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Posts suitable for intermediate gardeners – the ones that know enough to be dangerous.

Plant Texture: for a garden you hafta touch

Plant Texture: for a garden you hafta touch

If you’re looking for a subtle but powerful way to set your garden apart from the ordinary, plant texture is where it’s at.

But what exactly does it mean to use plant texture in the garden?

There are two different “levels” of texture when it comes to plants: visual and tactical.

Visual texture refers to the visual appearance of the plant, overall. For example, is the overall plant fluffy or spikey?

Contrast plant textures like fluffy and spikey plants
Contrast plant textures by combining soft, fluffy foliage with sharp and spikey foliage.
Illustration by Pretty Purple Door.

Tactical texture refers to the visual characteristics of parts of the plant (like the flowers, stems and leaves).

Visual Plant Texture

Visual plant texture is really the more important of the textures when it comes to actually designing your landscape. The reason that visual texture is so important is because when you are designing a garden, the way your plants interact with one another is really important. Without enough repetition and contrast of texture, color and form, your garden design doesn’t work.

So what does work? Mixing up the visual texture of the plants that are near one another. The visual texture of a plant can be classified into one of three categories: coarse, medium or fine. If we use a walnut broken into pieces as an example,

  • Coarse texture = a walnut broken in half
  • Medium texture = a walnut cut into quarters
  • Fine texture = a walnut chopped into small pieces

Visual texture in the mixed border

In a mixed border or layered landscape, you need to have a variety of textures to create visual depth in your garden beds. If all of your plants have a fine texture, they will begin to blend together like a blog.

From a distance, a viewer wouldn’t be able to discern where one plant begins and another ends. By placing plants of varying (coarse, medium and fine) texture next to each other, no one gets lost in the crowd.  

A lot of people ask me, “Amy, how do I know if my garden has enough texture contrast?”

This is where your camera comes in handy. If you take pictures of your garden beds then turn the photos to black and white, you’ll quickly tell whether you have enough visual plant texture.

Let’s look at this example to understand how this works.

Is there enough plant texture?
Adding some bigger, bolder foliage to break up these two plants would help a lot! (Source)

While these two plants have color contrast, they both have a medium texture. But, it’s difficult to tell in the full color version of the photo. When you turn it to black and white, it’s really clear that both of these plants have the same visual texture– because they blend together like a big blob.

Fixing visual texture issues

Adding some different textured foliage (coarse or fine) to break up these two plants would help a lot! (Source).

Improvement to visual plant texture
The addition of coarse and fine visual plant texture improves this design.

I Photoshopped (crudely) a way to improve upon this scene by adding more texture. Hostas in the front of the photo add a coarse texture to the mix while a Slowmound Mugo Pine (Source) with a fine texture breaks things up.

Mixing up the visual plant texture is a common way to add interest to your garden. If you want to learn more about getting started with your camera, check out my post, How to start landscaping your yard (when you don’t know anything).

Tactical Plant Texture

Tactical plant texture is basically the way the plant feels when you touch it. For many plants, it is the foliage that has the most notable texture. For others, the bark, seed head, flower or even its stem could be the source.

Plant texture is a bit more subtle than color, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. Texture has the ability to create a physical reaction — it makes you want to reach out and touch the plant! Ask yourself these types of questions to get a better understanding of plant texture in your own garden:

  • Is the plant feathery soft or sharp and spiky?
  • Are its leaves shiny or matte?
  • Is the bark smooth or rough?
  • Are the seed heads furry or coarse to the touch?

There are so many plant textures to choose from and you can have a ton of fun with this in your garden. It’s actually one of my favorite ways to add a bit of whimsy and surprise to my own gardens and really sets my design apart from other landscapes in my neighborhood

How to use plant texture to improve your garden

Plant texture may seem like a subtle thing, but it really is another design tool in your bag that can take your garden to the next level. Without enough texture, your garden can fall flat. But, with too much, things can get real crazy, real fast!

There are two ways you can use plant texture in your garden:

  • Use similar plant textures to create repetition and cohesiveness in your garden.
  • Contrasting plant textures will add more contrast and interest.

Repeating plant texture in your garden

Repeating similar textures, even if the the plants are different colors, will help to unite your garden design. When repeating a texture, the easiest thing you can do is repeat the same plant within your garden. Many gardeners like to plant in “drifts” which means they plant a group of the same plant in a multiple of 3, 5 or even 7. By repeating the plant in the garden, you are also repeating the plant’s texture and color. This is a really easy and effective way to unite your garden beds.  When you’re starting out, this is the simplest way to make your garden look good and make it look like you know what you’re doing.

Garden Design by Thomas Rainer. (Source)

There’s absolutely NO SHAME in repeating the same plant over and over again (drifts) in your landscape design. As a beginner it’s an easy way to create cohesiveness. But, professional gardeners also do this often to create repetition in color, texture and form. Pictured above is catmint, salvia and mexican feather grass, all adding unique plant textures to this garden design by Thomas Rainer.

When repetition gets boring

But, for gardeners who love to buy and try new plants, this can be really boring and monotonous. If you fall into this category, using plant texture is a great way to thoughtfully introduce new plants into your garden beds. Now that you understand what texture is, you can start to identify what else may look good in your garden. If you are looking to create more cohesiveness in your garden, choose plants that have a similar texture (bonus if they are the same color!) to add to your planting.

Bonus Tip: Here are some tricks for combining your plants using contrast in texture, color and form.

Repeating plant texture in your garden

For a “bumpy” texture try planting aloe succulents along the edge of rough and bumpy bricks (ok, not plant texture but it still works). The prickly texture of sea holly matches the prickly texture of the blue spruce in the background. Or try adding smooth, grey river rock to a bed of smooth textured succulents.

Contrasting plant texture in your garden

We’ve already discussed how to use contrasting textures of coarse, medium and fine to help plants in your garden to “unblob” together. You can also achieve contrast with tactical texture to create really interesting and unique combinations in your garden. Finding unique ways to play with tactical plant texture is a more subtle way to liven up areas of your garden that feel bland.

Contrasting plant texture in your garden

Try these combinations: ‘blue star’ juniper and lambs ear (Source – my garden); purple delphinium and yellow yarrow (Source); mexican feathergrass and ‘caradonna’ meadow sage (Source).

Unusual sources of plant texture

Take your garden design up a notch by incorporating unusual sources of plant texture into your landscape. You don’t always have to use the blooms or the foliage of the plant. Lets explore some unusual sources of texture that can really add that “wow” factor to an otherwise ordinary garden!

Seedheads for texture

When your flowers stop blooming, don’t be so quick to deadhead them. Incredible texture emerges from many common plants AFTER they bloom/ Don’t be so quick to deadhead, because seedheads are one of my favorite sources of texture.

Seedheads add plant texture in your garden

Alliums, post-bloom, turn into stalks of little green balls that can really add interest to your garden (Source). The ‘hello yellow’ blackberry lily morphs into these little seedpods that look like actual blackberries floating in your garden about 3-4′ in the air (Source)! And finally, certain varieties of clematis vine blooms morph into beautiful, silky, moppy seedheads in late summer to early fall (Source).

Edibles & Herbs for texture

The use of edibles and herbs is common in cottage garden design.
In cottage gardens, colorful ornamentals, edibles, herbs and medicinals are all mixed together in one garden bed. These plantings utilize every available space, creating a feeling of charm and “organized mess.”

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

This FREE guide has 7 key questions to help you pick the perfect plants for your landscape. Pop in your email below for instant access.

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Hey, since you’re already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.

What’s great about this garden style is that you can find incredible sources of plant texture in edibles and herbs. Some of the most unique textures you’ll ever find are actually edible.

edibles and herbs to add unique plant texture to your cottage garden

Try cabbage (Source), borage (Source), chives (Source), artichokes (Source), kale (Source) and dill (Source) for magical plant texture you’ll want to reach out and touch. While you’re down there, you can pick some for tonight’s dinner, too!

Wrapping Up

There are two different types of plant texture: visual and tactical. Visual plant texture refers to the texture of the overall plant and can be classified into the categories of coarse, medium and fine texture. When create a garden design, visual texture is extremely important. Using tactical plant texture in your garden is a more subtle way to add interest and take your garden design to the next level. Look to bark, seed heads, flowers and stems to explore different pieces of tactical texture. Finally, you can use repeating textures to unite your garden beds. Or, you can choose contrasting textures to create focal points within your garden. Some unusual sources of plant texture you can try are from seedheads, edibles and herbs.

Sue’s post about weaving your garden is a great overview of plant texture. She’s also got a lot of beautiful photos!

Using plnat texture for a stand-out garden design
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Landscape Layering: How to Create an Amazing Landscape

Landscape Layering: How to Create an Amazing Landscape

If you’ve ever drooled over glossy magazine articles, awe-inspiring Instagram feeds or curated Pinterest boards of gorgeous gardens and wondered, “how’d they do that?” you are going to love landscape layering.

Landscape layering is using a wide variety of plants arranged into a staggered foreground, middle-ground and background creating casual, mixed border planting.

When layering a landscape, design principles such as repetition, scale, flow and depth are used to create a intentional and dynamic garden design. Layering plants, trees, shrubs, grasses, vines and groundcovers in multiple rows using design principles as a guide is what sets magazine-worthy gardens apart from the average home garden.

But, if you’ve ever tried to do this yourself, I’m sure you’ve already realized that it’s not that easy to accomplish. I struggled to create a beautiful garden for over 6 years trying to make sense of books, articles and videos about garden design before I figured this out.

So, first things first, grab your FREE Master the Mixed Border Guide & Checklist so you can follow along with this post. You’ll get my illustrated 8 step guide, a printable planting pyramid and a checklist that you can use to make sure that you don’t forget any of the steps!

8 Steps to a layered landscape

Can you relate?

  • You love plants, but you have no idea how to make your landscape look beautiful.
  • You live for that moment at the garden center when you spot a plant you’ve never seen before… and immediately put it in your cart!
  • Your garden looks great for a week or two, but always reverts back to a messy blob of stuff.
  • You’ve felt like you’re garden isn’t “full” enough, but when you planted more plants, it didn’t help (or made things worse/messier).

I know I can…

No matter what I did, my garden was still missing something. I literally squinted my eyes to try to SEE it. How come, even though I had dozens of amazing plants, my garden didn’t look like the pictures in my magazines?

landscape layering
This Soothing backdrop contrasts tall, upright evergreens and prickly conifers with mounded perennials and wispy grasses. (from BHG)

What I always thought was a lack of stuff in my garden… was actually a lack of layering. And, once you learn this you’re going to be like 50 steps ahead of everyone else. 

I like to call it landscape layering.

To start understanding layering a bit more, let’s first take a look at my handy-dandy Garden Pyramid for planting.

The Landscape Layering Garden Pyramid

The Layered Planting Pyramid

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this garden pyramid. Start at the top and work your way down. Add more of each type as you go.

Following this garden pyramid is going to change your garden from looking really amateurish to being garden magazine-worthy. Trust me. This is a great guide to help you create a layered landscape that’s lush and beautiful.

By the way, there’s a list of links to articles about each layer of the planting pyramid at the bottom of this post so you can read more.

Is your garden missing ANY of the categories from the pyramid? Or is there a lack of balance (like lots of evergreens, not too many flowering shrubs and no groundcovers)? This pyramid will give you an idea of how many of each you need.

If you start at the tippy-top with 1 tree and 3 evergreen shrubs, how many deciduous shrubs would you need? Obviously more than 3, right? As you work down the pyramid you should include more and more of each type of planting.

Often times, a messy border or a feeling that there’s a lack of “stuff” in your garden bed, is caused by missing a layer of this pyramid (extra hint: it’s usually evergreens).

Once you have all the layers and correct ratios, you need to make sure you are mixing them together properly. Creating these diverse layers of a variety of plants in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look. This is how landscape layering works!

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Designing Landscape Layers eBook (Brand New Version 2.0)

Get the layered, 4-season landscape of your dreams with this instant-download eBook. 110 pages.

Key Principals of Landscape Layering

There are a lot of principles of landscape design and this is a subject that I can talk about for hours. So, If you are already interested you may want to grab the eBook I wrote about designing landscape layers. It has a ton of great examples and way more detail than this post does.

Here are few design principles that will help you get started with layering:

  • Repetition: Repetition can be used in landscape layering using groupings or “Drifts” of plants. You can also use a similar color and different plants to achieve repetition.
  • Scale: The scale, or sizes of plants you use is important. In addition, the scale of the garden bed in proportion to the rest of your property plays a part.
  • Flow: How does one area of your landscape tie into another? Are you playing connect the dots with different flower beds or are they connected in some way?
  • Depth: Do you have your plants lined up like soldiers in their beds, or are they staggered in front and behind one another? Using depth is an important part of landscape layering.

Now let’s talk a little more in-depth about each.

Repetition in Landscape Layering

Consistency in your layered garden design is really important. Repetition can be created by repeating a specific plant, a specific color or a specific plant feature. When you repeat plants, colors or features, it gives your garden a more cohesive feel.

Repeat a Specific Plant

Think about how the plant would look if it were a mass planting (like a group of 3, 5, or 7 of the same plant). Planting a “drift” of plants creates a lot more impact than just spotting one plant here and there.

Repetition in Landscape Layering
Repetition of plant type (round evergreen shrubs) unites this garden and makes you want to walk down the path.
Lost Horizons Nursery, Acton Ontario

You can see in the photo above how the repetition of the round, evergreen shrub guides your eye down the pathway.

Repeat a Specific Color

You can also achieve repetition by choosing different plants in the same color family, such as light green, yellow, or even pink! Repeating the same color (even if the textures and sizes vary) will give a similar effect as repeating a single plant. It helps your eyes to bounce across the landscape and makes everything feel more connected!

Repetition in Landscape Layering
The repetition of magenta in this garden design ties it all together. By anneclarkdesign

Repetition of color (hot pink blooms) in the photo above makes your eye flow down the path.

Repeat a Specific Plant Feature

How about using several spiky plants or other plant textures, or selecting several shrubs that have horizontal branching structure? By mimicking the features of the plant, you are creating repetition.

Quick Tip: using repetition when arranging plants in your landscape can also create unity and flow. By using a specific plant throughout the entire landscape, you can control how someone’s eye will flow across your landscape.

Using Scale in Landscape Layering

Scale is very important garden layering technique for arranging plants in your landscape. It determines how many plants you’ll use and what sizes of plants you’ll need. This means using scale to determine the proper plant size, using varying sizes of plants and using enough plants for the size of your landscape.

Using the Correct Size Plants

Make sure that your plants will fit into the area when they are full grown.  It’s important to use large enough (or small enough) plantings for the space you are putting them in. Don’t shove stuff into every crack and crevice like I did. You’ll end up with an overgrown mess. But, don’t space your plants too far apart either! Your plants should touch each other to create a lush border.

Using Varying Sizes of Plants

Straight Path with Mixed Garden Borders in blues and purples
At Parham House & Gardens, West Sussex, a mixed border of blue and purple blooms with varying sizes and shape makes the design flow. Mark Wordy (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr.

Changing up the size of each plant will create visual interest. Using a low, wide shrub next to a tall, narrow tree will accentuate the features of each plant.

My free plant pairing guide goes over lots of plant combinations that will bring out the best features of really unique plants.

Using Enough Plants

Make sure you’re filling up the space with enough plants for the size of your house and yard. If you don’t use enough plants, your landscape will look a bit scarce and disconnected. Honestly if you are like me I doubt you’ll have any problems FILLING the space… but I wanted to throw this in here, anyway.

Creating Flow in Landscape Layering

When layering your plants in the landscape, you’ll want your plants to flow and you’ll also want your garden beds to flow from one of the next. Creating proper landscape flow involves combining your garden beds together, extending your beds out from your foundation and nestling your house into the landscape.

You should think about your landscape as a whole. And… yes that means you’ll have to do some planning, first.

Quick Tip: If you’re struggling with flow, read my article about unity and flow to learn more.

Stop “Zoning Out” Your Property

Try to resist the urge to create tiny “zones” that are spotted throughout your lawn. For example:

  • this is my rose garden
  • this circle is where I put my tulips
  • over here is where I’ll put this tree
Illustration of poor landscape design

Here’s a typical foundation-hugging landscape with doo-dads scattered throughout. These people must have a ton of time to mow around all the little islands they’ve created.

(Illustration by Pretty Purple Door)

Connect Your Garden Beds

If there is a tree near your garden, why not encompass that tree into the planting area?

Instead of creating smaller areas or hugging your foundation like it’s your long lost grandpa, encompass landscape elements into garden beds.

Illustration of Good Landscape Design

This example has a much better flow and the scale of the gardens to the rest of the property is much more balanced. There is still plenty of lawn for the kids to play, too.

(Illustration by Pretty Purple Door)

Nestle Your House into the Landscape

Nestle your house into the plantings you are putting around it.  I know this can be a hard concept to grasp. Anchoring the corners of your home with larger plantings that make it look like it’s set “into” the landscape will help to create a better flow.

Quick Tip: Here are 5 more ways to create better flow in your landscape.

Mastering Depth in Landscape Layering

Finally, I think the most important part of a landscape layering is pretty much where the word “layers” comes from: DEPTH.

We know that there are many different types of plants you can use. Arranging your plants forward and behind one another is what will make your landscape feel cohesive and lush. This involves creating large garden beds (larger than you’re probably used to), so that you can incorporate a foreground, middle-ground and background layer.

Landscape layering - Gilded Mint
Notice the curves, layering of colors and laddering to give depth (from Gilded Mint).

What’s a Good Depth for a Layered Garden Bed?

Most garden beds, especially foundation plantings, are simply not deep enough. An easy way to improve the look of your landscape is to simply bring your garden beds out to at least 5-6 feet out from your home’s foundation.

If you have the space, make it even deeper than this! I have some beds that are even 10-12 feet. I find that the more depth that you have to create rows of plantings, the better off you are and the more choices you’ll have when choosing plants.

If you are short on space, it will be difficult to create layers. You’ll either have to choose a lot of small shrubs and space-saving trees, or find ways that you can expand the depth of your garden beds, at least in some places.

Create Depth with a Foreground, Middle-ground and Background

If you have the space, create a foreground, middle-ground and background. Tallest plants go in the back and the lowest growing plants go into the front of the garden bed. This is why you need so much depth in your garden beds.

Weave Plants in and out of the Layers

Weave plants in and out of the 3 rows of your garden
Weaving your plants in and out of their original rows creates a more casual look. Illustration by PrettyPurpleDoor.

Now, weave some of your middle ground plants into the background.

Or weave some of the smaller middle ground plants into the foreground.

This can be tricky because you don’t want to hide any of your plants, but offsetting the planting depth in a garden bed can give the illusion that there’s so much more going on in your garden.

Quick Tip: My post about arranging plants in your landscape goes into a lot more detail about creating depth and laying out your plants. There’s also lots of hand-drawn photos by yours truly!

Quick Tips for Layering your Landscape like a Pro

I’ve already hit on some of these points, but here are some examples of how you can achieve a beautiful layered landscape at home.

Don’t Hug the Foundation

This landscape uses different sized plantings. It also uses enough plantings for the size of the home. Notice how the landscape doesn’t just hug the foundation?

Use Repetition as Much as Possible

Repetition in Landscape Layering
Alternanthera Chardonnay weaving around annuals at The Greenbrier Resort

Repeat, repeat, repeat after me: I will repeat both color and types of plants in my gardens.

Compare & Contrast with Shape & Scale

A mix of shapes, sizes, and colors enlivens these conifers planted as a screen.
A mix of shapes, sizes, and colors enlivens these conifers planted as a screen (Fine Gardening).

Mix shape, size and color to enliven your landscape layering. Even though they’re all green, they’re different shades of green. Even though they’re all conifers, they’re all different heights and shapes and sizes.

Quick Tip: Learn more about balancing plants in a layered border in my post about symmetrical and asymmetrical balance.

Texture Is the Secret Weapon

Plant combinations with texture
Lots of texture contrast between ‘Blue Star’ Juniper, Sedum ‘Angelina’ and ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ Lambs Ears creates an interesting garden moment. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Play soft textures off of hard ones. Spikes against curves. Little needles against big ones. There’s so much texture in plants– use it to unite groups of plants, or to make one stand out. Texture is the secret weapon in a garden designer’s pocket. It can create so much more visual interest in a planting design.

Quick Tip: To learn more about texture, read my my post about creating a garden you ‘hafta’ touch by using tons of texture.

Wrapping Up

When creating an effective landscape using landscape layering, think about how the plants will look together as a whole. Follow the Planting Pyramid to stay on track with the amount of each plant you’ll need. Then let the concepts of repetition, scale, depth and flow guide how you put it all together.

My Designing Landscape Layers eBook and my Design Your 4-Season Garden course both go into more depth about all of these concepts of landscape layering. The course covers these layering principles in my own step-by-step framework. I’ve helped hundreds of home gardeners create their dream landscapes and I’d be honored if you joined me!

Remember that the most important part to successful landscape layering is to have a plan and stick to it. Don’t get caught up in all the hype when you see a new plant you don’t have. Instead, ask yourself: what am I going to plant WITH this? If you can answer that question, you are on the right track.

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

How to create an amazing landscape using layers
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The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

The Garden Pyramid for Planting Success

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you use this garden pyramid for planting success. Start at the top and work your way down. Add more of each type of plant as you move down the pyramid.

My Garden Pyramid Guide will help you to visualize how many of each plant type you should include in each garden. I can’t even tell you the value for this one because you literally can’t get it anywhere else.

As we move down the garden pyramid from the narrow top to the wide bottom the number of each type of plant increases. Because the lowest-level plants are the smallest you can have more of them and use a greater selection!

Using this pyramid we’ll be able to create mixed borders in our favorite garden style. And, because the borders will be filled with a variety of plant types, your landscape will be brimming with interest all year round!

The Layered Planting Pyramid
It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. You need to start at the tippy top with some structure with trees and evergreen shrubs. As you work down the pyramid you can include more and more of each type of planting. Mixing all of these layers up in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

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!

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Garden Pyramid Checklist

Following this garden pyramid is the key to taking your garden from amateur to magazine-worthy. I’ll go over some areas you should check when diagnosing your own garden.

Are you missing any layers of the garden pyramid?

First, take a look at the pyramid and make sure you aren’t missing any of these categories. Take note of any categories you are not addressing. Then, you can start to plan your garden to incorporate these layers.

Do you have the right proportions of plants?

You also need to make sure your planting is balanced. You should have more plants in the categories near the bottom of the pyramid than those at the top. You don’t have to be crazy accurate… this is just a guide. But you should have a lot more plants, flowers and grasses than you do shrubs. A lack of plant balance in the garden creates problems for many beginner gardeners.

As an example, lets say you have one tree and three evergreen shrubs. Well, that’s a great start and you have the bones or structure of your garden in place! Now, how many deciduous shrubs would you need? Obviously more than 3, right?

As you work down the pyramid you should include more and more of each type of planting.

Quick Tip: This post will give you more information about creating balance in your garden design.

Are you mixing the layers together?

Now, you’ll need to make sure you are mixing the layers of the garden pyramid together properly in your garden. This is how landscape layering works.

Your garden should have at least three layers: a foreground, a middle-ground and a background. Tall plants go in the back, medium in the middle and shorter ones near the front.

Once you have that down, you should try to “weave” plants in and out of the layers to create more depth. Move a couple shorter plants to the middle-ground. Some of the medium plants can move to the foreground… or even the background.

Mixing up the layers in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.

Quick Tip: To learn more about weaving your plants to create depth in your garden, read my post about landscape layering.

Can you create contrast and interest with plant texture?

This is another great way to add interest to your garden. As you are mixing up your plants, you can certainly plant multiples of the same together. Groups of 3, 5 or even 7 plants will create a lot of interest in the garden. But next to that drift, be sure to create some contrast with another plant.

You can create contrast by choosing plants of a different color. You can also look at the characteristics of the plant like the shape and form. Or the overall texture. Or the leaf size. Try mixing up these elements as much as you can to create an interesting layout.

Quick Tip: If you want to learn more about creating interest and contrast in your garden, check out my post about using plant texture.

Understanding Each Layer of the Garden Pyramid

I have complete posts on the blog about each layer of the garden pyramid. You can read, in detail, about each using these links:

Tips for Using the Garden Pyramid

  1. First put in the evergreens.
  2. Then plan the deciduous trees and shrubs
  3. Place the walls and fences.
  4. After that, the rest will fall into place.

Think about the following when you’re creating your layered landscape:

  • What is the plant’s overall form and how does it combine with other plants around it?
  • How will the plant’s branching structure and growth rate/full size affect affect nearby plants?
  • Will the plant’s foliage (leaves) contribute to the garden even when it’s not in bloom?
  • When does the plant bloom and what color are the flowers?
  • How will the flowers look with the colors of nearby plants and hardscaping?
  • Will the tree/shrub bark add color and interest during winter?
  • How does the tree/shrub bark texture combine with the rest of the garden?

Struggling to find the right plants to create amazing 4-season interest in your garden? I’ve got you covered. Keep reading to see some of my favorite example trees, plants, shrubs, flowers, vines and groundcovers that you can use in your landscape.

planting pyramid pinterest image

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to understand landscape layering when you look at this planting pyramid. Start at the top of the planting pyramid and work your way down. Add more of each type as you go.

As a rule of thumb, start with your evergreen trees and shrubs, then add your deciduous trees, shrubs and hardscaping (like fences and walls). After this, the rest will fall into place.

Have fun with the bottom of the pyramid, as this is where you can add the most color, variation and interest in your garden to create a beautiful, unique 4-season landscape with lots of layers.

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How to Divide Daylilies and Other Perennials With 1 Tool

How to Divide Daylilies and Other Perennials With 1 Tool

If you want to divide your daylilies I’ll show you how easy it is to get 4 or 5 daylily divisions from one plant with only one tool. This amazing tool is the easiest way I’ve found to divide daylilies, hostas and other perennial plants in your garden.

If you want to learn how to turn one plant into 4 or 5 for no cost and using only one tool, then this post is for you– keep reading to learn how!

Divide plants to get more plants for your budget Garden
Divide daylilies with only one tool!

The best time to divide daylilies

The best time to divide daylilies is shortly after they have finished flowering in late summer to early fall. Since daylilies are very hardy, you could also divide them in early spring, but if you do, they may not flower as nicely in the summer for you. Dividing the daylilies in the fall ensures they have enough time to grow and establish before their bloom season.

With any perennials that you want to divide, you should always try to do it in their off-season.

  • If the perennial is a spring or early-summer bloomer, divide in the fall.
  • If the perennial blooms in the late summer or fall, divide in the spring.

How to divide daylilies video

Watch this video to learn how to easily divide daylilies using just one tool. Dividing daylilies every few years, you can get 4 or 5 extra plants from just one!

Are your daylilies ready to be divided?

Daylilies overgrown with hole in the center

If you’re wondering when to thin out your daylilies or if your daylilies are ready to be divided into multiple plants, use this simple trick: Check the center of your daylily plant to see if there is any dead growth. If your daylilies are leggy, aren’t blooming as well as they used to, or overgrown or have some dead foliage near the inside of the plant, your daylily is ready to be divided.

You can expect to divide daylilies every 4 or 5 years in order to keep them healthy and blooming strong.

Prepare your daylilies for division

Before you divide your daylilies you’ll have to dig them up out of the ground. I like to remove any of the mulch or dead leaves from around the plant. Then I use a pair of pruning shears to trim the foliage of the plant so it’s easier to see where I need to dig. These Fiskars bypass pruning shears are my favorite…  they are the perfect size for all of your every day pruning– not too big and not too small.

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The best tool to dig up your daylilies

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my trenching shovel, also called a drain spade (I got it at Harbor Freight). If you don’t have a HF nearby, a transplanting spade is pretty much the same tool with a fancier name. I use it all the time for digging new holes, transplanting and splitting daylilies and other perennials and so much more. Drain spades are used for digging trenches so they are really narrow. It makes it so much easier to dig around and under plants than using a standard shovel. You can also use what’s called  Drain spades tend to be no frills and a little less expensive.​

Just use your transplanting spade or drain spade to dig a circle about 6-12″  outside of the perimeter of your daylily. Once you have a full circle, start digging inward (at an angle) so that you can get underneath the root of the daylily. You should be able to remove the entire plant from the ground fairly easily. If you’re having trouble, wait until you’ve had some rain and it will be easier to dig up.

Let’s start dividing the daylilies

Use a drain spade or transplanting spade to split your daylilies

I used my drain spade for this step, too! Just insert your shovel right into the center of the plant (with the foliage facing upward). One quick push downward should split the plant for you. Sometimes this a little more difficult (like if the plant is very dry). In times like that, I’ve resorted to a hatchet… haha. Daylilies are super hardy so while you should be careful, you don’t have to worry too much about damaging the plant while dividing it.

Once you divide the daylily in half, you can continue to divide the plant by halving the halfs. I recommend getting clumps with roots that are at least 6″ in diameter. For most of my daylilies I was able to get 4 or 5 divisions from one single plant. Plenty to spread around the yard, bring to your garden shares or surprise your family, friends and neighbors with!

Use a drain spade or transplanting spade to split your daylilies

Replant your daylilies in “drifts”

I usually take one of my divisions and stick it right back into the hole where it came from. The rest, I spread around the yard in different places. When you are replanting your daylilies, consider planting in drifts. This means, planting 3, 5 or 7 plants in a staggered zig-zag grouping that weaves in and out of your other plants. Daylilies look great when planted in drifts and can really “fill up” those empty areas of your garden.

Once planted, give your daylilies a nice long drink of water. They should come back more beautiful than ever next season!

New to gardening? Check out my gardening 101 guide with all of the tips and tricks I wish I knew when I was getting started.

Frequently Asked Questions About Daylilies

Where should daylilies be planted?

Daylilies prefer to be in full sun. This means they need at least 6 hours of direct light each day in order to thrive. Because daylilies are so hardy, they can adapt to other conditions but they will do better in moist and well-drained soil with lots of sun.  If you live in a hot climate, darker-colored varieties will do maintain their color with afternoon shade.

Are daylilies susceptible to any pests or diseases?

Daylilies are hardy and have few pests… but they are not completely immune to diseases like rust and fungus. If you want to keep your daylilies healthy, plant them in airy spaces with full sun and moist but well-drained soil. Also remove any foliage that looks damaged or diseased. And, don’t forget to give your daylilies sufficient water when you have a dry spell.

When can you divide and replant daylilies?

The best time to transplant daylilies is in the early spring or early fall, although they will tolerate transplanting at any time of year. My favorite time to divide daylilies is in the fall, about 6 weeks before the first frost of the season. If you divide your daylilies in the fall or even in early spring they will bloom in the summer. However, if you transplant and divide your daylilies in the summer, you risk losing your blooms for that season. Don’t worry, though, as they’ll come back next year!

Can I divide lilies in the spring?

Sure — you can certainly divide your dailies in the spring and they SHOULD still bloom in the summer for you. They are very hardy perennials. I would still suggest dividing them in the fall, though.

Do I need to deadhead daylilies?

It’s not necessary to deadhead your daylilies, but doing so will increase the amount of blooms you get and the duration of the blooms. If you don’t deadhead your daylilies they will still survive though.

Can you cut daylilies back after they bloom?

You can cut your daylilies back after they bloom but it’s not necessary. In fact, cutting the foliage back after blooming, although it may tidy up your garden, will weaken your plants. The only time I recommend cutting back your daylilies is before transplanting. Before you transplant your daylilies, cut the foliage back to about 6-8″ to make them easier to work with as you split them and replant.

What happens if you cut down daylilies too early?

Daylilies grow from the center outward, so avoid the urge to trim and tame your daylilies. Only cut them back a bit before you divide and transplant… otherwise leave them alone.

  • Cutting down in spring: Cutting back the new foliage in the center of the plant risks damage to the crown of your plant. If you damage the daylily crown, you may stunt its growth and even make it susceptible to disease and pests. If your daylilies are planted in a moist area, cutting them back too early will put your daylilies at risk for fungal diseases.
  • Cutting down in summer/fall: This will also put the plant at risk. The leaves of the daylily photosynthesize to provide food for the roots… so cutting them back removes the food source. When this happens the plant may not survive the winter (but they are hardy so they probably will still survive). But, cutting them back will probably affect the amount of blooms your daylilies produce the next summer. Cutting down daylilies too early results in weaker roots, less vigorous plants and poor flowering the following summer. 

Can daylilies take shade?

Daylilies are known to be a plant that enjoys full sun. They bloom best in full, all-day sunlight (at least 6 hours of direct sun). But, you may be wondering if daylilies will tolerate shade. While most varieities will not bloom in the shade, the “Common Orange Roadside” Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva ‘Europa’) and the “Orangeman” Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Orangeman’) will bloom normally with little to no sun.

Are daylilies invasive?

The  common day lily (Hemerocallis fulva) is considered invasive in the Chicago area. Its thick tuberous roots make it difficult to eliminate and it may choke out other plants as it spreads in the garden.  Invasiveness is always related to the particular area that you live in, so be sure to check your region or state invasive plant list to be sure that what you are planting is safe. Learn more about invasive plants.

Dividing my daylilies - without any gloves. Thanks Sally

Wrapping Up

Daylilies are really simple to divide and transplant to get more plants for your garden. They are so hardy that you can actually move them at any time of the year, but I would recommend waiting until the fall after they are done blooming for the season.

I split about 3 daylily plants into about 15 divisions, which was a good day in the neighborhood if you ask me. The only drawback was that I lost  a pair of gloves to my sneaky little pup Sally — who I caught on camera taking my gloves while I was filming this video fro you! She then dug her own hole and buried my gloves in the yard… as usual.

Daylilies are just beautiful, blooming for months on end… they are also super hardy and easy to care for. If you have yellow or orange daylilies, I’d recommend adding some lavender near them for a beautiful orange/purple combo. Phlox is also a great option.

If you want to learn more about plant pairings, check out my free plant pairing guide for amazing plant combinations for each and every season.

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Soil Improvement Tips For Flower Beds

Soil Improvement Tips For Flower Beds

Is your soil wet or dry? Alkaline or acidic? Is it light and sandy? Heavy and high in clay? Before you put one plant in the ground, know what you’re dealing with. Learning about your soil and making soil improvements will help you to choose the right plants for your site, and make sure that your plants will be happy and healthy. No more black thumbs, here!

Soil Improvement Infographic

Soil Improvement 1: Test your soil

Improve your soil with a pH test kit

No idea what the properties of your soil are? There are a few DIY options as well as a way to send soil samples out for testing so you know what you are dealing with.

Send out your soil sample for testingFor a minimum fee you can give the Cooperative Extension System a sample of your soil and they’ll tell you the pH, organic matter content and nutrient levels. This page gives a state-by-state listing of the soil testing labs in the US. They can tell you everything you need to know how about to prepare and submit your soil sample for testing

Test your soil at home with a DIY test kit: I use this kit at home to test my soil’s pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potash. What I really like about this particular kit is that it’s very easy to use and offers 40 tests (10 for each of pH, N, P and K). Since I have many garden sites on my property, I like to test the soil in each of my beds separately. The soil in my front yard by the road is much sandier and lacks more nutrients than the rich, black soil in my backyard in the shade. Not sure where to start? The pH level is the first and most important to check and will give you the most information to help you prep your soil.

Monitor your soil with this 3-in-1 soil meter: For ongoing monitoring of your soil, this little guy is super helpful for quick checks of your soil’s pH, moisture and sunlight levels. At less than $10, you may want to grab more than one soil meter– they make great gifts & stocking stuffers for all of your garden loving friends and family.

You can also check out all of my favorite products for watering and soil improvement in my Amazon Store.

Soil Improvement 2: Amend your soil

Amend your soil with compost to improve the quality

If you’ve sent out for a soil analysis, likely you will also receive recommendations for amending your soil that you can absolutely follow. For any DIYers out there, I’m just going to give a quick overview of the pH scale and what this all means.

The pH scale indicates acidity or alkalinity. A soil with a pH number below 7 is acid, while one with a pH above 7 is alkaline. Garden plants typically grow best in neutral or slightly acid soil (pH 7 or slightly below)

Raise soil pH with ground limestoneIf the pH is low (too acidic), you can raise it by using ground limestone. In 100 square feet of garden, 5 lbs of limestone should raise the pH between ½ – 1 full unit. I would work this in gradually and continue to test your soil with a meter to ensure you are on the right track.

Lower soil pH with sulfur powderIf the pH is high (too alkaline), using ½ lb of ground sulfur per 100 square feet of garden will lower the pH between ½ – 1 full unit.

Work with what you have: Unless your pH is wayyyy off, or you are trying to grow fruit, veggies or exotic plants, I would recommend working with the soil that you have rather than trying to modify it too much. Once you know what your soil levels are, it’s much easier to choose plants that will thrive in high and low acid.

Fun Fact: Adding limestone to your hydrangea plants will turn the blooms PINK. Adding sulfur will turn the blooms BLUE. If you have hydrangeas on your property, this can also be a good indicator of what type of soil you have without having to test anything ?

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

This FREE guide has 7 key questions to help you pick the perfect plants for your landscape. Pop in your email below for instant access.

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Hey, since you’re already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.

Soil Improvement 3: Replenish your soil

Soil Improvements: Replenish your soil with compost and bone meal

No matter what your soil’s composition, it’s very beneficial to replenish your soil by adding each year. This replaces any nutrients that have been absorbed by your plants, and helps them to continue to grow and thrive. In early spring, spread 1-2” of organic matter over your garden soil.

What exactly is organic matter? This can be any nutrient-rich material such as compost, manure, topsoil, peat or even grass clippings. Using a small rake or hoe, work this into the existing soil around your plants. Be extra careful not to disturb anything you’ve already planted, especially smaller plants and bulbs under the surface of the soil!

At the end of the growing season when I’m doing a little fall cleanup, I like to add bone meal to my gardens to replenish nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. 1 lb of bone meal is enough to spread across 100 square feet of garden beds. Don’t overdo this! About a tablespoon of bone meal is enough fertilizer for 1×1 sq ft, such as a large planter pot.

With the addition of the organic matter and bone meal each year, your soil will be in much better shape to grow beautiful plants than if you were to do nothing at all. If you’re finding this information useful, you should check out my Garden Planning Bundle, which will give you all the tools you need to plan the perfect landscape.

Soil Improvement 4: Add Mulch

Soil Improvements: add mulch to your garden

A thick mulch, about 3-4 inches deep of wood chips, compost or shredded leaves each year protects your landscaping investment and the environment.

Benefits of mulch

  • Makes your garden look neat, tidy and professional
  • slows topsoil erosion
  • provides nutrients for plants while protecting their roots
  • prevents weed growth in your gardens
  • saves water by keeping the soil cool and moist.

With the right amount of mulch, you’ll only need to water most of your established plants during extended dry spells. Renew the mulch each year– after you’ve divided any plants that need it.

Types of Mulch

There are many different types of mulch available, and it comes in several colors to suit your design needs.

Personally, I use the basic shredded wood mulch in my gardens. Wood mulch breaks down after 1-2 seasons and requires re-application. It can be purchased as wood chips and tree bark nuggets in pine, cedar, cypress and other hardwood mixes.

Rubber and other non-wood mulch is permanent than wood mulch but does not improve the soil structure. This type of mulch is great for playgrounds and walking trails, as it protects the soil and provides bounce underfoot.

Here are some other types of mulch you can use:

  • Pine needles increase soil acidity, making them ideal for use around acid-loving plants.
  • Pine straw and wheat straw help control soil erosion on slopes. Hay and straw mulch may harbor weed seeds.
  • Decorative rock provides excellent weed control and can be used as a mulch around plantings. But, don’t use stone around acid-loving plants as it may add alkalinity to soil.

Not sure how much mulch you need? This mulch calculator can help you to figure it out!

Get the best price on mulch

Buying mulch at the best price: Several times in the spring, bags of mulch (2 cu. feet) goes on sale at the big box stores at 5 bags/$10. I would wait until you can get a deal like this before purchasing your mulch. Keep an eye out for these sales in April and again around Memorial Day and 4th of July.

You can also purchase mulch in bulk from a local company that sells topsoil, such as Mr. Mulch or even Home Depot. I’ve even found listings for truckloads of mulch on Craigslist! Most places will have a minimum amount you need to purchase in order for them to deliver it. Mulch purchased in bulk is sold by the cubic yard so make sure you take that into consideration when ordering. If you’re ready to start creating your own dream landscape, check out the Ultimate Garden Planner bundle filled with even more gardening tips and planning sheets so you can keep track of all this stuff.

Soil Improvement 5: Add Water

Watering regularly will improve your soil

The best way to determine the amount of water needed is to purchase a rain gauge. There are many different kinds available, but here are my recommendations for a basic one, and a high-tech one:

Using a rain gauge, you’ll be able to determine how much rainfall you’ve had. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide at least an inch of rainfall in the week, you can help out your garden by providing enough irrigation to bring the weeks total up to 1 inch.

So how do we calculate this? Your plants and trees need about 1/2 gallon of water each week for every square foot of garden area. So, if your garden is 20 square feet, it needs about 10 gallons of water each week, or 2 waterings from a 5-gallon bucket.

Ex: 20 sq. ft. x 0.5 gallons/sq. ft. = 10 gallons

An easy way to figure this out, is to time how long it takes to squirt your hose into a 5 gallon bucket. Make sure you are spraying the hose at the same strength and speed that you would if you were actually watering your garden. Now you know the amount of time it takes you to provide 5 gallons of water to your garden. So, if you need to add 10 gallons of water to your bed, water it twice as long as it took you to fill your bucket.

There are more accurate equations that can be used to calculate the amount of water needed based on the amount of rainfall, but who has time for that?? A good rule of thumb is if there is a 1/2 inch of reported rainfall, water for about half the time you would for a week with no rainfall.

Soil Improvements for flower beds - Pinterest
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Wrapping Up

Prepping and caring for your soil is the first step to having an amazing landscape full of lush gardens. And with a little bit of planning, those lush gardens will practically take care of themselves! You are well on your way! My goal is to provide time saving tips and tricks for people I like to call “weekend gardeners”. Likely you and are both weekend gardeners. We both love gardening but have busy lives. Which means we have limited time to tend to all of this stuff.

That’s why I like to garden to solve problems rather than creating more problems.

Why I design gardens within my landscape:

  • to increase my home’s property value (improving curb appeal can increase home values up to 15%)
  • to give myself, friends, family and neighbors something to beautiful enjoy
  • to guide visitors to the right entry points/locations within my yard
  • to hide eyesores I don’t want to look at
  • to eliminate hard-to-mow areas (like edges of the lawn and steep hills)
  • to improve my lifestyle (like creating a shady garden spot to sit and read a book)

I created this garden planning bundle to give you all the tools you need to create a beautiful, professional-looking landscape.

Let the good thymes roll,


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One of the Easiest (and coolest) DIY water features

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!

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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:

  1. It’s a great option if you have a limited amount of space.
  2. You like to be different and you like cool things (yes and yes).
  3. It’s more eco-friendly than a traditional fountain (requires less water due to less evaporation).
  4. 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.
  5. You don’t want the extra maintenance of having water plants or fish in your fountain.
  6. Because I said it was easy to make.
DIY Pondless Water Feature

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
  • 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)
  • 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!

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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.

  1. Dig a hole to fit basin
  2. Place basin in the hole
  3. Assemble the pump
  4. Cover pump with cloche or cheese cloth and anchor to bottom of basin
  5. Place metal grate on top of basin level with the ground
  6. Cover the grate with hardware cloth (screen)
  7. Cut a trap door into the hardware cloth for servicing the pump
  8. Make the pump easy to access in the future
  9. Bury edges of screen with soil
  10. Add rocks to the screen area above the basin
  11. Fill your basin with water
  12. 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.

Pondless Water Feature Diagram - How it works
This diagram explains all of the parts of the pondless water feature and how it works.

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.

DIY Pondless Water Feature

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

DIY Pondless Water Feature

Put your basin into the hole and backfill the outside to make sure it’s nice and secure.

3- Assemble the pump

Submersible fountain 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

cover the pump with a mesh food tent to screen debris

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

Grate for pondless water feature

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.

Stakes inside basin add extra support

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)

DIY Pondless Water Feature

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

cut a trap in the hardware cloth to remove 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.

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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. ?

Garden Stakes or Garden Staples

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

Cover hardware cloth with rocks

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.

DIY Pondless Water Feature
Watching this how-to video usually clears up ANY questions you may be having right now. I’ve also included an FAQ & Troubleshooting section near the bottom of this post.

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.

Can I use a solar pump or power this by battery?

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.

Can I use pond liner instead?

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.

Can I just use a plastic bucket? Why do I need a “pond basin”?

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.

How do I get the wire from my water feature all the way to my outlet?

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.

How do I get the pump out of the basin?

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!

Do I NEED to put a filter on the fountain?

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.

My basin needs to be refilled every few hours… what gives?

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).

My pump is pumping, but the water is not coming out on the top of the fountain!?

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.

What do I do with the pump/water feature in the winter?

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.

What size pump do I need for my fountain? The specs are so confusing?!

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 🙂

Wrapping Up

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!!


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