Streams, Cascades, and Waterfalls: Your Complete Guide


Streams, Waterfalls, Cascades

I have always wanted to display a water feature in my garden. Be it a cascade, stream or waterfall.  A water feature adds a delightful new dimension to any garden. I began imagining how I could add the feature and enhance it by proper lighting. However, maintenance and costs involved were some features I needed to explore thoroughly about before giving it a shot. These are things I came up with:

What is the difference between a stream, a cascade, and a waterfall? In reference to a water garden, a stream is a small river or creek.  Waterfalls are where the water from a river or creek flows over a cliff. A cascade is multiple small steps along a river or creek which generate a small waterfall effect.

Linnaeus bridge

Water features add a whole new dimension to any water garden. I am not referring to just the visual impact alone. The sound of moving water is one of the most soothing for human ears. This has been established over years of study. Water features, whether indoors or outdoors, help immensely to wash away stressors and tensions of a normal workday. Then there is the flora and fauna associated with any water feature that brings beauty and an ecological variety to a water garden.

Your complete guide to streams, cascades and waterfalls

Different kinds of water features in a garden

Streams. The imagery of a gurgling happy little stream running through a garden, passing leisurely over pebbles and meandering along a path – sheer bliss. The sound of water and the sight of such a water feature cause immediate relaxation. Pebble-lined edges, ferns, flowers and grasses by the sides, a well-maintained stream is a garden jewel.

Waterfalls. As the name suggests, a body of water falling from a height creates a waterfall. This water feature can elevate any garden to a different level altogether. Installing a reservoir at a higher level and then creating the landscape so that water flows over rocks and falls to a height can be done at the design stage. As with every other water feature, waterfalls lend themselves beautifully to lighting.

Cascades. Layered waterfalls are called cascades. You can create a cascade with any kind of material you want. Rocks, pebbles, and stone slabs are some of the favorites when it comes to cascades. The sound of water falling from one level to another and ultimately ending in a basin or pool is very soothing. You may use lighting at each of these levels to enhance the tiered effect during night time.

 Pools. Pools are another favorite water feature that adorns many gardens. It can serve as a swimming pool for the residents, in which case one cannot have any kind of flora or fauna inside the water feature. The structure and lining of the pool as well as the outside walls will need completely different design. Smaller pools are often an attractive feature in the domestic setting, adorned at times with fountains and/or spouts. Differently shaped and edged pools with overhanging trees look beautiful. One may choose sunken or raised pools according to their choice.

Jets. This kind of water feature can adorn a garden or open space or indoors, as one wishes. They take up a small amount of space. You get the presence of a water feature along with water sounds while not having to designate big areas for the same. Water in these jet features can bubble over pebbles or form an umbrella over the same pebbles. They are safe when kids are around.

Rills. These water features are flexible enough to fit into any garden. Rills are narrow long channels that are equally at home in traditional as well as contemporary settings. Water flowing down in a sharp line through these rills, which look like a slit in a brick wall at most times, adds an edge to a garden water feature. Sunken as well as raised rills can be incorporated in a garden. You may choose as you deem fit in your water garden setting.

Fountains. These enhance the sights and sounds of a garden. Water spraying forth from fountains comes through in different spray patterns. The flow pattern can be chosen depending upon what kind of ambience you are looking for. Softly dripping, bubbling, gushing or dripping fountains are some options. These can be coordinated with lighting to create magical effects. The volume of water and lights can also be synchronized with music to produce musical fountains. All of these additions have remote control variants to help you better able to control the overall effect. Fountain nozzles have the added function of adding oxygen to the parent water body. This helps infuse aquatic flora and fauna with new life.

Wall spout. This is one of the most used features for terraces or courtyards. Mainly decorative in purpose, these come in a variety of shapes. Gargoyles to lion masks, cherubs to dolphins- the designs are limited only by imagination. The falling water is collected in a receptacle or cobblestone pile, from where it goes to be re-circulated. Some kind of ivy can be grown around the spout to help hide pipes if needed.

Lighting up your water feature

To heighten the beauty of a water feature as well as to maximize utilization and pleasure time to the after hours, lighting plays a very important role. All variants in water feature lighting are by nature waterproof. In addition, most of these are available with remote facility that allows you control over brightness, angle, intensity, duration, color choices and synchronization.

LED lights are the favored choice for garden water feature lighting. They score over halogen lights in terms of longevity, color choices and energy efficiency. Even though they demand higher initial investment, in the long run it eventually balances out with the pluses they offer.

You need to follow some guidelines in order to maximize the life and effectiveness of lighting.

  1. Keep the area around the light fixture free of fallen leaves, twigs or branches.
  2. Regularly check the fixtures for any broken or damaged parts. If found, they must be replaced immediately.
  3. Surrounding plants and shrubs need to be kept in shape so that they do not obstruct your light feature.
  4. Make light fixtures easily accessible so that they are easy to change as need arises. This holds especially true of submerged light systems.
  5. A step-down transformer is needed to keep these lights going in the afterhours. This unit needs to be camouflaged to blend into the surrounding while remaining accessible.

Some ways to light up your water feature are:

  • You may choose submersible lights for your garden feature. These lights are placed under the water surface. They create dramatic visual effects on falling water features like cascades and waterfalls. Most of these lights come with remotes that help control the color and frequency of light changes. Adding rippling effect to imitate waves can also be achieved with such lights.
  • Floating lights are a good choice for serene water surfaces. These work particularly well for ponds and pools. Too much aquatic life might destabilize floating lights. For instance, bigger fishes or water birds which come to feed on fishes or other aquatic life might upturn these lights. Not only living beings, even falling water force might upturn such lights. In a more serene water feature though, floating lights make a very pretty picture. They are usually built to be waterproof with a more stable design. Solar options rule out wires that might be an impediment to aquatic life.
  • Lighting up the surroundings with landscape lights also help highlight a water feature. A garden is bound to have larger trees and bushes as well as rocks, pathways or art installations. Placing landscape lights around these features not only helps highlight such foci of interest but also creates beautiful patterns and reflections on the water feature. As with other lighting options, these come with remote control features as well.

Aquatic flora and fauna in water features

Some plants that are popularly found around water features:

  1. Water hyacinth.
  2. Cattails.
  3. Sensitive plant.
  4. Water lettuce.
  5. Money wart.
  6. Mosaic flower
  7. Fairy moss.
  8. Creeping Jenny.
  9. Horsetail.
  10. Pickerel.
  11. Blue iris.
  12. Sweet flag.
  13. Water lilies.

Some fauna around water features:

  1. Fishes.
  2. Frogs.
  3. Lizards.
  4. Dragonflies.
  5. Slugs.
  6. Ducks.
  7. Turtles.
  8. Clams.
  9. Strider fly.
  10. Water beetles.
  11. Butterflies.

Pest control around water features

Where there is water, there are bound to be pests. Most common garden pest is of course the mosquito. Water features provide the ideal habitat for them to lay eggs and flourish.

  • Make your garden dragonfly friendly. They will flit around adding to the beauty while feasting vociferously on mosquitoes. They are one of the best ways to keep mosquito population under control.
  • Toads and frogs get drawn to water features. They might not add much to the visual appeal but they have their own uses. Most of them are active feeders. They feast on slugs and mosquitoes, thus keeping the garden clean.
  • Many varieties of fishes that make a water feature their home also help to keep pests under control. Guppies feast on mosquitoes, making the garden a better place for owners.
  • Certain plants do their bit in controlling pests in a water garden. These plants might be chosen in keeping with their compatibility in a certain environment. Lavender and mint are known to drive away mosquitoes because of their particular aroma.
  • Whatever one might do, insecticide sprays remain the most effective method of pest control in a garden. There are different types of chemical sprays available in the market. It is better to exercise caution while using these. Excessive usage might endanger certain species of butterflies and other helpless creatures and cause imbalance to the environment.
  • Installing insect traps is a good way to deal with disruptive insects in a water garden. As with most other options, this too has its cons. A winged beauty like a butterfly or even a dragonfly might get their wings caught in the trap and die. It is best to avoid this if possible.
  • Lighting is a very effective means of dealing with pests around a water feature. Not only does it highlight the garden feature and enhance its beauty, certain kinds of lights attract mosquitoes, moths, and more. Appropriate placement of light fixtures will help controlling pests.

Maintaining a water feature

It is very important to keep your streams, cascades, waterfalls or any other water features in top order. Only then will they add value to your garden.

  • Do regular checks. Water features in a garden require regular checks. There are multiple check points that need upkeep. A water feature like a cascade or waterfall needs pumping of water and forcing it through nozzles under pressure. This involves electricity, lighting fixtures, waterproofing facilities, motors, filters, and nets, among others. Keeping these in good working order is a must to maintain water features.
  • Fixing leaks. Whether you have a pond or waterfall, leaks can cause a lot of problems in a water feature. Whether due to evaporation or unblocking a flow pipe or cracks in the lining, there can be many causes of leaks. Finding the reason is the first step. Depending upon this, one needs to take the next step. It could be repairing or replacing the lining or filling in the concrete base. Flexible butyl is one of the ways to fix leaks.
  • Prune plants. Plants, both aquatic as well as terrestrial, tend to grow out of control. When these shed leaves and other debris that potentially block a water feature in some way, it can lead to drainage and leakage problems. Pruning and trimming plants regularly helps.
  • Check underwater light fixtures. Although marked waterproof, submerged light fixtures can get damaged over time. Electricity and water make a potentially challenging combination and one needs to be vigilant. This will help prevent accidents and damage to life and property.
  • Clean filters and nets. This is essential in order to keep your garden water feature in top working condition. Nets and filters help keep the water clean and free of debris and unwanted aquatic life. They can get clogged if not cleaned regularly.
  • Maintain water level. A water feature is designed for a certain purpose and the inbuilt mechanism works on a desired level of water. Loss of water can happen due to multiple reasons. Part of the upkeep depends upon maintaining the water level at all times.
  • Add useful bacteria. Keeping the water quality is a challenge in a water feature. Regular checking of water quality is a must for a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Automatic dosing system is a good means of doing so. Addition of useful bacteria also helps in cleaning up the water in your feature.
  • Don’t let the pump burn out. Getting your pump installed and maintained professionally might be a good idea. How much water pressure your water feature demands is something a professional can tell easily. An inadequate capacity pump runs the risk of burning down if not careful.
  • Control algae growth. An aquatic ecosystem is very delicately balanced. Too many algae are not good for the health of your water feature. Use chemicals and/or tools like copper ionizers to keep algae growth in check. If you fail to control algae growth, it can disfigure your water feature and also stifle animal and plant life under the surface. Algae growth reflects poorly on the quality of water in your pond.
  • Type of water used. People often use tap water to fill up their water feature. Depending upon the source of water supply in your neighborhood, give a thought to this. Some types of water tend to form excessive scaling, which damages pipes and drainage fixtures over time. Distilled water usage is recommended in such cases.
  • Seasonal care. Outdoor water features are exposed to the elements. Summer and winter demand different care routines. Depending upon how severe the winter in your area is, you may consider shutting down your water feature during these months. Frozen pipes can easily burst, creating more problems of leakages when that happens. Plumbers will then be needed to help seal broken pipes. These can at times be bad enough to require changing entire pipes, leading to increased costs.
  • Enter into a maintenance contract. You may feel overwhelmed by the challenges that maintenance poses at times. What with hectic lifestyles, it might not be possible to keep up. Outsourcing maintenance to an external agency might be a good idea.

Planning around your budget

Depending upon what you visualize your water feature to be and how many fancy additions you want to make, your budget will increase. It is wise to reverse this process and instead plan your water feature keeping in mind budgetary constraints.

While it is quite possible to give your garden idea shape by yourselves, there is a lot of hard work and more importantly, time involved in this process. Many of you, like me, would prefer calling up a professional, explain your ideas and vision to them, and let the contractors take over. This is definitely much easier to do, and often a cheaper alternative to doing things on your own. Although the first thought upon engaging professionals is the cost involved, there are certain things done better by them.

Entering into a contract on a yearly basis should also be worked into your calculations when investing in a water feature in your garden. You will no doubt do your best for upkeep, but having professionals giving a yearly once-over serves your garden feature well.

Technical requirements to build water features

A water feature will look visually appealing when the water is crystal clear and flowing without obstruction. This requires regular maintenance and upkeep. At the same time, there needs to be robust technology in place to make this happen.

  • Install a pump with optimum capacity and power. This is at the heart of any water feature. A good pump will keep the water moving and ensure there is no stagnation and associated problems. It will also help lift a certain volume of water to predetermined heights in order to create a fountain, cascade or waterfall. The pump capacity is vital for smooth functioning of your water feature. Make sure you do not overheat it.
  • Water reservoir of adequate capacity. Whether you have a stream, cascade or waterfall in your garden, a certain amount of water needs to be stored and circulated to make this feature work. While designing your garden, you need to build a reservoir that is capable of storing the requisite amount of water. Actually there needs to be room for some more than the calculated amount to allow for losses in the form of evaporation, leaks and others.
  • Establish electricity supply. Continuous supply of electricity is needed to keep your water features in top shape. For this, a generator and transformer need to be in place. The power supply system has to be waterproof since it is out in the open and near to a water feature. In addition, keeping it concealed or hidden aesthetically while easily accessible is a must. A brick-lined chamber near the water feature serves well. Pebbles or chippings are a good way to decorate this so that it does not stick out.
  • Filtration system to keep water clean. Imagine a water feature with debris, silt and sluggish stagnating water. This is simply not done. You are set to ruin the beauty of your water feature if the water is not clean. It is imperative to keep the water clean, manually or otherwise. Installing a filtration system will help in this regard.

The best way to ensure these is to have a clear plan in mind right at the conceptual stage. What kind of water feature you are envisaging and how to get it up, what design changes you need to incorporate, and which aquascaper will suit your requirements are things that are best dealt with at the initial stage. It is advisable to seek the help of a professional electrician to install these into your garden and see that it all works seamlessly.

Recommendations for enhancing your water feature

There are different products available that help to maintain and enhance your water feature. From plant saplings to seed balls, bird and butterfly feeders to insect traps, lighting features to leak fixers, there are a host of products that one may use in a garden water feature. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Benseal Bentonite Pond Foundation Seal – This product is very effective in sealing leaks in your pond. Additionally also seals and plugs bore holes. Repair your water feature lining with this. Buy it here at Amazon
  • APONUO Lighted Waterfall 7 Color – Add magic to your garden with this lighted waterfall. It has multiple color changing features with LED lights and remote controlled. It has a rust-resistant body and is easy to install. Amazon has it here.
  • Cedar Birdfeeder Gazebo – Built of Western red cedar, this lovely birdfeeder is sure to attract birds to your garden. It is bird approved and can hold lot of seeds. It has protected space for birds. Available from Amazon here
  • BestNest Butterfly Waterer and Puddler – This puddler comes in a hexagonal shape with rocks and pebbles in the middle. It is easy to install, just drive the stake into the ground. Fill up the puddler with water and see butterflies come flying in. Buy it here.
  • API Pond ALGAEFIX – Last thing one needs in a water feature are algae. This product helps in effective algae control. Additionally it is fish-friendly and plant-friendly. Initially recommended for thrice-weekly use and then a maintenance weekly dose. Buy it here at Amazon.
  • Songbird Essential Birdseed Ball – This product comes in a pack of five. Made of different seeds that birds love, these are meant to be placed in feeders. Buy it here at Amazon.

Related questions

What kind of furniture works in an outdoor setting?

Choosing material that is better resistant to weather works for outdoor furniture. Materials like natural wood and rattan are ideal for this purpose. Furniture that is light and easily movable works best for outdoor gardens. Waterproof materials like PVC are good for poolside furniture.

How to choose an aquascaping professional?

You need someone who will provide ideas based around your vision and budget. Best way is to choose those recommended by friends and family. If checking online, read the terms and conditions and post-completion service record. Choose those with record of compliance in following regulations.

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