How To Build A Pondless Waterfall In Ann Arbor


2-6 days

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If you’ve ever thought about adding a water feature to your backyard In Ann Arbor but aren’t sure if you have the room, a pondless waterfall may be the perfect solution.

A pondless waterfall is a great way to add the beauty of water to your backyard without all the upkeep of a traditional pond. Pondless waterfalls are easy to maintain, don’t cost as much as ponds, and they can be tailored to any size yard.

In this article, we will show you how to build a pondless waterfall in your backyard.

Planning Your Pondless Waterfall Design

How to build a pondless waterfall that looks natural

Before diving into how to build a pondless waterfall, take time to plan and visualize the design of your water feature.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Style: For a natural design that suits the Ann Arbor area, consider using local materials like Michigan fieldstone or limestone.
  • Plant selection: Include native plants to Ann Arbor, such as Michigan Lily, Blue Flag Iris, and Ostrich Fern, to enhance the natural look of your pondless waterfall.
  • Multiple waterfall drops: Consider incorporating multiple waterfalls or cascading streams into your design to add more visual interest and sound.
  • Size of the stream: Decide on the length and width of your stream, taking into account the slope and available space in your yard.

Keep reading to learn how to build a pondless waterfall in 12 easy steps.

How To Build A Pondless Waterfall

Multi-drop pondless waterfall


  • Level
  • Spade
  • Utility Knife
  • Tubing cutter
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Drill


  • Waterfall pump
  • PVC primer and cement
  • Hole cutter drill bits (depending on the waterfall kit)
  • Decorative boulders
  • Gravel
  • EPDM pond liner
  • Underlayment fabric
  • Hose kit and connections
  • Catch basin (also called a reservoir or pump vault)
  • Waterfall foam sealant
  • Extra soil (depending on slope and design)

What To Consider When Choosing a Location

Pondless waterfall with gravel basin

When selecting a location, you’ll want to consider the size of the feature, the sound of the running water, and whether you want to excavate or build an above-ground feature.


A pondless waterfall can fit in almost any yard, but it’s important to leave enough space around it for plants and other features.

Most people want their waterfall to be large enough to be impressive but not so large that it takes over the yard. Keep in mind that the bigger the pondless waterfall is, the more sound it typically generates.


For a gentle background sound of a waterfall, aim for the waterfall height to be around 3-4 inches. If you are trying to mask noisy neighbors or street traffic noise, aim for a waterfall height of 10 inches or more.

Excavating Or Above Ground?

You will also need to decide whether you want to build your pondless waterfall in-ground or build up a landscape feature that can hold your pondless waterfall.

For DIYers, we recommend excavating to create a pondless waterfall since it is the less complicated option.

*Always call 811 before you dig to determine the location of any buried utility lines.

Now that you’ve decided on your location, let’s go over the 12 steps for how to build a pondless waterfall.


Pallet of stones you can use to build a pondless waterfall

For how to build a pondless waterfall, you’ll need decorative boulders, gravel, and field boulders.

Gravel will be used to cover the in-ground reservoir and to conceal the liner, while the boulders will be used to define the edges of the water feature and to build up the waterfall itself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your selection:

  • The different types of stone you choose will determine the look of your waterfall. Choose a material that complements the style of your home and landscaping.
  • The size of the stone will also affect the appearance of your waterfall. If you want a more natural look, select smaller rocks. For a more formal look, choose larger rocks.
  • The color of the stone will be determined by the type of material you choose. Some materials come in a variety of colors. Others are only available in one color.


Outline the location of your pondless waterfall construction with a garden hose or use marking paint.

You can also mark the locations of any decorative boulders you want to place around the waterfall if you have decided where you want to put them.


Digging a pondless waterfall basin

Dig a hole for the catch basin/reservoir. The size of the hole will be determined by the size of the reservoir you are using.

You want your hole to be approximately 2 feet wider than the basin and several inches deeper than the height of the basin.

If you are building up a foundation for your waterfall, you will need to start stacking larger rocks to create a landscape feature to hold your reservoir.

In both cases, use a level to ensure the basin sits evenly in the hole or inside the landscape feature you have built up.


Create the shape of your waterfall(s) using the soil you pulled out of the hole you dug for the basin.

You can also add additional soil if you need more than what you excavated (or if you are building up a foundation for the waterfall).


Place the fabric underlayment and EPDM pond liner in the hole. The fabric will help protect your liner from punctures and tears while the liner will hold the water in place.

Ensure that the liner extends several feet beyond the edge of the hole.

Similarly, if you are installing your basin into a foundation, ensure the liner extends several feet over the edge of the landscape feature.


Hoses for a pondless waterfall pump

Install your waterfall pump and connect all the hoses according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Typically this will mean attaching a rubber hose from the pump inside the basin to the waterfall spillway section. Using a tubing cutter, cut the hose to size.

Depending on the type of waterfall kits you purchased, there may also be additional components to connect.

For example, some waterfall kits will require you to drill drainage holes in the basin or attach hose adapters using PVC primer and cement.

*We prefer to use the pondless waterfall kit from Aquascape for its quality and ease of installation.


Add layers of stone around the basin and on the basin lid. Stones will help make your DIY waterfall look more natural.

They also provide homes for beneficial bacteria, which help filter your water to keep it cleaner and clearer.

Step 8: Rock Out Waterfall

Starting to rock out the waterfall

No, “rocking out” your waterfall doesn’t mean it’s time for a guitar solo. This just means it’s time to construct your waterfall using flat-shaped boulders.

Use the larger flat stones to create the waterfall edges and the smaller stones to fill voids.

We recommend trying different configurations before using any foam sealant to secure the rocks in place for your pondless waterfall construction.

Step 9: Seal Gaps Around Stones with Foam Sealant

After settling on your waterfall configuration, secure the stones in place by applying the foam sealant to the underside of the large rocks. Then use small rocks and foam sealant to fill any gaps.

The goal is to force the water to run over the top of the rocks (rather than under them) in order to maximize the waterfall effect.

After the foam has dried (approximately 30 minutes for most brands), you can test the waterfall by pumping water over it with a garden hose.

Note any places where the water is running under the rocks (rather than over) and fill those gaps with more foam sealant or a combination of small rocks and sealant.

Step 10: Add Another Layer of Rocks and Gravel

Now it’s time to add another layer of rocks and gravel for aesthetic reasons. Place your decorative boulders around the edge of your pondless waterfall.

Cover any visible pond liner with gravel to create a more naturalistic look and achieve that perfect water feature design.

Step 11: Trim Liner

Trim or cover any excess liner that is still visible. This helps your waterfall look more natural.

Step 12: Clean Up and Fill with Water

Running the water in the stream

Spray down the entire area with a garden hose to clean off any remaining soil or rock dust. Let the water wash over the rocks until the water appears clear.

Next, test your pondless waterfall feature by turning on the pump and checking for leaks. If you notice any leaks, turn off the pump and reseal the leaky area with foam sealant.

Repeat this process until you eliminate all leaks.

Once you have eliminated any leaks—congratulations! You have successfully learned how to build a pondless waterfall.

*Note: it can take some time for the water to completely wash sediment off of the rocks and become clearer.

Pondless Waterfall Safety Considerations

While pondless waterfalls are generally safer than traditional ponds due to the lack of standing water, there are still some safety precautions to consider:

  • Fencing: If you have small children or pets, consider installing fencing around the water feature to prevent unsupervised access.
  • Slip-resistant surfaces: Use slip-resistant materials around the waterfall and stream to minimize the risk of slips and falls.
  • GFCI protection: Ensure that your pump and any lighting are connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to protect against electrical shock.

DIY vs. Professional Pondless Waterfall Installation

Grass Roots Ponds Garden sign

While building a pondless waterfall can be a rewarding DIY project, it’s important to consider whether you have the time, skills, and resources to complete the job.

If you are unsure, hiring a professional with experience in pondless waterfall construction can save time and ensure a high-quality result.

Many professionals also offer design services and can help you choose the best materials and layout for your water feature.

A Few Notes On Proper Pump Sizing For Your Pondless Waterfall

Water pumps use a GPH (gallons per hour) rating based on a certain discharge height.

There are 3 main variables you need to consider when selecting one of the best submersible pumps for your pondless waterfall:

  1. Waterfall width: A general rule of thumb is that you will need a pump that can circulate 150 gallons per hour (GPH) for every 1 inch of width in your waterfall. So, if you plan to build a waterfall that is 1 foot wide, you will need a pump that can circulate 1,800 GPH.
  2. Waterfall height: For every 1 foot of height in your waterfall, you will need 100 GPH of circulation. So, if you are planning to build a 3-foot tall backyard waterfall, you will need a pump that can circulate at least 300 GPH.
  3. Tubing length: Every 10 feet of tubing will require an additional 100 GPH of water flow. So, if your pondless waterfall is 20 feet from the pump, you will need a pump that can circulate about 2,000 GPH to ensure the water flows efficiently.

Water gardening enthusiasts will find these tips helpful in creating their perfect backyard oasis.

Choosing And Placing Aquatic Plants

Michigan water lily in a pond

Incorporating aquatic plants into your pondless waterfall can help create a more natural appearance, improve water quality, and provide shelter for wildlife.

Some popular native Ann Arbor plant options include:

  • Michigan Water Lilies: These floating plants provide shade and help prevent algae growth.
  • Blue Flag Iris: These plants thrive in shallow water and add a pop of color to your water feature.
  • Ostrich Ferns: Ideal for placing around the waterfall or stream, ferns provide a lush, green backdrop.

When placing plants, consider sunlight requirements to ensure that plants receive the appropriate amount of sunlight for their needs.

Also, keep in mind the plant height of the mature plants, as taller plants can obstruct views or create unwanted shadows.

Pondless Waterfall Maintenance Tips

Large waterfall in Ann Arbor backyard

To keep your pondless waterfall running smoothly and looking its best, follow these maintenance tips:

Inspect the pump regularly

Check the pump for debris and clean it as needed to ensure optimal performance, whether it’s a submersible pump or another type.

Clean the basin

Periodically remove leaves, twigs, and other debris from the basin to prevent clogs and maintain water quality.

Maintain water levels

Regularly top off the water in the basin to account for evaporation and maintain proper pump function.

Algae control

Use algae cleaners or biological filters to help control algae growth and maintain water clarity.


In Ann Arbor, winter temperatures can be harsh. Make sure to winterize your pondless waterfall by draining the water and storing the pump indoors to prevent damage from freezing temperatures.

You can leave it running if you follow the correct pondless winterization process.

Pondless water features are popular because they take very little maintenance as long as they are correctly set up.

Let Grass Roots Pond & Garden Build Your Perfect Pondless Waterfall

A pondless waterfall is a great way to add the beauty of water to your property without all the hassle and maintenance of a traditional pond. If you are interested in a pondless waterfall but are unsure if you have the time to build one on your own–we can help!

Here at Grass Roots Pond & Garden, we specialize in custom-designed and built pondless waterfalls.

If you are interested in having us build one for you, please fill out our contact form today. We would love to discuss your vision and create something truly special for your home or business.