Landscape design has improved this utility easement ditch into a beautiful stream lined with rocks and bordered by aquatic plants and an open, direct sun landscape.
Do your homework before taking on water projects
June 25, 2009

by Deloris Gaus,
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
This is a before picture of a natural garden stream at the home of Anthony and Tracy Gomez of Yoakum.
The genius of water is that it always knows where to go - downhill. Harness this law of nature by creating a stream that meanders down even a modest slope, tumbling over falls and trickling through turns before being pumped back to its point of origin.

Design Planning
Landscape planning for a stream must be considered in the overall landscape design of your area.

Design on paper first, somewhat of a dreaming plan, a first sketch considering the placement of a stream in relation to the house, views, trees, terrain, sunny and shaded areas, fences, route, safety, affordability, construction feasibility and maintenance.

Research ideas, materials and methods. To get ideas, view natural streams as well as man-made streams.

Five Types of Streams
There are generally five types of streams to consider before just jumping in and building one in your yard.

Natural streams, when enhanced with designed landscape, are the most beautiful garden streams that follow the principles of design.

Streams that start with a water source and end in a pool and the water is circulated back to the beginning.

Streams without a pool, which start with a water source and end with an underground reservoir with water circulated back to the beginning.
This photo was taken during construction of stream at Gomez home.  It illustrates the results of applying design to natural elements.
The path of this utility or diversion type stream carried water away from flowing house gutters to a landscaped easement ditch.
Utility type stream or a diversion type stream which carries water away from one area to another.

Runnel is a small channel through which water flows, usually about 10 inches deep and 12 inches wide and it adds the sound of trickling water to a terrace or courtyard.

Graph to Scale

Now, put your refined sketch on graph paper to scale. Apply the principles of design, which are scale, balance, unity, rhythm, simplicity, accent (the stream), repetition and harmony. The design is an essential, important step, and remember, it is easier to make changes on paper than in reality.

Layout the Stream
Use a water hose, pegs and string to layout the stream using the plan drawn to scale. The area for the stream must have a vertical drop of 1 to 2 inches every 10 feet of length to provide adequate flow. If the drop is steep then plan on several waterfalls, always keeping in mind natural curves rather than quick, sharp turns.

Renowned Texas gardener Neil Sperry said, for best effect, position waterfalls and streams against a dark background that will show the water droplets to their best advantage. Also, water features need to look like they belong in the landscape. Water needs to be natural, not contrived. It should be in scale with its surroundings.

One can construct a running stream with some rubber liner, 1-inch plastic piping and a water pump. Lay the liner between lots of rocks and stones with plants enjoying the running water, and lead it to a small pool, from which it can be pumped back to the top of the stream.

When this type of stream is based on a bed of rocks and stones and not earth or soil, this makes an ideal garden stream with no erosion or dirty, cloudy water.

Materials needed

Materials used are according to your preferred choice - and are numerous. If your landscape provides you rocks, use them to your advantage even if you have to dig some out of the soil. Stone, rocks and boulders gives a more natural beauty; however, these materials are heavy. Flagstone, pavers, bricks and landscape timbers can be used to build up or fill around the stream.

The choice of liners to use includes flexible, preformed or concrete. Flexible liners, like the name implies, allows one to create streams and waterfalls in almost any shape, length and style. Buy the thickest EPDM rubber liner that usually comes in 40-mil or the heavier 60-mil.

Preformed rigid liners come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are easy to install. Two inches of cushioning sand is needed underneath flexible and preformed liners to protect liners from sharp objects.

Concrete lasts for decades, but is more difficult to construct and more costly. Concrete blocks reinforced with metal rods and concrete may be needed when using cement.

Another tip is to try special pond foam to adhere thin layers of stone to conceal a liner.

Construction of a garden stream is much the same as for an informal pool. It can be thought of as a shallow elongated pool, usually connecting a water source to a lower pond. The pump goes in the lower pool with the return hose buried and running along the stream bed to the upper source. Use the corrugated version heavy-duty hose, which is crush resistant for the return of circulating water.

Pumps for man-made streams should circulate the water through a filter in 1 to 2 hours - the faster the better. Streams with waterfalls require larger pumps.

Usually submersible pumps are used at the end of the stream pond. If the stream end is an underground tank, other methods to pump water back to the beginning should be researched.

Plants for Streams

Aquatic plants can bring your stream to life. A few weeks ago in this column there was an article about weeds gone wild and prohibited plants, especially aquatic plants. We certainly need to avoid these, but there are so many more desirable aquatic plants to enhance your stream.

Selecting the right plant for the right stream location is important to its health, longevity and its natural beauty. While the list of desirable plants is long, go visit your favorite nursery, research the Web sites noted, see the included list, or just go see for yourself the beauty of the pond in the Victoria Educational Gardens across from the tower near the Victoria Regional Airport.
Photo by Contributed Photo by Anthony Gomez
This natural garden stream at the home of Anthony and Tracy Gomez in Yoakum shown before, during and after completion of designed landscape, illustrates the results of applying design to natural elements.

See these at Victoria Educational Gardens.
Plants in the water are:

1. Pickerelweed pontederia cordata
2. Lotus nelumbo lutea
3. Yellow variegated acorus
4. Hardy and tropical water lilies
5. Parrot feather myriophyllum aquaticum
6. Louisiana iris
7. Sedges carex spp

Plants around the edges

1. Arrowhead sagittaria, spp
2. Cannas
3. Spider lilies
4. Ice plant


Water Gardening Design Construction

Construction Methods at

Flexible Liners at
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at