Top 10 Ideas for Small Water Features

By: Jessica Willis & Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 
Water features can make outdoor living even more enjoyable. See more pictures of famous gardens.
Rob Melnychuk/Getty Images
Key Takeaways
  • Small water features like fountains, miniature ponds and birdbaths can significantly enhance outdoor living spaces, providing beauty and tranquility without the need for substantial investments.
  • Options for small water features are diverse, ranging from water fountains that can be an accent to gardens or patios, to miniature ponds that support aquatic life and add a serene element to your backyard.
  • Implementing a water feature in your garden or patio not only adds aesthetic value but also creates a relaxing atmosphere.

Lately, it seems like outdoor living is all the rage. Especially when the weather's warm, you probably like going to cookouts and pool parties, or even just sitting on the patio to watch the sunset. You might even know someone with a pool or garden, if you don't have one yourself. If you've been considering ways to enhance your outdoor space this year, installing a small water feature might be a great way to go.

A small water feature can be many things -- a fountain, waterfall, rock pond or birdbath. It can take many forms and use flowing or standing water to enhance an outdoor area.


Small water features are a surefire way to give your space a little something extra without necessarily spending a lot of money. Not only are they beautiful, but these additions will offer you and your guests a nice, tranquil and relaxing outdoor space.

Read on for more ideas for small water features that you can build right in your backyard.

10: Water Fountains

There are many options for outdoor water fountains, so it's important to do your research to see which one will complement your space best.

Fountains come in many shapes and sizes. They can go on walls and waterfalls; they can feature decorative toppers, and can be spherical or tiered. They also come in many different types of materials such as copper, cement, brass and stainless steel.


You can use fountains as an accent to your garden, yard or patio. You can even place them in an outdoor pond. Remember that bigger isn't always better in this case. Although fountains can be a great addition to your landscape, they shouldn't overpower your space.

9: Miniature Ponds

When it comes to building a miniature pond, it's all about location.
Mark Turner/Getty Images

The first decision to make when choosing a miniature pond concerns its location. Assess the weather patterns around the area to make sure that the pond won't get too much sun or shade. Ideally, the pond should get 4 to 6 hours of sunlight during the day to ensure that the water stays clean and clear of algae. This is also important if you want to have fish or tropical plants in your pond. Too much sun or shade is lethal to these additions, so the key is finding a good balance. Also, choose a location that won't subject the pond to runoff rainwater, where foreign debris may interrupt the pond's ecosystem [source: Gardening Know How].

Next, you must decide on the size of your pond. It is important that the pond is at least 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide (61 centimeters deep and 91 centimeters wide), but you can expand the width according to your preference and the size of your space.


When you begin digging your pond, consider creating a shelf along the edge where you can plant your vegetation. Next, line the area with heavy-duty waterproof plastic. Then, just fill it with water. You may choose to sink large tubs or containers into the ground to house your pond. This is an easier alternative to digging a hole -- just make sure you coat the inside of the container properly. You also may want to aerate your watering hole to stave off bugs.

Lilies, pickerelweed and zebra rush are a few great plant options for your pond. Do some research to find out which plants will flourish the best. If you want to add goldfish to your pond, you can get them from your local pet store.

8: Birdbaths

Birdbaths are an excellent way to add something extra to your space. They are also entertaining: You'll likely see robins, blue jays, thrushes and other birds that prefer birdbaths over bird feeders.

You can buy generic birdbaths, but there are also many other types of baths available. Heated bird baths are great for the winter months, when the water tends to freeze. Electricity runs to the pedestal of the birdbath, which keeps the water above freezing without actually warming the water. You can also add a fountain mist to your birdbath. This will attract other birds; hummingbirds, for example, love to fly through mists of water [source: Wild Bird Watching].


Keep the birds' safety in mind. Select a birdbath that has a gradually sloping wall with a nonslippery surface. Also, make sure that the water is no deeper than 3 inches (76 millimeters) to keep smaller birds from drowning. If needed, you can put rocks in the bottom of the bath to make the water shallower and also to help the birds enter the bath with ease. Change the water every other day to keep it clean and fresh; never use chemicals.

7: Japanese Water Gardens

Japanese water gardens provide perfect spaces for reflection and peace.

In keeping with the Buddhist tradition, Japanese water gardens create peaceful and tranquil locations to collect your thoughts and reflect.

If you want a peaceful atmosphere, then make sure your Japanese water garden is quiet. Avoid loud, rushing water and areas with noisy surroundings. The water should be soothing to the ear as it runs; it can even stand still if you like.


Don't forget to accent your garden with plants and rocks. A nice combination of flora and fauna will give your garden the perfect finishing touches. Bamboo and bonsai trees are common, but you can use any plants that you wish. Rocks also add a little something extra and often serve as the foundation of the water garden itself. The key is to ensure that the plants and rocks have enough space between them, as Japanese water gardens also symbolize space.

6: Rock Ponds/Rock Gardens

Rock ponds use many different sizes, shapes, and colors of rocks and boulders to accent a space. The soothing effect of the water as it runs over these rocks accentuates the beauty of the pond. You can also plant blooms designed for rough terrain around a rock garden.

You can use natural or artificial rocks, depending on your preference. Artificial rocks can be much easier to handle. They're more lightweight than natural rocks, which is helpful when you position the rocks in your pond. Natural rocks can also crack over time because of constant contact with water. Natural rocks, however, do provide a more native look and can make your garden more genuine [source: Vic Hannans Landscape Materials].


You can also add plant life to your rock pond to form a rock garden designed to accentuate your space and make it look more natural. As with other gardens, you should evaluate the layout of your garden and the sun/shade patterns to see which plants will flourish in your pond. says to "set the rocks in the lowest, front part of the garden first and work upward. Shovel enough soil around each rock to anchor it firmly. You may need to bury half or more of each rock." After you've positioned the rocks, let the soil settle around them for a few days, then examine the space and tweak the layout before you add plants [source:].

5: Bubbling Containers

Perhaps the most compact backyard water feature is a bubbling container. You can select nearly any size pot, slip in a pump and fountain and presto -- you've got the soothing sounds of bubbling water. Ideally, the decorative container you select will have a hole in the bottom, through which you can discreetly insert the pump's cord. If not, drill a hole yourself or leave the cord sticking out the back, then disguise it with greenery.

When choosing a spot for your container, it's best to set it in a nook or other area close to an outlet. If you don't do this, you'll need to use an extension cord, and extension cords can easily come unplugged. Plus, you'll have to hide more cord. If you're in a mosquito-prone area, you may wish to put two or three goldfish in the pot; they'll gobble up the larvae.


It's easy to let your imagination run wild when you're working with bubbling containers. Buy three pots of varying heights, for example, and set them in a decorative cluster. Or completely submerge your container(s) into the ground to make it appear as if water is bubbling up from an underground spring.

4: Water Basins

Basins and their spouts can be crafted from a variety of materials.

Akin to both waterfalls and birdbaths, water basins are decorative bowls that catch water dripping or pouring from a nearby spout. When the basin fills, it overflows, generally onto decorative rocks that hide a reservoir buried under the ground. The water is then recirculated from the reservoir back into the spout. Basins can be made from a variety of materials, including hand-hammered copper, aluminum, stone or wood. Similarly, the spouts can be crafted from materials like bamboo, if you're going for an Asian look, or any of a variety of metals.

Water basins have their roots in Japanese garden design. Chozubachi basins, for example, are set near the garden gate with a ladle so guests can have a drink or splash some cool water on their brow in a ritual suggesting forgiveness. Tsukubai basins have no ladles and are set low so visitors have to bend to reach the water in an act of reverence, indicating you're entering a sacred portion of the garden.


3: Spas

Make sure the waterfall fountain or water spouts for your spa pool are installed in a scenic, sheltered setting.

If you've got some money and some space, a spa pool might be the way to go. First, you install a small pool or whirlpool, then you add a water feature at one end: a cascading waterfall fountain, for example, or some spouts that spit out water in eye-catching arches. Since this is a multi-purpose project -- the pool and water features provide relaxation, but also aesthetic and audible appeal -- pay heed to all facets. If you take care to select the proper pool size and shape, then randomly stick a water spout in the middle, you won't maximize your enjoyment of this investment. Instead, make sure the waterfall fountain and/or waterspouts are installed in a scenic, sheltered setting where you can easily see and hear them when you're not in the water, plus feel relaxed and surrounded by beauty when you're lazing under or near the sprays.


2: Waterfalls

Many waterfall-seeking homeowners also install ponds in their yards.
Mark Turner/Garden Picture Library/Getty Images

Waterfalls come in all sizes and configurations, so you can really do almost anything here. But to help you focus a little, there are two main types of waterfalls: those with ponds below, and those without. Traditionally, waterfall-seeking homeowners have installed ponds in their yards, then topped them off with a decorative waterfall feature -- often a small stream of water cascading down a jumble of rocks. These types of ponds often feature pretty plantings and even colorful fish. While beautiful, such installations can be quite pricey and require a fair amount of maintenance, which is probably why pondless waterfalls eventually emerged.

With pondless waterfalls, water cascades down something -- rocks, for example, or a stone wall -- and onto a bed of ornamental gravel. The gravel covers a retaining basin that catches the water and a pump that sends it back up to the top of the waterfall. These are great options for those who don't have the space or desire for a pond, yet love the look and sound of a waterfall.


1: Stairway Water Features

One of the more innovative water features you can create resides in the middle of your stairs. Part waterfall, part fountain, it involves first setting up a rather hidden waterfall or spout somewhere at the top of your stairs or in the middle of a paved walkway -- for example, within a boulder sitting in a shallow basin. This basin is connected to a small reservoir at the bottom of the stairs via a channel that runs down the walkway or stairs. When operative, water from the waterfall or spout flows down the walkway, trickles down the stairs and into the basin below, then is pumped back up to the top. Such a novel water feature not only adds the soothing sounds of rushing water to your home, but is a surprising, fun element that will delight all your guests [source: HGTV].

For more information on water features, check out the links on the next page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I maintain my small water feature to keep it clean?
Regular maintenance such as removing debris, checking pump operation and occasionally changing the water can keep your small water feature clean and functioning properly.
What are the best plants for adding around my small water feature?
Aquatic plants like water lilies, and marginal plants like irises and rushes, are great for enhancing the natural beauty of your water feature while providing a habitat for beneficial insects and amphibians.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • A Japanese Garden. "Japanese garden décor: stone basins." (Dec. 29, 2011)
  • AquaScape Inc. "Fountainscapes." (Dec. 29, 2011)
  • BHG. "Fountain in a Pot." (Dec. 28, 2011)
  • Brooks, Christopher & Lamberts, Mary. "Getting Started in Water Gardening using Miniature Ponds." Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Journal. 2000. (June 17, 2010)
  • Caxton, Andrew. "How to build a Japanese Garden." DIY Home Network. (June 21, 2010)
  • Dickinson, Marc. "Five Basic Stepping Stones to Water Features." (June 17, 2010)
  • Everything-Ponds. "Give your Landscape a Face Lift with a Garden Water Feature." (Dec. 28, 2011)
  • Gardening Know How. "Miniature Ponds: How to Build a Small Pond in your Garden." (June 18, 2010)
  • "Rock Gardens." (June 21, 2010)
  • Growing Wisdom. "Water Gardens." (Dec. 28, 2011)
  • HGTV. "Water Features for Any Budget." (Dec. 28, 2011)
  • Morris, Tracy. "Rock Pond Garden Ideas." (June 19, 2010)
  • The Pond Digger. "Disappearing pondless waterfall." (Dec. 28, 2011)
  • Wild Bird Watching. "Choosing the right birdbath to attract more birds." (June 18, 2010)
  • Wise, Lauren. "Japanese Water Garden Plants." (June 19, 2010)
  • Vic Hannan Landscape Materials. "Frequently asked questions about lightweight ponds and rock features." (June 21, 2010)