Choosing Your Water Garden Location

Just as with installing a new flower garden or planting a new shrub or tree, it is critical to select an appropriate location for your water feature. A good site sets you up for easy care, maximum enjoyment, and minimal expense and hassles.

Good Sites for a Water Garden

Full Sun

Most water garden plants need full sun—six or more hours of unfiltered light each day. If it’s a location where vegetables or full-sun flowers like marigolds or petunias or zinnias have thrived, it’s a place where water garden plants will thrive. One caveat: In the southern half of the U.S., some shade is beneficial, especially in the afternoons. Light shade is particularly helpful for smaller ponds since the water can heat up especially quickly.

Flat Terrain

If you are thinking about a pool or pond, remember—water always seeks level. That means you can’t build a pond on a slope unless you first do considerable reshaping of the slope. You’d need to excavate the slope and carve out a flat spot so that you can create the pond. Even then, it is critical that you have a good retaining wall and erosion control in place or soil will wash into the water. Even a slightly sloping spot can present a problem. Nothing looks worse than a pond with a water line that is lower on one end and higher on the other.
Granted, few sites are naturally completely level, but don’t worry about minor changes in grade. You can make minor adjustments during installation. Of course, if you are building a stream or water fall, a slope is an asset.

Visible from the House

You can’t enjoy your water garden if you don’t see it! Position your water feature where you can view it from French or sliding glass doors, large windows, or your deck or patio. Being able to see your water feature easily is also a safety issue, just in case someone or something falls in.

Easy Electrical Access

Most water features require electricity to power any pumps, fountains, or filters. Electricity is also necessary for low-voltage lighting. If there isn’t an electrical outlet close to the site, you can hire an electrician to run a freestanding outlet out to the area. Depending on the project, that usually costs a few hundred dollars. To prevent electrocution, all outdoor wiring must be protected by a GFCI or GFI (“ground fault circuit interrupter” or “ground fault interrupter”), a type of outlet that automatically shuts off power when it detects a leak in the electrical current, thus preventing shock. These are also commonly found in bathrooms.

Problem Sites for a Water Garden

Low Spots

In nature, it’s true, ponds are usually found in low-lying areas where water naturally collects. However, in an artificial water feature, too much rainfall or water from a sprinkler is likely to wash in dirt and debris (and possibly lawn chemicals) and perhaps even flood your pond. In low areas, water also can collect underneath the pond, rise, and then form pockets of trapped water that appear as bubbles in the liner. If your yard has a swampy low spot, consider instead turning it into a bog garden. Bog gardens are simply planting beds filled with moisture-loving plants that thrive in standing water.  

Areas with Trees or Large Shrubs

Choose a spot that’s in an open area. Otherwise, the feature will become littered with twigs and leaves. Areas around trees and large shrubs also have substantial roots systems that can make digging difficult. Also, if you slice through too many roots while digging, it can damage or even kill trees and shrubs.

Underground Cables, Lines, or Pipes

For most water gardens, you’ll need to dig fairly deep across a significant stretch of yard. Before deciding on your water garden site, call your utility company or city or county government to have a trained professional come out and check and mark them. It’s usually a free service. Underground cables, pipes, sewer lines, or a septic field can be obstructions or even worse, unsafe, if you disturb or rupture them. And they can also ruin your design since they might run right through your planned feature.


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