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Pondless Perfection
How and Why Three Companies Built Pondless Features

By Alli Rael, LC/DBM


MiraLago in Parkland, Fla. (no, not Trump's 'Mar-a-Lago') is a Lennar's master-planned gated community on Lake Majesty. MiraLago is just west of Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach on Florida's southerly east coast, and just east of the Everglades Wildlife Management Area.

Pondless water features recirculate water through the feature without it gathering in a visible pool at its end. The benefits include safety, cost, space, low maintenance, and the flexibility to add a pond in the future.

The Why
For Pat Wells of Piedmont Landscape Management, safety was the number one factor when creating a pondless feature for Brandon Wilde, the senior care facility where they have been doing landscape maintenance and construction for the last 26 years.

"When a grant was obtained, they decided to add something to enhance the courtyard," said Wells. "Making it a pondless feature was a mutual decision."

For the pondless feature that Conspec built in a Southern California backyard, low maintenance was the priority. "There's no standing water to collect debris," Roger Krost explained.

Russ Irvin, owner of TDH Landscaping, agreed. "If debris collects on the bottom drain of the reservoir, it can simply be removed and dumped," he said.


Due to the location of this pondless feature - inside a courtyard at a senior living facility - all of the work had to be done by hand, including the haulage of every single stone, from pea gravel to the slate used in the waterfalls. "My guys weren't too happy with me," said Patrick Wells of Piedmont Landscape Management. "We laid tarps throughout the facility and corridors as we moved it in."

The How
After roughing out the path for the waterfall and an area for water collection, the area must be excavated. Water feature equipment manufacturer Blue Thumb recommends spray-painting an outline of the area to be excavated.

Once complete, the removed soil can be used elsewhere in the project. "We used the soil from the pit excavation to create the grade for the water course," said Krost. "In our case, the lot was flat."

Krost also recommended testing the fit of the water storage blocks and pump vault in the pit before placing the geofabric and rubber liner.

"The water storage blocks basically hold the rocks on top of the feature and allow the water to have a void," explained Wells. "You have to have enough cavity to supply the pump, to run the system."

For a boulder feature, be sure to budget enough time to core drill the rock. For the 10,000-pound boulder TDH utilized, drilling a 4-foot deep core for the fountain took eight hours.


Before placing the rubber liner in the excavated area, Roger Krost from Conspec recommends making sure the necessary equipment fits in the pit. The dirt from the excavation in this case was used to create the grade for the stream.

After the pump is installed - which for boulder features, should of course be before the stone is positioned - the water source should be linked to the feature.

"The feature is tied into the main irrigation line," Wells said of the system they installed in the senior care facility. "You don't want the water to be piped in through the domestic water because, first, if something were to happen you don't want to shut off the water to your house. Second and more importantly is if dirty water gets cycled back in, you don't want that into your drinking water."

When all the piping is set, the watercourse liner can be laid and any waterfalls created using flagstone or slate for a clean edge. Various sizes of rocks and gravel can be used to backfill the course and the fill pit. Gravel should be screened to remove any impurities that might clog the system. In cases such as TDH Landscaping's, where there was no stream to backfill, Pennsylvania fieldstone and black Mexican gravel were placed around the boulder to make it look natural.

"Then, install waterproof lighting wherever specified," advised Krost, who used three 1W LED uplights with a 60W transformer and 25' cable. "Fill in plantings, and test for leakage or overflow."


Slate can be strategically placed to create a smooth edge for waterfalls. Once the flow is as desired, rocks and stones are filled in to cover the liner.

Getting Advice
Not every contractor can do a water feature alone.

"ProPonds West offered technical information and design advice," said Krost. "Also involved was our landscape designer Harley Barber of Prodigy Design-Build."

Irvin had a 3-man crew who worked 190 man-hours to get the job done. He advised to not only have a supporting crew, but a supporting base and the proper equipment.

"Make sure the infrastructure under the boulder has plenty of support," he said. "Use a core drill instead of a hammer drill, otherwise you could crack the boulder. And, make sure you have the right heavy equipment to move and set the boulder."

Wells consulted with a pondless system manufacturer and relied on his experience to guide him. "I knew how high we had to pump the water and the distance," he said. "Given that it was a small water feature, we mostly wanted to make sure we had enough white noise."

He also credited his success with water features to his father and a former colleague. "I learned from them on water features that you have to look at it continuously throughout the design process. It's not just put two tiers in and walk away; that's not going to give it that feel that we're all looking for to make it an inviting place. You have to take a step back and look at your work."

As Seen in the July 2017 Issue of Landscape Contractor Magazine

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December 10, 2018, 3:58 am PST

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