Can Fountains and Other Water Features Be Sustainable?

Does your landscaping need a little extra something? Water features like ponds, fountains, and pools may be just the ticket. These lovely standouts can transform an ordinary garden into a stunning visual feast. With their peaceful, tranquil feel, they easily capture the romance of an Italian courtyard or the total zen of a Buddhist garden.

Unfortunately, though, when used improperly, water features can take a pretty big toll on the environment. Fountains and pools pull precious resources from the local water table. And that means they may even be illegal during times of drought restrictions. And if you have an electric pump or filter installed on your pond, you may be eating up a lot of excess energy, too.

But that doesn’t mean you need to completely write off water features for your lawn. With a few eco-friendly choices, you can have gorgeous pools and lush, verdant ponds without sacrificing your sustainable ethos to your yard. Here’s a look at some of those options.

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Go With Solar-Powered Pumps, Fountains and Filters

Truly, is there anything solar power can’t do? When it comes to your yard, solar cells and batteries make an obvious and convenient alternative to conventional electronics. After all, they stay outside in the sun all day anyway. And unlike with other solar-powered devices, a short gap in power is really no crisis.

However, you do need to do your research before you buy. In some cases, solar-powered pumps may not be able to muster the necessary wattage required to create a strong water flow rate for a fountain. Pay close attention to the gallons per hour (GPH) rate listed on the product’s packaging. This measurement indicates how powerful the pump is. For small pools and birdbaths, around 45 to 60 GPH should suffice. However, if you have a bigger pool, spa, or pond in your yard, look for a circulation volume measuring between 162 to 250 GPH.

Additionally, you’ll also need to decide whether you’ll purchase a battery or other backup power source for your pump. Although not required, a battery will ensure that you can run the fountain at night or throughout cloudy weather. Many high-quality solar pumps include a rechargeable battery that harvests solar energy throughout the day. In addition, you’ll need to install a charge controller on the fountain. That will prevent the battery from becoming overloaded with power, extending its lifespan.

As with any underwater wiring project, take care to properly waterproof cords and seal off electronics to prevent accidental shock—particularly if you choose a submerged water pump.

Pond Size Counts When It Comes to Water Conservation

It goes without saying that the larger the size of your pool or pond, the more water you’ll need to fill it. Rather than taking up space with a massive water feature, try surrounding a smaller pool with attractive shrubs and flowers, like butterfly bushes and irises. Shading the water with plants will help reduce surface evaporation, meaning you won’t have to get out the hose as often, either. Keep in mind, however, that if you plan on keeping large fish like koi, you’ll need at least a three-foot water depth in your pond.

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Limiting Water Evaporation the Natural Way

There are several additional techniques you can use to conserve water in your garden pool. For instance, aquatic plants play an important role in keeping water in your pool—where it belongs—rather than allowing it to evaporate. Choose species like water hyacinths, lilies, and lettuces, which float on top of the water and shade the pond from within. Plan on covering somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the surface for peak water saving.

The location of your water features can make a big difference, too. Avoid placing pools and ponds in the middle of your lawn or other turf areas, since thirsty grass roots may siphon off your pool’s precious water. In fact, a cement bowl or pond wall can further prevent water evaporation—although make sure to properly cure the cement when you’re pouring it to avoid cracks during winter thaws.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of shade trees to keep your pond water full. Most aquatic plants only require four to six hours of sunlight daily, so placing your water feature in a partially shaded area will help it further resist evaporation. In fact, you can even use the shade from your house to protect it by placing your fountain or pool on the north side of your home. That will minimize the need to consistently water surrounding shrubs and plants.

Be Thoughtful About When You Water

Water-loving plants found flourishing near pools and streams obviously like it wet. However, throughout the summer and during drought conditions, it pays to consider the best time of day to water. In particular, try to water plants surrounding water features in the early morning, before the sun reaches its highest point. The earlier you water, the more time plants have to soak it in before the water evaporates, meaning they won’t need to be watered as frequently. And any small effort to limit your water use is a conservation win!

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