Water Features 101

Water features have taken off in popularity within the last eight years as more homeowners have decided to stay put and enhance existing homes by creating their own beautiful, natural retreats, say Anne and Josiah Crousore, the husband-and-wife team who own Specialty Water Gardens & Landscapes.

“By investing in your own environment, you can get a sense of well-being and peace right in your own home after work, on the weekends, anytime, and relax and enjoy your own space,” Josiah Crousore says. Adds Anne: “There’s almost always the possibility of some kind of water feature for just about everybody,” ranging from a small recirculating fountain tucked into a patio corner to a deep koi pond with advanced filtration systems that will delight a dedicated hobbyist.

There are three main types of water features:

› Ponds, with or without fish and plants

› Pondless features such as like streambeds and waterfalls

› Fountains or containers

Decisions, Decisions

Before starting to dig out the backyard, Josiah says homeowners should consider these key factors:

› What’s your preferred budget?

› How much time do you want to invest in care and maintenance?

› What will your site allow?

Some people just want the soothing sound or presence of water and really aren’t prepared for the time, energy and expense of maintaining a pond or raising fish. Even if you hire someone to help with regular maintenance, ponds still require some dedicated effort in-between professional visits.

Pond Considerations

Having a pond, especially one with fish and plants, is a real learning experience for the homeowners and for the contractor who builds it: “A pond is a living organism, so every one of them is going to be a bit different,” Josiah says.

› Committing to a pond means investing in three levels of filtration to help keep water clear and the feature healthy, he says.

› Skimmers remove floating debris.

› Biological filters seed beneficial bacteria that eat algae and balance the pond’s ecosystem.

› Plants and their roots help filter water.

When choosing a location, avoid placing ponds under large, overhanging trees that drop lots of debris. An overly shady site can thwart the growth of healthy plants and bacteria that keep the algae in check.

For a household with dogs and small children, a pond with shelves or a gradual-depth sand or pea gravel “beach” might be a better bet than a single-depth ornamental koi pond.

Pond Plants

Less than a decade ago, there were few options for water plants available for purchase in this area; now, there is a wide selection, including hardy plants that will survive winters in ponds and seasonal tropicals that provide colorful floral displays throughout the summer.

Ponds usually require a mixture of:

› Marginal plants — pickerel rush, arrowhead, iris and cardinal flower — that grow along edges and keep their roots wet.

› Floating plants such as water hyacinths and lettuce.

› Submerged and surface plants that may or may not have leaves that show above the water.

Just trending in mid-Missouri is aquaponics — growing herbs or vegetables in floating containers, the roots absorbing the nutrient-rich pond water.

Pondless Water Features

Pondless features have taken off in popularity the last seven years, Anne Crousore says. These features include natural-looking water sources such as a waterfall or streambed, and require much less maintenance. Designs can be stunning, using native sandstones and gravel, and range from small features in a corner of the yard to multilevel recirculating waterfalls and 70-foot long “streambeds.” With these latter features, the water disappears into a gravel-covered basin, equipped with a pump to recirculate the water.

Most features in mid-Missouri are informal and naturalistic in style, Anne says, “reflecting our environment so close to the river and bluffs that shape our preferences.”

If All Else Fails

If none of these features sounds right for you, a self-contained fountain, available in all sizes and styles, is yet another option and can be placed almost anywhere as long as there’s a connection to a water source.


› Features are not a solution for drainage problems. It’s important to separate water that recirculates in a water feature from runoff that may be contaminated, the couple says.

› That said, building a water feature around a rainwater collection system can work well as an alternative to above-ground rain barrels. Rainwater can be channeled into a feature with a hidden basin below. A specialized pump can be hooked up to a drip irrigation system that runs through the planted beds.

› Once you have your plan, always invest in good quality materials and high efficiency equipment. “Cheaper can cost more in the long run,” Josiah says, as cheaper pumps draw more electricity and wear out faster. Good pumps are designed to run continuously and draw less power during a long lifespan.

› Be patient and understand that every water feature is a learning process. “Just because your friend or colleague down the street has one kind of water feature doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for you to have,” Josiah cautions. “Each has its own unique character — depending upon location, size and depth, type of filtration, and the overall design and the materials used. Pick the right one for you.”