Build a Waterfall Garden Fountain

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A well-placed water feature adds beauty and elegance to any yard or garden. This self-contained waterfall takes up little space, but has a big impact. Bring beauty and tranquility to the yard with this weekend DIY project.

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What You’ll Need

37-gallon heavy duty trashcan with lid

forty 10-1/2-inch x 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch tumbled stone bricks

twenty-six 7-inch x 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch tumbled stone bricks

seventeen 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch x 1-3/4-inch tumbled stone bricks

1/2 HP Sump pump with 1-1/4-inch hose

two 12-inch lengths 2-inch pvc pipe

22-inch plastic flower box

1-1/4-inch bulkhead

1-1/4-inch thread adapter

two 1-1/4-inch street 90-degree elbow pipes

1-1/2-inch x 48-inch perforated angle iron

22-inch x 39-inch piece pond liner

26-inch x 7-inch aluminum flashing

silicone sealant

two 1-1/4-inch hose barbs with clamps

24-inch x 24-inch metal lath or heavy screen

24-inch x 48-inch slate slab



tape measure

drill with 2-1/2-inch and 1-1/4-inch hole saws

tin snips

utility knife


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Select a location and orientation for your fountain. Check with utility companies before digging, then use a shovel to dig a hole just large enough to hold your 37-gallon trash can, leaving a rise of about two inches at the surface. Use a level to make sure can rests evenly. Fill any gaps around the can and cover with lid while working to keep dirt out. This trashcan will serve as a reservoir from which water will be drawn and returned when the fountain is operating.
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Use dirt from hole or paver base to level the ground around the reservoir and tamp down thoroughly. It is important the ground be firm and level to establish a sturdy foundation for the fountain riser.
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Using tumbled stone, create a riser tier 39-1/2 x 21 inches, with a long side resting 1 inch from the reservoir at its midpoint. Tumbled stone found at your local hardware stone is designed to provide a variety of configurations that will result in uniform dimensions. Press firmly to set tier and use a level to confirm it rests plumb and level.
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Remove the tumbled stone resting at the edge of the reservoir and dig a 3-inch-deep trench from the reservoir to the open area inside the riser. Repeat this process on the long edge opposite the reservoir. Measure down 1 inch from the lip on the reservoir at the midpoint of the riser and drill a hole using a 2-1/2-inch hole saw. This hole will be used to create a pass-through for water and power lines from the sump pump.
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Place a 12-inch length PVC through the drilled hole, hanging roughly 2 inches inside the reservoir. Bury pipe and replace tumbled stone above. Place a second piece of PVC in the trench opposite the reservoir, bury and replace tumbled stone.
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Add five more tiers of tumbled stone, using a level to confirm the riser remains square and level. Vary stone configuration of each tier to create a patchwork look. Finally, add a seventh layer, using 7-inch x 3-1/2-inch x 1-3/4-inch tumbled bricks to create a centered, half-height 24-1/2-inch-wide spillway gap facing the reservoir, as shown.
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Use 1-1/4-inch hole saw bit to drill a hole in the bottom of the flower box 3 inches from a short end. Push bulkhead though the hole and secure with nut. Attach thread adapter to the bulkhead inside the box.
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Attach a street 90-degree elbow to the thread adapter facing the center of the box and finish with second street elbow facing downward. This box will rest inside the riser and serve as a diffuser, alllowing water to pool and flow freely over the spillway to create a waterfall.
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Set sump pump in the bottom of the reservoir (pump may be placed on a paver to reduce debris intake, if desired). Water will pump through the diffuser and flow over the riser, returning to the reservoir in a closed system cycle.
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Use a hose barb and clamp to attach hose to the sump pump. Push the hose and power cord from the sump pump through the raceway into the riser. Drape the hose over the top of the riser and push the power cord through the rear raceway of the riser where it can be plugged into an outlet to provide power to the pump.
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Starting at one end of 48-inch-long perforated angle iron, measure and mark points at 5-1/2 inches, 13-1/2 inches, 34-1/2 inches and 42-1/2 inches. Using a jigsaw, cut one edge of the bracket at marked points and fold into a rectangle with a 10-inch open gap on one side, as shown. Trim edges as needed to allow a secure fit inside the riser. This bracket will rest inside the riser and is used to support the diffuser.
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Place the mounting bracket in the center of a 22-inch x 39-inch piece of pond liner and mark points inside each corner.
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Use a utility knife to cut a large “X” in the liner from marked points. This waterpoof sheet will be used to create a barrier between the diffuser and the riser to prevent overflow.
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Place mounting bracket in riser so that the open side of the bracket rests on the back of the riser and the long edge rests inside the spillway (bend as needed to assure a secure fit).
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Lay the water barrier over the mounting bracket and pass the hose through the hole. Attach sump pump hose pipe to the bulkhead on the bottom of the diffuser (flower box).
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Set the diffuser inside the mounting bracket, making sure the water barrier extends beneath the lip on all sides. The diffuser will pitch slightly forward in the space to allow water to flow smoothly though the spillway.
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Along one long side of aluminum flashing, mark points 1 inch from each end. Along the opposite edge, mark points 1-1/2 inches in. Use a pencil to connect the points at short ends. Bend flashing 90 degrees along pencil lines. This “scupper” will rest in spillway to direct water flow.
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Center the scupper in the spillway beneath the water barrier with the tall edge at the rear of the spillway. The outer edge should rest evenly along the outside edge of tumbled stones.
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Use a garden hose to fill the reservoir with water, stopping about an inch below the pass-though pipe.
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Once desired flow is achieved, turn off pump. Lift and drain diffuser and thoroughly dry diffuser, water barrier and scupper with a towel. Use silicone to line edges where the diffuser meets the water barrier and press diffuser firmly back in place. Turn up front edge of water barrier, draw a line of silicone on the top of the scupper and press barrier back in place. The silicone acts as a seal, keeping components in place and preventing water from making contact with the stone or flowing inside the riser.
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Use a jigsaw or utility knife to cut away half of the trashcan lid, leaving a three inch edge to create a half-moon thorough which water may flow. Place the lid topside-down on top of the reservoir.
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Use tin snips to cut a half-moon of lath or heavy screen that meets the edges of the trash can lid and extends at least 3 inches beyond the center of the lid. Place screen on lid to cover the hole. This screen allows water to flow freely into the reservoir while limiting debris.
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Once silicone seal has completely dried, turn the pump back on to confirm water is flowing correctly. If no further adjustments are needed, place a 24-inch x 48-inch slab of slate on top of the riser to cap.
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Place rocks of varying sizes around the edges of the reservoir to obscure screen and add native plants around the site to accent its natural beauty. Avoid placing rocks under the water flow to prevent splashing that will slowly drain the system.
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Consider accent lights to showcase this beautiful fountain after twilight.
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This peaceful fountain may run full-time or put on a timer to flow only at peak times. To maintain, check water levels occasionally and top off as needed. Drain fountain during winter months to prevent damage to pipes.


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