Water features can bring interest, beauty and wildlife to a garden, but they also can be work.
That's why many homeowners are choosing relatively small options such as fountains, bubbling urns and waterfalls, rather than ponds and streams, industry analysts say.
"A big backyard pond takes a lot of time to clean," said Laura Dickinson, extension master gardener coordinator at Kansas State University. "You have to fight with the critters, keep the water in balance and prevent algae from building up.
"It can get pretty expensive if you want to hire all that done," Dickinson said.
Sharon Coates, vice president of Zaretsky and Associates Inc., a landscape design and consulting firm in Macedon, N.Y., said many of her clients are forgoing water features "because of the perception of high maintenance." The biggest problems, she said, arise from unforeseen circumstances.
"These can be caused by . . . animals nesting and chewing on the liner, or even by herons deciding to go fishing in your pond," Coates said. "Bubbling urns or boulder water features have a below-grade plastic composite basin that is not easily damaged."
Some things to consider when deciding whether to landscape large with ponds or small with fountains:
Work: Water features are a labor of love, and many homeowners enjoy the activities required to keep a smooth-running pond, creek and waterfall, Coates said. But she adds a cautionary note: "As people work more hours and feel the pressures of balancing work and home life, they are looking for the benefits of a water feature without all the work of a full-blown pond."
Safety: Consider any risks to your own or neighboring children, Coates said. "Many municipalities are considering ponds of a certain size to be swimming pools, and therefore they need to be fenced like a pool," she said.
Price: Fountains cost less to buy and install, said Genevieve Schmidt, a landscape designer in Arcata, Calif. "Ponds are the most expensive item per square foot commonly installed in the landscape —more expensive than flagstone patios," she said.
Energy savings: Fountains require less power to operate than ponds. "They use a smaller pump since they have less water in them, and the pump can be set to run only during the times when someone is likely to view the fountain," Schmidt said.
Accessorize small water features with plants generally found near ponds. That would include lotuses, lilies (Tropicanna cannas), bog plants and other moisture-loving perennials and annuals.
Groundcover plants (Tesselaar water-wise carpet roses, for instance), bulbs (Siberian iris) and grasses (Black Mondo or Blue Fescue) also enhance fountains and bubbling urns.
"I do genuinely love to see a pond in the garden," Schmidt said. "When constructed with some shallow areas around the edges, they provide great benefits to wildlife — birds and amphibians — and they're just plain beautiful.
"But most of my landscape design clients are interested in doing as little maintenance as possible in their gardens, and a fountain can provide many of the benefits at a lower cost and with less ongoing care."