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Backyard Fountains ~ How To Create An Outdoor Sanctuary

There's something about the sound of falling water that's mesmerizing and backyard fountains are a key component that can turn an ordinary outdoor space into a peaceful sanctuary.

You'd think picking one out would be easy and sometimes it is, but trust me, there's a whole lot you need to know before plunking down hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars on a fountain.

Having bought several of these over the years, I've learned quite a few valuable lessons, like: why you need a concrete base under certain types of fountains and how to layer other back yard projects with fountains to create dramatic focal points.

Decorative Backyard Fountains

decorative backyard water fountain in front of lattice fence design

Mission style backyard fountain combined with lattice fence designs and an arbor are great ways to get more privacy in small yard landscaping.

This yard backs an apartment complex and is close to a freeway, but you'd never know it with the canopy of green above, and all around the sound of trickling water. Backyard fountains also make great focal points for small yard landscaping, especially when layered with other elements.

I designed this back yard project with a fountain centered in front of sliding glass doors that open to the patio. Next, I had an arbor built to flank the doors and meet the fence.

Covered in vines, the arbor creates a visual tunnel effect with the fountain at it's center, shading the windows and patio from direct sun. Adding lattice to the top of the fence helped close in the back "wall" and give the vines something to cling to, while allowing air to pass through.

Large backyard fountains such as this can cost around $1,000. and up, plus keep in mind that they also require maintenance to keep them running clean.

Rodents, possums, and cats, can also be attracted to backyard fountains in areas where water is scarce, but whether or not it becomes a nuisance depends on where you live.

Small Garden Fountains

decorative backyard water fountain sits on top of a stone wall

Small garden fountains can be an inexpensive way to add character and charm but installing them in the right location can prove challenging sometimes, here's a great example.

We wanted a fountain to sit on top of this 3 foot tall wall with a 12 inch cap, but it took quite a bit of searching to find one with a narrow enough base.

The fountain also needed to be around 4 feet tall, and Tuscan in design, which narrowed down the choices, but getting it on top of the wall was the real kicker!

Even a small fountain like this can weigh hundreds of pounds, and they had to use a special platform jack to raise it to the wall level. There was a moment when my installers were about to give up because they needed an extra hand, but that's when I stepped in to help balance it. (Thank God I didn't have to lift it!)

Fountain installation costs can vary, but my guy charges around $150. - $200. for a large fountain (as in the first photo) and $125. - $150. for a small to medium size, (photo above) which included the pump and delivery. It's totally worth it to have it done right and make sure nobody gets hurt. A neighbor of mine hurt his hand pretty bad while trying to change a fountain pump that was in an awkward place, and they vowed to call in the pros from then on.

Installing Backyard Fountains For Safety

Here's another example of why you're crazy if you don't hire a professional to install larger backyard fountains.

This beautiful fountain of "The Green Man" weighs in at 665 pounds. Joey (his real name) gave Eric a good deal on it and offered to install it real cheap, and that's when our troubles began.

decorative backyard water fountain of the green man, with water coming from his mouth and catching it in his hands

Joey tells us all we need to do is put down a bed of sand before he arrives to install it and Eric uses DG (decomposed granite). Then Joey sets it up but nothing is working right. When he asks us for some caulk to attach the base and quarters to shim it, I start to get nervous.

An hour later, after much struggling, Joey leaves with the fountain leaning against the fence and not attached to anything, saying that's the best he can do. It's wiggly and scaring the crap out of us because all the weight is literally balanced on top of the pedestal, which means at any moment the two could slide apart and crash bang! (like caulk is really going to hold it!)

Within a couple days the base was tilting even more, and putting more weight against the top the fence. My biggest fear was that it would fall over and hurt someone. That's when I called in the pro, a guy whose been selling and installing back yard fountains for 25 years, and who installed our last two fountains. The look on Dan's face when he saw how our fountain was set up made me want to crawl under a rock.

Dan didn't want to take the job because he didn't sell us this fountain, although I'd bought two others from him in the past. He had a right to be upset, being asked to fix someone else's blunders, but at the same time, he felt pity on us. He told us what we needed to do to prepare, and then came back and put it together ~ the right way.

Turns out backyard fountains that are 6 feet tall and weigh hundreds of pounds, need to be set on a concrete pad. (in this case at least two feet deep) Not only that, we needed to insert two 4" x 4" x 8' pieces of treated lumber in the back of it to secure the top half the fountain.

Our concrete guy, Michael, was coming to install a pad for the new hot tub so we asked him to do this fountain pad at the same time. In the photo above, you can see the base he made using a curved concrete form to better match the shape of the fountain. He also threw in some powdered colorant so the concrete wouldn't dry gray.

I ran into Joey several months later and he asked about our fountain. I told him what we had to do to fix it and he said "Bet you wish you didn't buy it from me". Yeah, Joey, another $300. and a whole lot of stress later, that's a lesson we could have done without.

Cleaning Backyard Fountains

Using chemicals or bleach to shock the water was not an option for me, since hummingbirds came to my fountain hourly to bathe in the top tier.

My first attempt at cleaning a huge fountain (very top photo) was with plastic cups, scooping out the water. Then I bought a cheesy pond cleaning kit that quickly got tossed when I got a mouthful of dirty swamp water. (You don't want to know) What a total waste of cash!

Then, I bought a wet vac to help me with my monthly fountain cleaning chore, but it really gave me a back ache bending over and emptying that thing. Plus I burned it out one time trying to dry vac without the filter in it.

Here's my NEW, favorite way to clean backyard fountains that won't give you a backache!

Put a piece of black landscape tubing over the spigot where the water comes out and let the pump keep running until all the water drains out. (same tubing they use for drip irrigation fit both my fountains)

Put the other end of the hose into a bucket or let it drain onto the dirt.

When the water stops flowing, shut pump off.

Add a little fresh water a couple times and repeat and it's good to go.

Clean algae off (when needed) with an old sponge, rinse and repeat.

You're supposed to clean the little sponge that sits inside the pump, acting as a filter, but I never do because it's a royal pain to access and reconnect. Besides, pumps only cost around $20, and mine have gone for years without being cleaned.

Thank you for listening to my stories about backyard fountains. Hopefully they will help you purchase with greater confidence, and get it the right the first time.

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