Want a garden waterfall? Avoid these 6 mistakes

When it’s constructed properly, a garden waterfall can turn a small city yard into an urban oasis and give a sprawling rural property a stunning focal point. When it’s planned and built poorly, however, a garden waterfall is at best a passing regret and at worst an expensive restoration project. If you’d like to add water to your backyard in a way that gives you all the benefits and none of the stress, avoid these six common mistakes.

Mistake #1: The waterfall doesn’t fit in the landscape

A beautiful landscape tells a story. When a garden waterfall comes gushing full force out of a wooden fence or spills down from a 6’ high pile of rocks plopped in the middle of a golf-green lawn, the story just doesn’t hold water (forgive the pun).

Your garden waterfall should feel like it belongs in the space it occupies. First, match the design of the waterfall to the design of the surrounding landscape. For example, pair a formal fountain with a classical or modern garden and a babbling brook with a natural woodland landscape. Next, match the size of the space to the size of the water feature. Finally, design a landscape where it’s possible to imagine a story about where the water came from. (Hint: it’ll never be your fence.)

Mistake #2: You’re making too much of a splash

Water loss is a concern, since any water that splashes beyond your waterfall’s catch basin can lead to high water bills and isn’t a responsible use of our potable water resources. Plus, uncontained splashes can make surrounding garden areas slippery, too wet for plants and unpleasant to sit in. Plan your waterfall so that it offers the meditative sound of splashing water while containing those splashes within the water reservoir.

Mistake #3: You cheaped-out on construction

Water is a force to be reckoned with. Proper planning, materials and equipment mean the difference between a visually stunning showpiece and a smelly, algae-ridden headache that requires constant maintenance, replacement parts and eventual replacement or removal. We’ve even heard of poorly constructed waterfalls that have undermined the foundation of a nearby house.

An experienced landscape architect and professional landscaping contractor will help you site your waterfall, ensure correct grading, choose the right building materials, properly size the filtration system and pump, construct the right type of reservoir and more. It’s an investment that will pay off in years of enjoyment and enhanced property values—use our landscaping price guide to get a sense of the cost of different types of water features.

Mistake #4: You can’t hear your waterfall

If your goal is to hear the bubble and splash of falling water, the further the waterfall is from your sitting area the larger you’ll have to build it. Plan your waterfall at the same time as you’re planning the other uses of your garden. Decide ahead of time what activities you’d like to be doing (or not doing) when you’re listening to the water and site your waterfall accordingly.

Mistake #5: You didn’t consider maintenance in the waterfall design

You may be dreaming of a woodland waterfall that cascades down limestone rocks into a large pond full of brightly flashing koi and lush plants. But when you learn of the work it will take to maintain your pond ecosystem and look after your waterfall equipment does it turn your dream into a nightmare? Think realistically about the time you have to look after a garden waterfall. Even if you have the time, how do you feel about spending it doing maintenance? There are many ways to bring water into your backyard design. Choose the type of water feature that fits your reality, not just your dreams.

Mistake #6: You’re stuck on the idea of a garden waterfall

Water is a must-have in many backyard designs. It is both spiritual and practical—a nod to nature and a way to block undesirable noise. But water doesn’t have to equal waterfall. There are many types of water features, from basalt columns to swimming pool fountains, and it’s a mistake to get hung up on one type. Start with the goal—to create movement in the landscape or a soothing sound, for example—and be open to different ways of using water to achieve it.

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