Regardless of the size or configuration of your outdoor space, there's always room for water. An aquatic accent can be as humble as a birdbath or as extravagant as a waterfall cascading into a koi pond.
"There is something fundamentally beautiful and calming about water," says Veronica Lorson Fowler, author of "Backyard Water Gardens: How to Build, Plant & Maintain Ponds, Streams & Fountains" and co-publisher of the website the Iowa Gardener. "It's why we gravitate toward beaches, oceans and lakes. That same instinct informs our desire for water in our yards."
Here are 10 tips on how to add a splashy, soothing embellishment to any space.
1. Start small
Fowler recommends building an easy DIY fountain as a starter. Purchase a terracotta pot or other attractive planting container that is roughly 3 feet high and 18 inches across. Coat the interior with a water sealant, fill it and add a small pump (you will need an outdoor GFCI outlet). Or try an inexpensive and low-maintenance birdbath, says Kellie Cox, owner of Strawberry Fields, a landscape design and installation company in Silver Spring, Md.
2. Be mindful of safety
If you have small children at home or little ones visit frequently, Fowler says, design any water feature with their safety in mind. Even an inch or two of water can be deadly for an unsupervised toddler, especially if there's a slick plastic liner on the bottom of a pond that would make it difficult for them to climb out without assistance.
3. Consider the budget
If you are simply installing a birdbath, a modest fountain or a small reflecting pool, you can likely build and maintain it on your own. But larger features — such as waterfalls and fish ponds — often require extensive electrical, plumbing and landscaping expertise to create, and Cox says they will probably require care from an outside company over time. Figure both the initial investment and the long-term costs before committing.
4. Think local
When contemplating what to install, consider both the specific space and your wider region. "If you have lovely rural acreage in the Midwest, do you really need the giant 6-foot reproduction of something in an Italian piazza?" asks Fowler. "Conversely, if you are in a little urban space, trying to create something that looks like it was carved out of a Colorado mountainside might not really work." To make the feature feel natural, match the environmental aesthetic, build with local materials when possible and don't install something that overwhelms the rest of your landscaping.
5. Surround it with beauty
Whether you're adding a birdbath, fountain or pond, Cox says it's important to properly accentuate it. Surround it with plants in a variety of textures and colors, create a pathway leading to it or install lighting that showcases water movement, reflects off the surface or shines up from the depths.
6. Create white (water) noise
Falling water is a soothing way to block out the sounds of the outside world. Amy Chaffman owns Washington, D.C.'s the Pampered Garden, which designs, installs and maintains gardens. She says that in general, the higher the water falls, the louder the splashing will be. If your goal is to cover up the sounds of loud traffic or a neighbor's ever-barking dog, she suggests having water pour out of a spout into a large basin at least a few feet below.
7. Expect wildlife — including insects
Water features can attract birds, pollinators, amphibians and various mammals looking for hydration, a way to cool down or even a habitat. Standing water also attracts mosquitoes, but Cox has a couple of tips for combating them. She suggests using Dunks, which are doughnut-shaped rings that release naturally occurring bacteria to kill mosquito larvae. Also consider installing only native plants in the surrounding garden. "They attract more birds, which will eat the mosquitoes and bring a balance," Cox says.
8. Keep it clean
If you don't do proper maintenance, a sparkling, soothing feature can quickly become filled with funky smelling, mucky water. Cox recommends draining and thoroughly scrubbing any water feature at least once or twice a year. If no aquatic life is present, you can use dish soap to clean it, making sure to rinse surfaces thoroughly before refilling it with fresh water. Always keep the animals that rely on the water feature in mind. If it's a pond with fish or amphibians, for example, they will have to be moved before you use any specialized cleaning agents. "A client would pour in a bunch of Clorox to keep the water clean," Chaffman said. "And I'm like, 'Sure, your fountain looks pristine, but I feel really feel sorry for the robin that goes down there and gets a drink.'"
9. Be mindful of winter
If you live in a region where temperatures regularly dip below freezing, Fowler advises bringing your water pump inside for the winter. To prevent damage to the water feature itself, cover it. If fish live in the water, and it will completely ice over or not provide sufficient oxygen, in some cases they may need to be transferred to an indoor aquarium until springtime.
10. Embrace imperfection
Creating a water feature requires thoughtful design and sometimes backbreaking work. Mistakes are bound to happen — and that's OK. "You might not make bread perfectly, but it still tastes really good — especially if you put jam and butter on it," says Fowler. "A water feature is the same. It might not be perfect, but you will still get a lot of pleasure out of it."