How to Install a Disappearing Water Fountain

My wife and I have wanted a fountain or pond for several years. We like the simple elegance of “disappearing” water fountains, and we don’t want to battle with algae issues in a pond or above ground basin.

be of some sort for the water to travel up through before cascading down again. The fountain we chose came with clear plastic tubing extending from the top insert and down through the interior and out the bottom.


Plan the Fountain

Recently we were at Legends Pottery looking for yet another pot to plant succulents when we discovered several tall urn shaped fountains. We fell in love with a 3 foot tall green fountain and the disappearing water fountain adventure began.

There are many options for the “fountain” portion of this project. A disappearing  water fountain could be as simple as water spraying directly up from a rock catchment basin to a host of other fountain possibilities created from ceramic, stone, bamboo, or concrete statuary.

Obviously a critical element in all of them is a hole or tube of some sort for the water to travel up through before cascading down again. The fountain we chose came with clear plastic tubing extending from the top insert and down through the interior and out the bottom.

Pick a Pump

Fountain and pond pumps come in several sizes based  gallons per hour (GPH). We started with a small pump that we already owned, but we found that it did not put out the desired volume of water. We upgraded to a 700 gph pump. That may be more pump than we needed, but the physical size of the pump was the similar and it only cost a few dollars more than the lower volume models.

Choose a Tub for the Water Reservoir

A disappearing water fountain requires a basin or tub for the water to disappear into. We opted for a rubber pond liner tub 24″ across and 15″ deep. You will need to have room in the tub for the pump, a support under the fountain, and plenty of water so you are not constantly needing to refill.

Dig a Hole

The real work starts when digging the hole for the tub. I used my Little Beaver Auger to punch four adjacent holes down to get started. Granted, most folks don’t have a power auger about, so hand digging is in order. I ended up doing plenty of shovel work as well!

Create a Catchment Basin

We had decided to make a 3 foot square catchment basin enclosed with brick pavers to recapture splashing water. It took more digging to level a four foot square surrounding the fountain basin. I dug down about 6 inches to allow for a layer of gravel and the two rows of bricks. The four foot square gave room to set in the bricks and still have a full 3 foot square catchment basin.

In hindsight, it would have been better if we had made a four foot catchment basin. Given the three foot height of our fountain and the vigor of the water pressure, there is some water that splashes outside the catchment basin.

I also should have laid the bricks out first and then cut my wire rock screen. I cut the the screen to a 3 foot square and then laid my bricks around the screen. I ended up having to cut some bricks to fit.

Route The Power Cord

You will need to have power nearby and a plan to route it to the pump. Our fountain is near an outlet on our outdoor sauna. I dug a shallow trench and placed a section of 1″ pvc pipe to house the power cord. I left a gap in the lower layer of brick for the power cord to snake through.

Fountain Support

The requirements of a fountain support will vary depending on the weight and size of the fountain and the strength of your rock screen. Our ceramic vase fountain weighs around 60 pounds and has a narrow base. It needed a solid base to keep it secure. We first tried two cinder blocks on end, but they were slightly too long and did not create a solid enough base.

In the end I created a round concrete support using 12″ and 8″ concrete forms. I realized this concrete support was going to weigh a lot (70 pounds?) so I put an old bolt in the concrete as a handle to assist getting it in and out of the water reservoir tub.

Install Pond Liner

I purchased a piece of pond liner to fit in the catchment basin. I used some sand to create a gentle slope from the outside edge of the basin toward the water reservoir tub in the center. We cut a hole in the center of the pond liner above the water reservoir tub with plenty of overlap to return water to the reservoir.

Get a Rock Screen

One difficulty with a “disappearing” water fountain is the screen covering the water reservoir. You will need some covering that allows placement of rock or gravel, but prevents it from falling into the water reservoir.

My solution was galvanized “security panel” that I had left over from a fence project. I cut two overlapping sections to fit in the catchment basin. I am not sure if rusting will be much of a problem with these panels. Time will tell.

Pond and fountain supply stores do sell circular and square screens out of plastic and possibly metal grate.

Catchment Basin Rocks

The earth is primarily rock so choices abound. We originally started with rocks we had laying about the property. We opted for a more uniform look, but that came with a price.

I went down to our local rock yard and they had a bin of gray blue rock all very similar in color, size and general shape. I bought 200 pounds at $0.27 a pound, but that didn’t fill out the catchment basin. I went back for another 100 pounds and it finally looked sufficient with 300 pounds of rock.

Our Price Tag to Install a Disappearing Water Fountain

Ceramic Fountain: $149

Pump: $95 – $25 mail-in rebate = $70.00

Rocks: 300 pounds x $0.27 = $81

Water Reservoir Tub: $20

Pond Liner: $9.00

Security Panel for Grate: $10 (I already had leftover pieces)

PVC Pipe: $2 (I already had a piece)

Concrete and Tube for Support: $15 (I already had the 12″ concrete tube)

Bricks:  40 x $0.50 = $20.00

Total Price = $376.00

Money Saving Ideas

Certainly you could install a disappearing water fountain for less money. Here are a few ideas to cut costs.

  • Use a big plastic tub or bucket you already own or cut a plastic 50 gallon drum in half.
  • Use rocks you already have or go out and collect some.
  • Have the water spray up directly out of the catchment basin or use a less expensive fountain.
  • Check Craigslist for a used fountain pump.


Cleaning and Winterizing 

One drawback of a disappearing water fountain will be the cleaning involved. Our fountain is near a maple tree so I anticipate plenty of fall leaves will need to be blown and plucked off the fountain rocks.

Moving three hundred pounds of rock, the fountain, screen, liner, and support will be no picnic either when I need to access the reservoir for cleaning or pump maintenance.

Our winters are not severe in zone 8a here in Oregon. The water reservoir is deep enough that the water will not freeze all the way down to the pump. I plan to leave the fountain intact over the winter. I may need to pump out rain water occasionally so it does not overflow. Other precautions may be in order for severe climates with a deep frost line.


Do you have a fountain?

I am eager to hear your story or any tips or advice you might have on disappearing fountains. Feel free to leave a comment below.