Waterfalls are a spectacular natural wonder that captivate the senses. So it’s no surprise that there is an increasing interest in adding waterfalls to residential landscaping, where the trickling sounds of water can soothe the nerves and calm the mind. Adding a waterfall to your yard takes a bit of planning and some basic materials, but the process is fairly straightforward. The most challenging part of building a waterfall is the manual labor involved, but with the help of a few friends or the use of equipment, it’s a manageable DIY feat. Here is your guide to adding a waterfall to your landscape.
There are myriad options when it comes to waterfall design. From a tabletop option to a sprawling creek with several drops, most systems have the same basic components. Firstly, you will need a pump. When looking at pumps, make sure you get one large enough to suit the needs of your pond, creek, or tub waterfall. There are electric options and also solar solutions that eliminate the need to route electricity to your waterfall.
Next you will need a reservoir. The reservoir is the area underground that holds the water. One commonly-used option is called a matrix box and this is a collapsible box that you can build in just a few minutes. The matrix box is specifically constructed for the task and will support the weight of the water and rocks above it. You can use any reservoir big enough to hold sufficient water such as a 5-gallon bucket, rigid pond liner, or plastic tote.
You will also need a pump vault for most designs. The pump vault houses the pump that keeps the water flowing from the bottom to the top of the waterfall.
The water spillway is located at the top of the waterfall. The hose from the pump attaches to the back of the spillway. The spillway then feeds water through to create the top pour of your waterfall.
Additionally, you will need underlayment, a rubber or rigid liner, and rocks of varying sizes.
Types of Waterfalls
A freestanding waterfall is typically purchased as an entire unit. This prefabricated water feature comes with carved-out tiers to allow water to trickle from the top to the bottom. The pump is included and the entire unit is freestanding so you can locate it on the corner of your patio or out in the yard without the need for additional support. This is the easiest kind of waterfall to add to your yard.
Another option for your waterfall is to carve one out of your natural landscape. That might sound like a one-step process, but in actuality this is the most manually-intensive method. However, it is less expensive than a boxed kit and allows you creative freedom when designing your waterfall. For a natural waterfall, you will need materials that replace the matrix box, reservoir, pump vault, and water spillway. We’ve mentioned options for your reservoir already. For the pump vault you could use PVC pipe or a stainless steel barrel, among many other options. The water spillway can consist of a flat rock, hollowed-out log, or porcelain tube, as a few suggestions.
By far the easiest and most convenient option is the store-bought kit that includes most of the components you will need. Although it still requires the physical labor, the kit comes with hoses and components that fit snugly together for a professional finish.
Call the Pros
Of course, professional installation is definitely an option as well. Call landscaping companies in your area for a bid. Be sure you have an idea in mind of what you want so you can guide the conversation towards that end.
The first step in the installation process is to choose the location for your waterfall. The ideal choice is near areas where you spend time frequently so you will be able to enjoy it. For example, place your waterfall next to a deck or patio. Remember that you will need to provide power to your waterfall so make sure you will have access in the location you choose. Also make sure the waterfall is not located in the lowest part of the yard where flooding could occur. If you plan to incorporate plants into the design, make sure the location receives adequate sunlight, generally at least six hours per day.
Step 1 - Dig Holes for Reservoir
Start by digging out the holes for the water basin. The size of the hole will depend on the size of your chosen reservoir. Allow a bit of extra room around the hole and create vertical walls as you dig. Tamp down the bottom of your pit, dry fit your matrix boxes, and make sure the tops are lower than the level of the ground.
Step 2 - Position the Pump Vault
Using the same digging technique, create a space for the pump vault you selected. The bottom of the pump vault should sit about 6-8” lower than the matrix boxes. This is so that the pump doesn’t run dry. The top of the pump vault should be level with the top of the pond. This is achieved by measuring six inches above the height of the matrix boxes to allow for the thickness of gravel you will put on top of them. Alternately, you can cut the pump vault off at ground level near the end of your installation. Cover the pump vault with a large flat rock when the project is complete so that you can easily access the pump as needed.
Step 3 - Install the Rubber Liner
You may choose to use a flexible rubber liner or a rigid one, such as a pond liner. Either way, make sure the rubber liner covers the entire area that will contain water.
Step 4 - Install the Underlayment
Underlayment is a thick fabric that helps protect the waterfall components and keep weeds from sprouting in the area. Lay out your underlayment over the entire area of the waterfall area. You can always trim off extra later if needed.
Step 4 - Backfill
With the liner and underlayment in place, put the matrix box and pump vault into the hole, make sure they are level, and backfill around them so they remain stationary.
Step 5 - Dig a Trench and Attach Hoses
You will need to allow for the hose to lay along the waterfall by digging out a trench it can sit in. Attach the hose to the pump with hose clamps and make sure it sits loosely in the trench to the top of the waterfall where you will attach it to the spillway.
Step 6 - Situate the Spillway and Hide the Evidence
Create a flat support for your spillway at the top of your waterfall and secure it into place with dirt around it. Then begin adding rocks to the waterfall to hide hoses, the spillway, and other components. Vary the rock sizes for visual interest, add a few large focal points, and fill in the spaces with a variety of other types. Make sure your gravel selection is not too small as small rocks can jamb up the reservoir or pump.
Step 7 - Add Finishing Touches
For a authentically natural look, incorporate some water plants into your final design. Allow the reservoir to fill completely with water before turning your pump on, and enjoy the peaceful sounds and calming sights your new waterfalls bring to your landscape.