One of the Easiest (and coolest) DIY water features
Sitting in my backyard one day I decided that the calm, bubbling white noise from a water feature is just what I needed when relaxing after a long day of work. But… water features are just so… overdone. A fake rock or a fake pot or a fake lion mouth that spills water gracefully into a cheesy bucket where you can usually see a tube that carries the water back up to the top.
Honestly… this type of stuff is just not for me.
So, I created a pondless water feature instead… one that actually looks real. And built-in. And like it took you way longer than a few hours.
Yep… that’s right. You can build this in a few hours… with very little DIY skills or know-how.
What’s so interesting about this particular design is that the basin is “invisible” so it looks like water from the fountain is just seeping into the ground. How the heck does that work?
Keep reading to find out how it works. And how you can build this easy and super cool pondless water feature in literally just one afternoon!
Build this pondless fountain in ONE afternoon!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!
A pondless water feature is a really easy DIY project that will add a lot of peacefulness to your backyard landscaping or curb appeal to your front yard. It can also be a pretty cool visual effect, as the water will disappear into your base.
Pondless water features have like ten different names… but most commonly people call them disappearing, pondless, or invisible fountains (water features, waterfalls, bubblers, etc etc).
Why choose a pondless water feature?
Well there’s a few reasons why you may want this type of fountain:
- It’s a great option if you have a limited amount of space.
- You like to be different and you like cool things (yes and yes).
- It’s more eco-friendly than a traditional fountain (requires less water due to less evaporation).
- You have children or pets that you don’t want to worry about falling into the pond, destroying the pond, jumping into the pond, etc.
- You don’t want the extra maintenance of having water plants or fish in your fountain.
- Because I said it was easy to make.
Materials you’ll need to DIY your water feature
Here are the materials you need. The links go to (mostly) Amazon products that you can purchase. Note that I may receive a small commission when you purchase items through these referral links.
- Submersible Fountain Pump
- Option 1: Electric Submersible Fountain Pump — I got mine on sale at Harbor Freight… just make sure it’s adequate for the size and depth of your basin (about $20).
- Option 2: Solar Submersible Fountain Pump — I purchased the 10W kit on Amazon and also purchased the add-on battery backup (about $125 for both).
- Plastic Tubing— You will need plastic flexible tubing to connect the pump to the top of the water feature. Be sure to read the specs on your pump so you know what size tubing to buy. Some pumps will come with the correct tubing so that’s a great option, too (here’s an electric pump with tubing on Amazon).
- Water basin — I got mine at the big box for about $20… there are lots of sizes and shapes to choose from… I got one that looks like a planter… it’s very deep and about 2ft in diameter.
- Grate to cover water basin — look around your house before buying. An old metal grate from your cooking grill will work, or one of those expandable cooking grill replacements should do the trick. I actually used a piece of metal with holes in it from an old steel desk I had laying around.
Here’s an alternative option since the grate above has been out of stock.
- Hardware cloth — need enough to cover the length and width of your water basin.
- Garden staples — you’ll use these to secure the hardware cloth.
- Cover/Filter for Pump (optional)
- Option 1: Submersible Flat Box Filter — You can enclose your pump into this box and it will act as a filter (about $20).
- Option 2: Make your own filter — check out this video to learn how I made my external filter for $3.
- Outdoor Extension Cord — If you’re using an electric pump and your outlet is not near the pump, you may need to connect the pump’s power cord to an outdoor extension cord. In that case you should also pick up one of these water tight cord protection cases .
- Pond Nozzle Kit (optional) – this will give you some of the extras you need like different fountain heads and the diverter tool I talk about in the video.
- Rocks or stones – You can just use what’s available to you in your yard or in the woods like I did. Or you can purchase decorative stone at hardware stores and landscaping yards. These are some 3-5″ river rocks you can buy online.
- Shovel, dirt, hose, etc.
What Blooms with What?
Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!
Cost of a pondless water feature
This particular pondless water feature project should cost you a total of $75 – $100 depending on what materials you need to purchase. You may have some of these items at home, already! If you decide to go the solar route, this will cost closer to $200.
Head over to this post to help you decide between electric or solar fountain pumps. And check out my electricity cost calculator to figure out the cost of running your pump (hint: it’s not much).
This cost does not include any decorative rocks you may purchase (I just searched around the woods, etc. for the ones I used).
How to build a pondless fountain
So how to do you build this thing already? It’s actually quite simple. I broke them down into a really easy to follow steps.
- Dig a hole to fit basin
- Place basin in the hole
- Assemble the pump
- Cover pump with cloche or cheese cloth and anchor to bottom of basin
- Place metal grate on top of basin level with the ground
- Cover the grate with hardware cloth (screen)
- Cut a trap door into the hardware cloth for servicing the pump
- Make the pump easy to access in the future
- Bury edges of screen with soil
- Add rocks to the screen area above the basin
- Fill your basin with water
- Turn on & enjoy
To make it even clearer I drew out a diagram of how the water feature works and all the parts you need.
1- Dig a hole to fit basin
Dig a hole to fit your basin. I actually built my fountain inside a raised garden bed, which worked out great…. A lot less digging. But, you can put this anywhere. Just make sure that you bury the basin but keep the top of the basin level with the ground so that you can set the grill on top at exactly ground level.
Here’s the water basin I chose. They come in many different shapes and sizes so choose one that works best for your situation.
2- Place basin in the hole
Put your basin into the hole and backfill the outside to make sure it’s nice and secure.
3- Assemble the pump
Assemble your pump and place it at the bottom of the basin. An electric pump will have a wire that you’ll need to plug into an outlet. A solar pump will have a solar panel attached to a wire that you’ll need to set in a really sunny location (solar does not mean wireless)
You’ll also need to connect the pump to the top of your fountain using pipe or rubber tubing. Be sure to read the specs on your pump so that you know what size tubing you’ll need. Also, measure the distance from the bottom of your basin to the top of the fountain so you know the length of tubing you’ll need.
Specs for pumps I’ve used:
- Electric Pump: 110-120V, 220GPH flow rate, 15 watts, 5′ max lift, 6′ cord (alternative to mine)
My exact pump specs: 120V (.23 amps), 264GPH flow rate, 16 watts, 5.5′ max lift, 12′ cord (from Harbor Freight)
- Solar Pump: 12V, 160GHP flow rate, 10 watts, 5.6′ max lift, 16′ cord.
I have been testing this ECO-WORTHY solar fountain pump along with the add-on battery backup and, so far, I’m very impressed. It was about $125 for both the pump and the battery and is a great solution if you don’t have an outlet near where you want your fountain. The battery can be charged via a wall outlet and it will also charge from the solar panel (AMAZING!). If you don’t get the battery backup, the pump will turn off a lot throughout the day. The panel needs completely full sun with nothing blocking it at all or it cuts out. I don’t think I would be happy with the purchase without the battery backup… you probably won’t be either.
Interested in seeing these pumps in a side-by-side comparison? Head over to this post (or watch the video here) to find out how they perform.
4- Cover pump with food cloche or cheese cloth and anchor to bottom of basin
Set the mesh screen food cover tent over your pump, and then place some rocks/stones along the edges to hold the mesh down so it doesn’t float away when you fill the basin with water. If you don’t have a food cloche you can also wrap the pump in cheesecloth to keep out the debris.
Like I said, this is an optional step but it seems to make a lot of sense and will keep any debris from getting into your pump and causing it to clog up.
5- Place metal grate on top of basin level with the ground
Set your grate on top of the basin and dirt. Make sure it overlaps the edge of the basin so that any rocks or other items you place around the fountain won’t fall in.
FYI: I do recommend using a grate, although it will make it a bit more difficult to remove/replace/service your pump at a later date. You can cut an opening into the grate that aligns with the hardware cloth trap door (step 7) to alleviate this problem.
I also received an email from a reader that drilled holes near the top of the basin and inserted cut green stakes through the holes to add extra support.
6- Cover the grate with hardware cloth (screen)
Once your grill is in place, cover the grate with the hardware cloth.
This is basically chicken wire, and adds an extra layer of support for any rocks. Since the hardware cloth has really small gaps between the wires, you won’t have to worry about smaller rocks falling through the grate. (Note: There is no grate in this photo… but there should be! I had to go back later and add it).
7- Cut a trap door into the hardware cloth for servicing the pump
An additional optional step you can take at this time is to cut a “trap” into the hardware cloth.
I did this by measuring my pump and cutting 3 sides of a rectangle into the hardware cloth to create an opening I can put my hand into. I then folded the cloth back down.
If I ever need to access my pump I know that I can reach it through this hole without having to take the entire fountain apart. Why would I access the pump? To fix a clog, to service or clean the pump or to bring the pump inside for winter are a few reasons I use it. If you live in a colder climate where it freezes in winter, it’s best that you remove the pump from the basin and store it away for the winter.
Make sure you remember where the hole is. Yeah, that’s pretty obvious right? But… after this is all set up, it’s pretty easy to forget where it is so I’m going to say it anyway.
What Blooms with What?
Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!
8- Make the pump easy to access in the future
Make it easy to access the trap in the future. That means you need to place your stones carefully around the trap so it’s covered but not a big PITA to move them. Trust me… this will save you a lot of trouble when you have to take your pump in for the winter. Or when have to replace the pump if it wears out from you running this every day of your life because it’s so awesome. ?
Use the garden staples to secure the hardware cloth to the ground so it won’t slide around.
9- Bury edges of screen with soil
Cover the edges of the hardware cloth and grill with dirt. Really all we’re doing here is camouflaging the edges of the hardware cloth and grate so that you can’t see them.
10- Add rocks to the screen area above the basin
Place decorative rocks or other objects onto the hardware mesh/grill area that is above the basin.
FYI: When I took this photo I did not have a grate installed. I actually went back and put a grate under the hardware cloth to remove the “sagging” look that you see here. It didn’t seem like the cloth alone would hold the weight of the stones.
11- Fill your basin with water
This is a pretty self explanatory step. Here we will fill the basin with water. Fill the water all the way to the top. The water won’t stay in here forever… some may evaporate over time (although it will stay a lot longer than an above-ground water feature). Be sure to check the water level every so often and refill your basin as needed. If you let the water level get below the pump, you can permanently damage the pump.
12 – Turn on & enjoy
Turn on your pump & enjoy! Make sure you check the water level of your basin from time to time so that you don’t burn out the pump.
Since the water is underground, you are less likely to have evaporation so you shouldn’t have to fill the basin up too often.
Get creative with your pondless water feature project!
You can turn this same project into a pondless waterfall, pump station, or any other awesome idea you find on Pinterest. This type of fountain works the same as the regular pond fountains, so go crazy!
Experiment with all of the sprayers that come with the pump and see which one you like. You can also purchase packs of additional fountain nozzle heads if you’d like to.
Just be sure that when the water splashes off your stones that it will still make it into the bucket. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep filling your basin and that’s really no fun.
So, if you want a big, old splishy splashy fountain, you may need to get a wider basin than I used (like this 15 gallon oval tank on Amazon). They do sell options that look more like a pond or even a large plastic tote size if that’s how you roll. I like keep my fountain at a little bubble bubble not a big splish splash… so the round, deep basin I chose works really well for that.
If you like this water feature, you’ll also like my list of 20+ amazing water feature ideas and my DIY self-watering planter project.
FAQ’s / Troubleshooting
Over the years I’ve received a lot of great questions about this project. So, here are some of the most frequently asked questions and problems you may need to troubleshoot along the way.
Yes, you can use a solar pump for this project. I have purchased this solar pump and the add-on battery backup. This is not as powerful as the electric pump I have listed, however, I never used my fountain on “full strength” using the electric pump.
After using this solar setup for a few weeks now, I would definitely recommend it. The solar panel is also quite large (about 11×14″, which i something to consider.
My favorite thing is that the battery backup actually CHARGES via the solar panel. I think this is an incredible feature that you should look for. This means that any time the sun “cuts out”, the battery will take over and the fountain will continue to run. It also runs for hours into the evening using the sun’s charge from the day. Without the battery backup, though, I would not have been happy using a solar pump. It cuts out a lot without the battery.
Keep in mind that solar does NOT mean wireless. There’s a 16′ cord that runs from the pump to the solar panel. An extension cord is available for purchase separately. You will need to find a place to put the panel that’s going to get adequate sun and not be in the way… while still being attached to the pump.
Learn more about electric vs. solar pumps in this article. It will help you decide which is right for you.
Absolutely you can. However, I find pond liner to be a bit difficult to work with. And, since the water feature is underground and you don’t actually see the water reservoir, you don’t need to make your basin into an organic/fun shape… which is why I find that a bucket/basin easier to use.
I suppose the answer will depend on where you live and the quality of the materials you want to use. Because this is a permanent structure and sits underground, I am more inclined to buy the type of basin that is made for this use. A plastic bucket could easily crack and leak and you’ll have to take the whole thing apart. And, if you live in a colder climate like I do (Pennsylvania), the ground will freeze and will likely cause a regular old bucket to crack. Pond basins are flexible and won’t crack over the winter.
My water feature is right next to my house making a simple outdoor extension cord very easy to use (be sure to connect the cord to your pump inside of a water tight cord protection case.
However, if you are planning to put this water feature in the middle of your yard, you may need to hire an electrician to run underground wiring and connect it to your home. This is definitely something to consider when choosing the location of your water feature.
If you take a look at step 7, I’ve cut a trap door into the hardware cloth so I can “open” up that section and reach my hand into the basin to retrieve the pump. This makes it easier to take the pump out in the winter and to do any servicing you may need to do. If you didn’t cut a trap into the hardware cloth, you’ll have to remove all of the rocks/stones, then take off the hardware cloth and grill to retrieve the pump. So, thinking ahead and creating that trap door can save you a lot of time and effort in the future!
No… not necessarily. But I’ve found that using a filter will help to maintain the pump and make it last longer. If debris from above fall into your water basin they can get sucked up into the pump and clog it and/or break it. So, this is just a precautionary step to avoid that. Check out my video to make your own $3 external filter for your pump.
Over time, you will need to “top off” the water in your underground basin. However, if the water is running out within a few hours there’s a bigger problem. Usually the reason is that the splash of your fountain is going OUTSIDE of the diameter of your underground basin. The water needs to trickle down the rocks and go back into the basin for this to work properly. First, try positioning your rocks in a way that funnels the water back into the center of the basin. If you want a larger splashing fountain you may need to invest in a large and WIDE basin (or use pond liner as mentioned above).
Likely, you have not connected your pump to the top of the fountain. If you don’t connect a hose, the water will likely not leave your bucket. You will need to use flexible hosing to do this. The hose connects to the pump and then travels upward to the top of the fountain (where you want the water to splash). You can watch my how-to video to follow along with how I did it.
If this isn’t the problem, it’s possible that your hose is leaking or that the connection point where it secures onto the pump has come undone, is loose, or there’s an actual hole or leak in the hose. Try using a hose clamp to secure the connection of the tube to the pump.
That’s really up to you. Each winter, I usually drain the water basin as best as I can and use the trap door to remove the pump from the basin and store it. I’ve also left the pump inside (unplugged) and used a waterproof tarp to cover the entire fountain/rock area so that no water gets into the basin over the winter and freezes. If the pump freezes inside of the basin you’ll likely do permanent damage. If you live in a warmer climate you can probably get away with unplugging the pump and draining the water a bit, then refilling the basin in the spring.
I agree, it can be confusing. I’ve demystified all of the fountain pump specs in this post (there’s also a video that you can watch on that page).
If you have another question, feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to answer it for you 🙂
I told you this was an easy DIY project! And, there’s just so much room for customization and creativity. Just think, in an afternoon you can have a beautiful, soothing pondless water feature to relax near all summer. First you’ll have to decide whether you want to go with a solar or electric fountain pump.
Then, dig a hole for your basin and put your pump in, cover it with a grill and hardware cloth, and decorate with rocks or other found objects.
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with… so PLEASE send me a photo… the easiest way is to sign up for my email list then hit REPLY to one of the emails. It goes straight to me!!
More Posts About Water Features
- 20+ Water Feature Ideas to Create a Unique Dream Garden OasisWant to explore garden water features but don’t know where to start? Use this guide to help you choose which type of water feature fits your style and budget.
- Electric vs. Solar Fountain Pumps – Which Is Right For You?The pros and cons of electric vs. solar fountain pumps that will help you determine which fountain pump is right for your water feature project.
- What Size Pump Do You Need For Your Water Feature?Trying to figure out what water feature pump size you need, but getting bogged down in all the jargon. Learn exactly what specs to pay attention to with simplified explanations for each.
Shop my Amazon storefront for my essential gardening books & tool recommendations!