Building a Pond: Part 3, Waterfall & Fancy Bits

The waterfall and finishing of the pond is a lot like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Except with very heavy rocks. And you’re likely going to get wet.

Waterfall structure

I started with two large rocks that probably qualify as small boulders; they were heavy enough that had I picked anything bigger, I would have needed help lifting them. These I settled in place at the base of the waterfall on top of large scraps of liner for extra protection against punctures. I chose rocks a bit smaller than a volleyball next; using these to build up from the base and scattering a few around all the way to the top.
On the top tier of concrete blocks, I placed a single flat stepping stone in the center of the falls. The intention for this rock was to give the water a nice flat place to spill over and into the pond. A couple of large rocks were used at the back of this as an anchor. I also sprayed a little landscaping foam under it when I decided it was exactly where I wanted it and that it wouldn’t be moved.

You can get landscaping foam from the hardware store near the pond stuff. Unlike the house expanding foam, landscape foam is black, doesn’t expand quite as much and is sticky enough to hold small rocks or sand in place until it dries.
Once I had large stones and the basic framework for the falls in place, I ran tubing for my pump. In case you need to move your tubing later for some unforeseen reason (as I did), make sure you run it along the OUTSIDE of your falls and give yourself PLENTY of extra to work with. I went right up the middle with mine and cut off all the excess. I later realized I had only attached a pump for water flow and needed some means of filtering the water to keep it clean and healthy for all those frogs pooping in it. I purchased a UV filter to attach to my pump, only to realize my tubing would not reach the filter because it wasn’t submersible. >.<

This is what giving up looks like.

First I face palmed. Then I sat down and stared at my perfect, beautiful falls that I’d worked so hard on and now had to tear apart to get the old tubing out and run new. Finally, I sucked it up and just fixed it. I swear it doesn’t look quite as good as it did originally and some of the rocks I had stuck in place with foam, so I had to hide the foamy bits by turning these over or putting them in a different spot. I’m just glad I didn’t bury the tubing any deeper, or I probably would have scrapped the entire project in favor of a pondless fountain. So again, run your tubing along the outside of your falls and try not to put it too deep. Also, take care that you don’t place large rocks on top of it; ½ inch pond tubing (which is standard for small ponds) is not as thick walled or sturdy as garden hose, so it squashes and kinks fairly easy.

In my new setup, I have a UV filter sitting in the mulch underneath a spirea bush where it is fairly hidden. The submersible pump tubing goes into the UV filter and another piece of tubing comes out the other side of the filter; goes underneath the rock for the falls and opens at the back of that flat paver I put on top of the falls. The water runs over the paver, down several smaller rocks to the large boulders and into the pool.

Whew! Almost sounds like I’m describing a Rube Goldberg machine, doesn’t it? (Except not nearly as interesting)

It’s not a dramatic effect, just enough to give the water some sound and movement. Of course, the larger pump you attach, the more force your water will come out with and the greater the effect of your falls. I had hoped for a bit more flow and may add a larger pump in the future, but for now, this one will do.
I have noticed that the UV filter seems to do a very decent job of keeping my water fairly clean. It’s supposed to take care of bacteria also and there are no charcoal filters to mess with changing. Just switch the light out once a year, according to the instructions on the box. I purchased it from Amazon for $60.

You may need to move some rock around or spray a bit of foam along the watercourse of your falls if you want the water to travel along a specific path or to prevent leakage off the sides. Once you have the filter and falls in place and running, the rest of the setup mostly involves making the pond look pretty and covering any remaining liner.

It took me quite a lot of rock to frame in the rest of the falls and go around the pond in a horse-shoe shape. I left the end toward the yard open to make a pebble beach. I had read that if you are trying to attract frogs to your pond, they enjoy a nice beach to get in and out of the water and since my daughter is fascinated with frogs and toads, I built them a beach.

Visitor to our pond

I folded the liner up over the rocks on the garden side, filled that area with dirt and then trimmed the liner off level with the dirt. I covered any remaining edges with a line of

pine mulch. On the side with the spirea, I folded it up over the rocks again, trimmed it and then hid the edge with mulch.

The waterfall area was entirely covered with rock of varying shapes and sizes until very little liner was showing anywhere. Just fit, rearrange and play with it until you get a look you’re happy with. I don’t think there’s any real right or wrong here. Other than physics of course, don’t try and balance big rocks on top of a pile of loose smaller rocks, or you’re asking for a nice avalanche later… which could squish one of those prized frogs. You can use a bit of mortar or more landscaping foam to secure rocks in place once you like the placement if you want to make the whole structure more stable.

For the beach area, I left three of those flat concrete paver blocks underneath the fabric underlayment to give a solid base to the beach, since it’s fairly likely my daughter will be sitting there a lot and it’s also where I climb in and out should I need to get in and work on the pond or move things around. I didn’t trim the liner or the underlayment there, but let it spill out into the yard. I had purchased 3 bags of pea gravel and about 7 bags of river rock to cover this area and finish covering the liner in the bottom of the pond. The gravel stays in place on its own fairly well.

I did see a nice trick for keeping this stuff in place if you do have an issue with it staying put: Put on a pair or those rubber

dishwashing gloves (they are going to be ruined when you’re finished, but at least your hands won’t be), then spray a layer of landscape foam over the pond liner. Over this, press river rock into the foam in handfuls until the liner and the foam is completely covered with rock. When the foam dries, the rock will be glued in place. I did use this trick on the sides of the pond where I had neglected to build a good enough land-shelf for rock to sit on.

After the beach was built, I dumped another couple bags of river rock into the pond to cover the bottom. I hid the pump under a light, flat rock and scattered more river rock around and over it to cover the rest of the pump and tubing from view. A few handfuls scattered over the falls and along the sides of the pond makes it look more like a

natural creek setting and can fill any gaps where the liner still shows.

I haven’t seen any lilies to add to the pond at the store yet. I’ve had them in a pond in our yard in the past and they are wonderful to watch the frogs sit on and gorgeous when they bloom. If I get my hands on any, I’ll be sure to post pictures later. Since there was a lack of water lilies available, I opted to re-pot my bamboo and break a couple pieces off to tuck in to the rocks. Bamboo is ridiculously versatile. It doesn’t really even need soil to grow, it will grow in rocks right in the water. I don’t think this stuff will over winter here in Missouri, but I have two pots worth and don’t mind replacing it every season. If it does overwinter, it may become a problem child later, bamboo can be pretty invasive if not kept in pots where the roots are contained.

For now this is the finished project.

Top down view from the sidewalk

Like every other structure in my yard, I’m sure it will not hold up to scrutiny and will be constantly tinkered with the longer it remains. Perhaps for the next month or so though, I can call it complete and just be content to watch the kiddo enjoy her frogs.  🙂

Finally finished! ….. for now.

-B

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