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Fish Pond vs. Pondless Waterfall vs. Fountain: Landscape Design Options to Consider

Posted On: June 14,2018 By: Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Professional pondless waterfallImagine stepping into your backyard and hearing the sound of trickling or flowing water. There’s something automatically calming about it. It sets the scene for enjoying a peaceful meal outside or even just relaxing in a lounge chair on your patio, watching and listening to the running water.

When it comes to incorporating the sights and sound of water in your backyard, there are several ways to achieve it.

A fish pond, pondless waterfall, or fountain would all give you the aesthetics and sound of water, but in very different ways. You may know that you want a great water feature, but you’re uncertain as to which one is best. The last thing that you want is for it to become an eyesore or a chore to take care of. You want to make the best choice, which will continue to meet your needs for many years into the future.

That’s why we’re comparing fish ponds vs. pondless waterfalls vs. outdoor fountains in Lancaster, PA. Each one has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, all relative to the specific homeowner. By learning about each of them, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your complete outdoor living area.


Considering a Fish Pond

Of these three water feature options, fish ponds are likely to be the most maintenance and probably the most expensive option. That’s because they’re the most complex.

Fish ponds require a filtration system as you have a living habitat and cannot use a lot of chemicals to keep the water clear. There’s also more involved in excavating for a fish pond and they will take up more space in your yard.Professionally landscaped fish pond

A medium-sized fish pond with a recirculating waterfall and pond plants ready for your koi and goldfish is typically going to cost between $18,000 and $30,000.

But they have a lot to offer. If fish and other living elements are important to you, then this is the way to go. Many homeowners who have fish ponds think of the fish as pets. If you have children or grandchildren, they’ll love feeding the fish and watching them swim. You can also have more diverse aquatic plants such as water lilies, mosaic plant, or water lettuce. And, you’ll find that the ecosystem you’ve set up will attract other kinds of wildlife such as an array of beautiful birds.

Landscaping pond with trees and plants

In terms of maintenance, tasks include things like pond start-up and shut-down, winterization, and of course, ongoing maintenance during the prime season of spring and summer (such as water testing and regularly checking on your filtration system to ensure it’s running properly). There is also regular feeding of the fish. These tasks can be performed by you, though there is professional pond maintenance in Lancaster, PA, should you require some of these services to be performed for you.

Here are some questions to ask if you’re considering a fish pond:

  • Do I have space?
  • Are the fish and other living elements an essential part of my water feature?
  • Do I have the time or budget for ongoing maintenance?


Considering a Pondless Waterfall

A pondless waterfall is just what it sounds like. Instead of having a big pond, the waterfall disappears into an underground reservoir. This is typically a good choice for a smaller backyard or for a family that does not want to spend much time with maintenance as a pondless waterfall is a lot less maintenance than a fish pond. Because it is not a living system, you can use a variety of necessary chemicals to keep your water crystal clear.

Professional pondless waterfall

There are a lot of options for beautiful pondless waterfall landscaping. Large boulders tend to become a showpiece of a pondless waterfall and will be strategically laid out in a way that creates the best possible sound and visual effect. Plant life can also be tucked in between rocks to make the scene look even more lush and natural. A variety of plants can thrive in the moist soil adjacent to your waterfall.

It’s also worth mentioning that another advantage to this type of water feature is an added element of safety if you have very young children at home. Unlike a pond, which is essentially a pool of water, a pondless waterfall doesn’t pose the same risk of a child falling in.

Pondless waterfall landscape

In addition, this type of water feature is typically going to cost less than a fish pond. The cost of a pondless waterfall complete with some pondless waterfall landscaping is generally in the $12,000 to $16,000 range.

The only major disadvantage to a pondless waterfall is the lack of fish and the fact that it is not a living ecosystem. Besides this, there are no other major disadvantages to this type of water feature.

Therefore, the biggest question to ask yourself if you are considering a pondless waterfall is: Are fish or a living ecosystem important elements to me? If the answer is no, then this may be your best choice.


Considering Water Fountains

The final type of water feature that you may be considering is a fountain. Outdoor fountains can be anything from an ornate statue or structure with cascading or shooting water jets down to a small bubbling urn.

small water fountain in yard

In other words, fountains can really run the gamut in terms of size, appearance, and cost. One might assume that a fountain would be your least expensive option, and should you choose something small, it could be. However, we have designed and built some elaborate fountains—including even some that have fire features incorporated—so this is naturally going to raise the price.

Elaborate water fountain with fire features

Generally speaking, bubbling rocks, fountains, or stone pillars that offer the sounds of running water are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. But if you start to get into a custom design that has a lot more going on, you can expect added costs.

It is fair to say that a water fountain will be the least amount of maintenance of these three options. It’s really just a matter of turning it on and off. Therefore, it can give you the sound of running water, while also adding a lot of visual appeal, but without any associated maintenance to worry about.

Making Your Best Choice

As you research your options and choose the feature that is best for you, you’ll also have to explore pond companies in Lancaster, PA to complete the installation. A lot of landscape companies claim to offer ponds but it’s important to choose a company that has actual experience in designing and installing them.

Both fish ponds and pondless waterfalls must be installed properly in order to function well and not cause you problems down the line. A fish pond, in particular, requires extensive excavation.

No matter which water feature you choose, you want to feel confident that it’s installed in a way that it enhances your property and allows you to get even more enjoyment out of it. The last thing that you want is for it to become more of a hassle than an enjoyment.

By choosing the right feature and the best company for your Lancaster area home, you’ll be able to cast your worries aside, kick up your feet, and enjoy your beautiful new water feature.

If you’d like to discuss adding a water feature as part of a complete outdoor living space at your Harrisburg, Lancaster, York, Hershey, or Reading, PA home, then contact us for a free consultation and let us help create the space you’ve been dreaming of.

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Image sources: pondless waterfall landscape

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Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Written by Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Mary Hatch Dresser is a Registered Landscape Architect with a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia School of Environmental Design. Mary has designed landscapes for 32 years and joined ETW exclusively in 2009. Mary is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA); and also serves on the Shade Tree Committee in Strasburg Borough where she resides. Mary prides herself in carefully listening to her clients to professionally meld their ideas and personal criteria with sound, experienced design practice.

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