How To: Build A Disappearing Water Feature


Want water noise without the associated body of water?

Disappearing Water Features are for you! Also called “Pondless Water Features,” these features are incredibly simple and easy to build and the possibilities are virtually limitless!

Disappearing Water Features can be built at ground level (with your water cavity built in-ground) or they can be built on an above ground basin you build or purchase. Your choice in basin will be determined by the size of your main feature, the desired look, and space or environmental constraints. We’ve built several Disappearing Water Features here at Water Garden Gems, and we’ve helped thousands of customers with their own features; take a look at the construction process behind one of our on-property displays!

1) Determine Cavity Placement:

Your cavity (main water reservoir) should be located at the lowest point of your feature, and that may require you to create an incline down to the reservoir. The reservoir does not need to be in the center of the feature, and usually is not. If you ever need access to the pump, you won’t want it immediately beneath the feature itself. We recommend placing the reservoir near the edge of the feature, and sloping the feature towards the reservoir so as to minimize water loss.


2) Level The Area:

Next, you must create your level. Now, we don’t mean a 0 degree level; we want a slope to guide the water into your reservoir. This slope can be as little as 2 degrees, but there does need to be a slight slope into the cavity. Once the slope has been built, make sure you pound the dirt into place with small quantities of water to ensure that the ground does not “settle” in the future. If you do not compact your dirt, it will shift once weight is placed on top of it and your slope will be compromised, potentially leading to water loss.

You may also wish to slope the ground up around the feature in order to avoid runoff water draining into your feature. Runoff water can carry leaves, dirt, and other undesirable items into your feature, necessitating a full cleaning.


3)  Select and Design the Pump:

It is important that your cavity hold enough water to protect the pump; if the cavity is too small, the pump may push water out faster than it can flow back in. This can be remedied by a larger slope or a larger cavity. Depending on the needs of the feature, you may also consider installing intake piping onto the pump to help protect it from leaves and debris. Also understand that you will be adding water periodically (mostly due to evaporation), so make the reservoir large enough to prevent frequent filling. We built our cavity to be about 2.5’x 2.5’x 3’deep for our feature, running 7 one-inch tubes over a slight gradient covering a 15×15 foot surface area.

Choosing a pump can be difficult, but that’s why we’re here! We can help you select the proper gallons-per-hour and most effective pump style for your feature; just bring us a design or tell us what you want!


4) Place the Liner:

Placing the liner should be done with caution, as you do not want to make large footprints in your leveled area. Make sure you firmly push your liner into the cavity and, as you add water, ensure that the liner is filling into the corners of the hole. If necessary, you may need to fold the corners of the liner so that they do not protrude into your feature too much. It is important to realize that, once the liner is installed, you must be cautious to not damage it; no heavy boots or equipment!


5) Install the Grate:

Once the liner is in place and the cavity is full of water, it is time to place the grate and, if necessary, reinforcement to hold the weight of the grate. You want to choose a grate that will not rust as it will be under water continuously, and if the grate collapses your feature will be devastated. Reinforcement can come in many shapes and sizes, but simple cinder blocks placed beneath the grate can help hold the weight of your feature–just make sure the blocks have no sharp edges! (You may need to file their edges).

If you intend to use small rock, you will need to place a fine mesh over your grate to prevent the smaller rocks from falling into your cavity. We carry both grates and mesh; let us know how much you need!


6) Install the Pump:

Place your pump into your reservoir and run piping or tubing through the grate. In the picture shown, you will see that we have cut holes into the mesh and grate in order to allow easy access to the pump. The hole surrounding the piping should be somewhat tight around the pipe; we don’t want any leaves or other debris to be able to slip past!


7) Assemble your feature:

The feature you are using will determine steps from here on. Whether simple or complicated, the key is to be patient and work at it until you have created the feature that fulfills the vision in your head! We stacked many faux rocks to create a 3 dimensional feature with two bridges, allowing water to fall naturally in all directions.  It took time to hide all 7 pipelines, but when working with a 360 degree feature, it is important to hide all functional pieces of the project.


8) Plumb your Feature:

Plumb the water lines of your feature. If you are using an urn (or other feature with a basin above ground-level), you will want to make sure that the basin is watertight. If, for example, a disappearing urn project does not have a watertight seal at the base of the urn, water will seep out of the bottom of the urn, reducing the flow of water above the urn. This loss of water could result in your feature not providing the flow you intended. If you build a feature with multiple water outlets, you may want to put a ball valve at each port so that you can better regulate how much of your waterflow is going to each outlet.


9) Level Your Feature:

Once the piping is secure, turn the pump on and run the feature. Observe the flow of the water and adjust the angles as necessary to create the desired flow patterns. No matter what type of feature you are installing, you want to make sure you adjust the level in order to create the perfect visual!


10) Enjoyment!

Once the water flows as desired, it’s time to enjoy your new feature! Now is also the time to consider adding lights to the feature; sit outside at night and decide how many lights you think would look best, and whether you want color changing or white, then come out and see us! We’d be happy to help you choose lights to accentuate your new Disappearing Water Feature!

Depending on the design of your feature, you may soon have all sorts of wildlife enjoying your new oasis; take some time to enjoy the beauty of nature! We love hearing about the creatures that enjoy water; let us know if you see something unique!



Bring us your design and we’d be happy to consult with you! We’ve helped design thousands of Disappearing Water Features (and built many ourselves); ask us questions!

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