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Water features for your landscape

  • Karen Gideon
  • There's nothing more relaxing than the gurgle of bubbling water on a hot day. And there's nothing lovelier than a water fountain as a focal point in a garden landscape.

    Think Versailles.

    Water features can range from a simple birdbath on a pedestal to elaborate multilevel fountains, pools and waterfalls. If attracting birds and beneficial insects and the aesthetic appeal of a water element calls to you, here are some things to consider before you install one.

    Location: It's important that water circulates in a fountain. This deters mosquito larvae and algae build up. Most fountains have a pump that will need to be plugged into an electrical source. And, of course, you'll need a water source. Some fountains can be connected directly to a water valve so it doesn't require filling by hand. These connections may effect where you can place the feature. If you are positioning the feature on a hill, you will need to create a firm, flat surface so it sits upright.

    • Maintenance: Water features require upkeep. You'll need to make sure that it's in working order (especially those electrical and water connections) through four seasons, keeping the fountain's water free of leaves and debris. There is usually some algae buildup that needs to be scrubbed from the surface of the feature a couple times a year. Most features are made from stone and the weight may cause settling, requiring shimming to keep it level.
    • Safety: There is always a safety concern when electricity and water come together. You'll want to make sure that the connections and conduits are safely installed. Also, ponds and pools can be an attractive nuisance — drawing small children and animals. You'll want to evaluate that probability and provide adequate fencing, if necessary.
    • Expense: Typically, costs fall into the categories of garden preparation (that sturdy level surface and connection to water and electricity), feature purchase (costs can range from less than $100 for a birdbath to thousands of dollars for more elaborate features) and maintenance (cleaning and repair).
    • Energy needs: There are solar-powered fountains available that eliminate the energy costs of pumping water. However, they require sunlight and when we have foggy mornings and gray days, the water feature may not operate.
    • Pests: Water features can attract animals to your yard. Raccoons like to wash their food as they eat so you might find their leftovers around your fountain. There's the risk of creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes as well, so you'll need to make sure the water is changed frequently or circulating adequately.

    The aesthetic appeal of water is what drives most folks to purchase and install a fountain, but gardens also can benefit greatly from water features. They attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies so your garden may be more productive. Birds frequent fountains, nesting close to access the water. We all love the tranquility that water movement creates.

    If you give it a little thought beforehand, your water feature will be something you can enjoy for a long time.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 473-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.