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How To Build A Waterfall

Enhance your lawn or garden with an attractive waterfall

The most frequently asked question that I receive concerning water features is "How do I build a waterfall?"

The first advice I give is to visit natural waterfalls or at least look at some pictures. Don't try to memorize just how they look. Simply get a general idea how the water flows around and over the rocks.

The design of your waterfall will depend on topography, pump and pipe size, the length of the water flow from the pump to falls, pond size, and possibly other site-specific factors.

If your pond is just 4' x 6', you certainly don't want a large, three foot wide waterfall. Make sure that you keep the elements of your water feature in scale.

One of the most common mistakes results from the desire to feature a tall waterfall on a level building site. Large amounts of soil are trucked in to build the waterfall up to a three or four foot height.

Yes, you'll certainly achieve a very dramatic waterfall, but the total effect will look more like an out of place volcano. A waterfall of just two feet in height will produce a very satisfactory effect, both visually and audibly.

On a level building site, with a typical size pond of 11' x 16', the amount of soil needed to surround the biological filter and create the berm is just about equal to the amount of soil excavated from the pond, which works out quite well.

To further enhance or enlarge the berm, you may want to add a bit more soil, large boulders, or other natural-looking features.

If you're working on sloped ground, you have the option of placing the biological filter (waterfall source) uphill from the pond and creating a series of cascading waterfalls. This is how I built my falls (shown in the photo below).


It was certainly an exercise in visualization to try to determine exactly how the water would flow down the falls. I made a slight underestimation of the total flow and could have widened the falls a bit, but the effect is still very acceptable.

Even on a level building site, it's a good design strategy to place the waterfall six to eight feet from the pond, which creates a short stream to the pond.

Make sure you use a wide EPDM rubber liner under the falls and/or the stream. This will allow for twists and turns in the course of the water and help contain the splashing. A 10' wide stream liner is recommended. Underlayment under the waterfall and stream liners usually isn't required.

After you have completed the excavation for the falls and the liner is in place, add the stones. Take your time, trying several (or many) combinations and visualize how the water will flow over and around them.

When you're satisfied with your arrangement, use black waterfall foam to direct the water over the stone instead of under it. That is, stone that is in direct contact with the liner should sit on a bed of foam, forcing the water to flow around or over the stone instead of underneath it. Caution: the foam expands greatly so don't use too much of it!

Although building a waterfall requires some creativity and patience, it is extremely satisfying. While you should dedicate some time to preliminary research, you'll learn the most by actually building your waterfall... so just do it! You'll probably find that your water garden is the most relaxing and enjoyable part of your lawn or garden.

About the author:

Dan Eskelson is the owner of Interactive Landscaping Solutions, where you can plan and visualize your new landscape online. You're an Essential Part of the Design Team!

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