Bring water into your landscape
Guests are amazed, Tim Slattery says. "It is a talk piece; people can't believe it."
The electric bills are high: Energy costs for the pump alone run $100 to $130 a month to keep the pump running 24 hours a day from April through October. However, Hughes says, newer, energy-efficient pumps could trim as much as $100 per month from their electric bill, depending upon the pump's horsepower.
Projects, cheap to lavish
You can spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on professionally installed and landscaped ponds, creeks and waterfalls. But a water feature is possible on any budget. Here are some examples:
$0 and up: DIY dry creek
Brzuszek likes "temporal" water elements, such as dry creeks. When it rains, a dry creek comes alive, catching and channeling rainwater. In dry seasons, the stones suggest flowing movement.
- Bing Cube: What does a dry creek look like?
You save money by avoiding much of the expense and labor of a pond. Carve a shallow stream bed into the ground to mimic the graceful movement of a natural stream. Cover the stream channel with purchased or locally available stones. Install plants in and around the stream. Be sure to direct runoff away from your home.
Do this on the cheap using found stones and plants. Costs grow when you purchase landscape plants and imported stone.
$0 to $3,500 and up: Rain garden
A rain garden is a depressed area or entire garden that catches water runoff from streets and gutters. Native wetland plants are best because they're adapted to local cycles of wet and dry. The roots cleanse runoff before it enters underground aquifers. Costs include drainpipes, plants, soil and compost, and sand or gravel, which is laid beneath the surface to store water in the ground. Many of these items can be found and reused or repurposed, and plant starts and cuttings can be obtained from friends or from elsewhere in your garden, which could bring the cost down significantly, even to nothing.
Article continues below
$300 to $500 and up: DIY pond
You can build your own 10-by-10-foot pond for as little as $300. No pump is required. Keep the job manageable with a small hole. Don't underestimate the difficulty of digging a big hole by hand, Hughes says. The construction job is basically the same for small ponds and large.
"You dig a hole, line it and fill it up," says Hughes, whose website answers common questions and gives instructions.
Flexible rubber pond liner sells for about $1 per square foot. Avoid roof-lining material because it's treated with chemicals that will poison fish. Also avoid using PVC, which breaks down in light. Cut the liner larger than the hole. Overlap the pond edge with liner, covering the edges with rocks, soil and plants. This Firestone article (PDF) shows the liner installation in one of Hughes' larger projects. If you want, you can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more on fish, aquatic plants, stones and landscaping plants. Low-cost, native stones and plants give a pond a natural look and cost much less.
$100 and up: Add pumps and fountain heads
Pumps are used to move water around, in creeks, fountains and waterfalls. They vary in size and capability. They start at less than $100 and run to $2,000 or more. Heads for various effects, from big fountains to small domes of water, can be purchased separately.
$1,000 and up: Recirculating creeks and waterfalls
Recirculating waterfalls and creeks have several advantages over ponds. They are:
- Shallow and safer for children. The water is stored in a below-ground reservoir. It's pumped up to the surface to be enjoyed and disappears again into the reservoir.
- Low-maintenance. Plants, animals and sediment can't get into the water. Also, recirculating water features can be turned on or off with a switch.
- Flexible. The buried reservoir can be uncovered at any point to create a pond.
- Less expensive. Although you can go crazy with the size, complexity and landscaping of your project, a basic recirculating system can be purchased for $1,000 to $1,800, uninstalled. Professional installation adds $4,000 to $10,000 and up. Aquascape, a pond-equipment company, sells a "pondless" waterfall kit for $999 that has everything you need — including a pump, liner and plumbing — except the rocks.
$2,500 and up: DIY above-ground pond
You can avoid the expense and work of excavation by building a pond atop the ground. Use a preformed shell liner or flexible liner material. Build up the sides with earth and landscape with stone and plants. Costs include liner, fill, stone and plants. You could also add a fountain or a bamboo water pump.
$4,000 and up: Professionally installed pond
Hughes charges about $1,000 a day for a truck and two workers, who can install and landscape a small pond in about three days. Basic materials — a rubber liner, a pump and rocks — cost an additional $800 to $1,000. Hiring a professional landscaper who is insured and bonded protects you from liability in case an uninsured worker is injured while working at your home.