my boss on why things need to be fixed. Designing is not easy when you do it right.

Anyway, very beautiful stream.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank you.

A person can tell when there are shady things happening and when honest mistakes are made. This was during the drought and the worst of things with folks getting laid off left and right. He was trying to keep his staff and I don't know for sure ---but I don't think that many people were focusing on landscapes etc.. the revenue stream was probably shrinking. He could have left me hanging in a thousand ways etc., but he did the right thing and I tried to also. Thanks for the compliments. It really is an algae hole tho. The photo you see with the pipe showing... that is the 'pond' and it is always filled with water -- maybe a foot or a little more in spots -- but definitely doesn't cover the pipe....and of course ..now I realize I need a filter of some sort and have to find a place to install it and hide it too.

I have a couple ideas that might help with the algae and filter, but I want to do some research first.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

That would be terrific. If you have a suggestion please let me know.

As far as the algae - I found 2 ideas for pondless waterfalls that seem to be a sure thing.

1. Should you have an algae problem in the lower pool area it is best to shade out the algae with other plant material like Water Hyacinth or Water Lettuce (basically floaters). Stay away from ALL plants that need to be rooted in the gravel or soil (i.e. Lilies or Reeds). If you can cover the pool area (or areas) with a thick cover of floating plant material this should block out the light enough to really cut down on your algae problem.

Here's the issue ... the algae will work its way through the stream and grow on the rocks where water is more turbulent.

2. Use a algae killer from a pond store ... $$$$$ .... I got a better idea. Below is a picture of the a product sold a local dollar store (The Dollar General). Never would have guessed this ... it is a septic tank cleaner. Apparently the same bacteria that are in THIS septic tank cleaner are the same in algaecides that are sold at the pond store. We used this product in our pond at work to stop the string algae from taking over our pond and stream. We followed the directions as far as the boxed contents needed for so many gallons of water. We put the correct rate in our water garden 3-4 times a year and have not had any string algae for the past 2 years. Our fish have had no problems. The stone and rocks get some dark green algae lightly covering them, but that will happen no matter what you do.

By the way ... this box was only $2.50 (as far as I recollect).

Barely loaves don't work as well as you think and liquid algaecides should be left for aquariums. Natural bacteria is the best solution for algae in pondless waterfalls.

As far as the filter - need to do more research.

Thumbnail by shrubbs

Forgot to mention ... if you do not have this brand available then I recommend getting an expensive brand of powder algaecide and comparing the 'ingredients'. I know this brand works because it worked in our pond and the information came from an extremely reliable source.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR ALL THIS GOOD INFO. I HAVE A POWDERED PRODUCT THAT COST ME CLOSE TO 30 BUCKS - I HAVE A TON OF DOLLAR GENERALS AND YOU CAN BE SURE I AM HEADING THERE THIS WEEKEND. I HAVE THOUGHT about the floater plants and I will check out how much water is needed because there is a 'deep end and a shallow end in that same basin. I get a lot of algae at the fountain head (the drilled flagstone) and I think that small basin is for sure deep enough (more than a foot ) but I think anything I put in there will go flying out and down the stream - but the combo of the powder and the plants at the bottom just may work. the Landscaper told me to plant the .... now I forget what... I thought it was some kind of reed to cover up that PVC. He said he put in plant shelves but I really can't see where the shelves are. I will have to do some homework. That PVC drives me nuts. Anyway, again thank you so much for helping me with the advice and taking the time to research for me.

As far as the return pipe - I would not try to hide the pipe with plants because typically when you try to 'hide' something it ends up looking like an after thought.

Being that it is PVC pipe system I would try and find a way to cut out the exposed section of pipe and install new pipe and fittings that could be under the stone or at least on top of the stone (then you could cover it with more stone as needed). This may not be possible based on the location of the pump, accessibility, etc...

The other thing that can be done is creating a small outcropping of stone that would cover the whole pipe system. You want to make sure that you place the stones in a way that makes it look like it was always part of the project. Definitely use the same type of stone or the area will stick out like a sore thumb. Also, whenever you add a small outcropping you want to make sure that there are other outcroppings in the lower basin - even just one extra. You might use 3 big stones and one little one around the pipe - at that point you could maybe place 2 or 3 bigger stones somewhere in the basin to tie the outcroppings together. You want the outcroppings to look like they were originally intend for this basin - you could even say 'needed' to make this basin.

Question ... As far as the filter - what would be it's primary use? Do you have a box with filter media at the beginning of your stream or does the water just come out of the return pipe?

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

It just comes out of that drilled flagstone. Originally it was supposed to be a gal pouring water out of a pitcher but -- I saw this beautiful stone and asked the landscaper to drill it . Because it was a pondless stream - no plan was made to filter anything --so I have nothing. At home I may have a photo of the first basin on the back side of one of the back wall there is a drop off and the landscaper lined it with med size river rocks - I was thinking that would be the only place to tuck a box into --- unfortunately all the return PVC pipe under ground is on the opposite side of the stream - so I'd have to go behind the fountain head and then back to it. But it can be done. Maybe I can find that photo. As far as primary use... I think to just keep the dirt/algae filtered (no?) The rocks have sludge on top that I would like to break up but if I did -- it would need to be filtered out.

Prairieville, LA(Zone 9a)

You could just spray paint the PVC the same color as the rocks and add more of the small rocks to make it look like a mini rock slide....tuck a few slightly larger rocks around and add a bit of statuary, like the Cranes or herons. Would give you a "natural" look and the pipe would disappear into the background.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

That pipe has been painted three times! and with the appropriate paint. (not in that photo I uploaded - that was when it was first installed and didn't even have water yet.) Same color as rocks -- you are right - it did help but definitely not a home run! I can't put too much around it because one thing I do remember the landscaper saying is don't put a lot of weight in here. He has filled the basin with corregated drain pipe to create space for the water and then merely topped it with river rock to dress it up. That is why I am making a mesh 'frame' and then using hypertufa to make a fake rock to sort of sit over the pipe and disappear (HOPEFULLY) (hope springs eternal :0) into the sidewall. This pipe was completely hidden with the first basin. It exited the pump right at the side of the basin and went under ground. After the basin was enlarged --the pump ended up right in the middle and the side edge moved out about feet and went much higher in elevation. You can see that PVC and the route it had to take.

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

Note to Tropicool
I am sorry my pump and pipe has taken over this thread my apologies. But, I know it has given you food for thought about planning things up front.

And thanks to all who have offered advice.

As for the filter - After much thought I would say you really don't need a filter. You have no fish so that rules out any major need for a filter. If you use all floating plant material you should not have to worry about soil in the water. All plant material debris should be easy to eliminate as you see leave decay begin on your various plants.

Here are the essentials to help with algae control - beneficial bacteria (which we talked about), keeping the pH between 7.0-8.0, plant material to create shade (which we talked about), and an Ultra Violet Clarifier.

Ultra Violet Clarifiers are great for ponds with fish and plants, but I am not sure about a pondless waterfall. Also, they are an expensive item to purchase anywhere you go. Also, I know that UV clarifiers work better when you water pH is balanced properly.

So here would be the key from my research - work on the pH first (if needed) and then begin to add the DG septic tank bacteria as needed. The next step, if things don't improve, is to add more shade to the area (like a small flowering tree) or go with the UV clarifier. If all else fails then do what Longwood Gardens does in there large pond by the bell tower ... dump in the good ol' bleach or chlorine.

I am glad that all of this has helped. Your hiding rock sounds like a fun project. I will be looking forward to seeing the final touches to your stream. Right now my fun project is helping my wife maintain a 3 month old and a 2 year old with some late fall planting bed maintenance on the side. Enjoy your water garden!

Hillsborough, NC(Zone 7b)

I will do all the things as you say. I've got a butterfly maple and a birch (it is a big birch too that provides some shade (and leaves in the fall) but I think that is all I can do tree wise. This stream runs right in front of the house end to end --so there is flagstone walkways etc to consider and area of planting that border that are too narrow for more trees. The three basins --the water really rushes through the basins -- so think the plants would go flying --but I will check it all out and I hope to finish the cover this spring for sure --getting too chilly now. It will be a fun holiday season for you with the two wee ones - Congrats!! My daughter lives in Pa - Carbondale. In about two minutes you will be in the dead of winter and those planting beds will be long asleep!

(Zone 5b)

this thread is very informative, I want to do a water feature next spring too and this has been enormously helpful! I didn't even know what I was thinking of was called a disappearing fountain!

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