Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Disappearing Water Features

Disappearing Water Feature with man made reservoir

Disappearing Water Feature with man-made reservoir

Disappearing water features are all the rage these days. I have to say it took a lot of years to sell me on these little jewels. I grew up with natural water sources all around me and it was hard to imagine you could really get a lot of enjoyment out of a pot with water pouring out of it, but as a designer, it is important to get the most out of the space you are working with and not everyone has the space for a pond. These smaller features actually can be quite attractive, functional and effective. There is also something to be said about not having to deal with the safety and maintenance issues that come with owning a pond . There is a fair amount of maintenance with larger ponds as it has a delicate Eco system requiring different plants and fish to be successful. It is also a huge safety issue for those with younger children. Disappearing features require no aquatic life to be successful.

The disappearing water feature is typically a pot, or some type of architectural structure or that allows water to flow up to and over the sides of the vessel and then seems to disappear into the ground. This is a viable choice for those who are looking for the sound of water in their smaller space with the added value of a decorative pot or stone from which the water flows. There are now many types of water features you can use for a disappearing fountain. A couple of local Austin sources for these types of vessels are Emerald Gardens located in Oak Hill, and Hill Country Water Gardens in Cedar Park. I think Emerald Gardens is the cheaper of the two on materials if you don’t mind the drive, but the service is great at both. Water features can also have a creek bed that flows for a length then returns to the pot, but today we are talking about single standing features.

The feature itself is up to you. You can use any large Ceramic pot, an Antique Water Pump that spills into a wishing well, or a carved stone that allows water to flow through and over its many ridges and valleys. Be mindful that you will need to have a hole drilled in the base of the pot or vessel to accommodate the pump flow. There are all sorts of creative ways you can create a water feature out of interesting architecture, pots and rocks, but the result is the same. You get to experience the sounds and sights of water, while encouraging wild life to visit.

For a lesson on how to create a disappearing water feature, you can check out the website at for class times and they will teach you the entire process. You can also visit one of the above locations and they will happily show you the ropes. Honestly it is a pretty simple process, but rather labor intensive.

You can go about it one of two ways. One is to buy a box that comes ready for installation with a plastic reservoir, the necessary cinder blocks for weight support, and a grate for the top of the box where the vessel itself is placed atop. You would dig a hole to the proper size of the box so that the top of the box is completely level with the ground, once the hole is dug, I lay sand on the ground or old carpet or padding to help pad and level the base before I put my box in the hole, this also helps prevent a rock from cracking the plastic. Then check to see that the top of the box is very close to ground level, you need to be sure the entire box is completely level in its space. This may require a few adjustments, but it is imperative that you make sure the form is level from all sides or you will have an irregular spill over that makes the feature less attractive. You could also lose an un-leveled vessel that tips over too easily. Once the leveled box, cinder blocks, pump and pot are installed, you add rocks on the top of the grate and fill the box with water. The water falls over the pot into the box and is recycled by the pump. These boxes are really pricey, so you may be more at home with the do-it-yourself version.

You can make your own box by building one out of 1″  by 8″. You build a box to suit the hole you dug. If you cannot find 8″ boards, double up your frame by stacking 4″ two high so your hole is deep enough to place the cinder blocks. So in other words, you dig a hole no more than a little more than 8 inches (to provide for padding or sand) deep, with flat sides and bottom, then you build a shape to suit the size of the hole you dug. You need to account for the height of the vessel and the amount of water that will be flowing through your vessel. The larger the vessel, the wider the hole needed to accommodate the weight of the filled feature. Frankly, here is where you need to defer to a professional, as without looking at your feature, I couldn’t give you dimensions, so once you choose your pot, or what have you, take it to the professionals and let them tell you how big a space you will need for it, they can also plum the vessel for you so that all your fittings line up properly. Once you have framed the hole you have dug, you again would add sand, old carpet pad or some type of protection for the liner from the ground as you will need to add a pond liner to the inside of the box you have built. You will measure the width by the depth with some excess for spill over. Be sure you have allowed for the excess around the box. I usually add about a foot all the way around for spill over. If you don’t capture the water that may splash, your box will empty sooner than expected. Next, you place cinder blocks along the bottom of your lined box and you purchase individual grates from your pond store for about $25 for a 2×4 grate to place on top of your box. These grates can be custom cut (easy to do yourself) for your shape and you may need several depending on the size of your box. Once the grate/s are placed on top, you would add your feature over the cinder blocks for support, (Be sure your cinder blocks are placed under the grates with the holes in the cinder blocks open from side to side, leaving the open holes on the blocks up and down will leave stagnate water trapped in those spaces). Finally, add 2” or larger gravel around the pot to create the illusion that the water is disappearing into the ground.

With any type of feature you will need to have a hole drilled in the base of the pot or vessel to accommodate the pump flow. In my opinion, this is something that is best left to a professional. It costs anywhere from $35 to $50 to have them drill the pot and install the proper attachments. I would never attempt to do my own plumbing because I stink at it, but if you are so inclined, you need an attachment at the base of your feature that attaches to the pump. This part attaches to a PVC pipe that goes to the top of your feature. This is where the water flows from the bottom of the box to the top of the feature giving the illusion of over flow. Your pond place can also add a ball valve to the PVC pipe to allow you to control the volume of water that flows.

As for the pump you will need, I have found that pumps are cheapest at the Lowes, so let the pond places set up your plumbing and tell you the size of the pump they suggest then make your best decision on the pump prices. Frankly, the money I save on the pump is well worth the trip elsewhere.

The larger the pump, the harder your water flows, be sure not to over or under-estimate too badly, it can cause your feature to be too splashy, or not splash at all. They are making pumps a lot more affordable now that have high and low adjustments to the water flow as well as automatic turn off switches for when the water goes too low. Adding a timer to your pump can also help reduce water loss by scheduling your feature to turn off in the evening until morning.

Personally, I have two ponds, two purchased water fountains, and a box built Disappearing Fountain. I love my water features as I get great pleasure from the sounds, the birds, which come to bathe and drink from them and the look of all of these great water sources. Be mindful of the placement of your feature. Small children are drawn to them and even a large pot can be pulled over on them. It is also very important that the water in any feature be moving as much as possible, or you will simply be growing Mosquitoes in it. The summer time is not the time to keep stagnate water of any kind around your home. Even water left out for pets is a mosquito haven. So let’s all be mindful this year.

Do consider adding a Disappearing fountain, they are a lot of fun and they add interest and beauty to any size garden space. I install these features as do many other companies and the cost is typically from $600.00 up. By doing it yourself, you can probably get everything you need for a small feature for under $300.00. They are a lot of fun to create and you will take a lot of pride in having done it yourself 😉

Happy Gardening!!

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

Check out my video’s on YouTube!

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