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Building an outdoor fountain: a how-to

You can turn most anything -- an old

You can turn most anything -- an old birdbath, an urn, several glazed pots, a collection of slate tiles -- into a cascading piece of outdoor art. This birdbath fountain is available at Cipriano Nursery in East Meadow. (June 29, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Anyone who can use a drill and a shovel can build a fountain in just one day.

"A small fountain in the background will create a tranquil setting anywhere you relax or dine in the yard," says Maria Cipriano of Cipriano Nursery and Florist in East Meadow, which sells parts for constructing your own fountain as well as premade ones.

While choosing which type of fountain fits your yard is a matter of taste, "right now glazed ceramics, specifically the blues and the greens, are popular, as are rustic styles," Cipriano says.

But you can turn most anything -- an old birdbath, an urn, several glazed pots, a collection of slate tiles, pavers or medium-sized stones -- into a cascading piece of outdoor art.

Choose a fountain style that complements the overall design of your outdoor space. "You want to make sure it fits into your existing garden as naturally as possible," says Jim Farabaugh, owner of JRF Landscape Construction in Northport.

Farabaugh's experience includes everything from basic fountains to a pond and waterfall adorned with flamethrowers that hurl fire 30 feet skyward. "But with any hardscape such as a fountain, you want to have plants and flowers around it to soften it up."

If you're thinking of going the eco-friendly route and purchasing a solar-powered pump, prepare for possible disappointment.

"The solar fountains that are available now are really limited, and it's a very small amount of water that they are able to move," says Maria Verderber of Verderber's Landscape Nursery and Garden Center in Aquebogue, which sells both ready-made fountains and parts. "I don't think the technology has come far enough yet."

Maintenance is as easy as making sure the basin stays filled with water at least 5 to 6 inches above the pump and placing mosquito dunks in the water to ward off the insects and kill any larvae (don't worry, doughnut-shaped pellets are safe for kids and animals) during times when the pump is off.

Come winter, Cipriano suggests either buying a cover or breaking the fountain down and bringing it inside. No matter which option you choose, it's important to drain all the water and remove the pump. Then, it's up to you to figure out how to relax until next summer.

The steps that follow describe the construction of a traditional fountain using an old birdbath; however, the basics are the same, no matter what the style.

You will need:

a waterproof basin

a submersible pump rated 200 to 250 gallons an hour

5 to 6 feet of rubber tubing

mushroom sprayer attachment

small river stones

larger decorative stones or slates

drainage gravel

mosquito dunks

a mesh screen wide enough to cover the basin

waterproofed support beams

1. For the basin, start by digging a hole that is as wide as the tub but about 2 inches deeper. For fountains not next to an electrical outlet, dig a shallow trench from the tub to the closest outlet, preferably one equipped with a ground-fault circuit interrupter.

2. Fill the bottom 2 inches of the hole with drainage gravel before inserting the tub, then place about an inch of gravel inside the basin as well.

The basin should be 6 inches wider than the fountain's base and deep enough to allow for about 1 foot of water above the pump.

Next, place the pump in the center of the basin. Using a utility knife, cut a notch in the tub's rim for the power cord to exit, then lay the conduit in the trench and backfill over it.

3. Also with your utility knife, cut a hole in the center of the screen for the pipe to fit through and a three-sided flap on one side large enough to access the pump.

4. Insert the rubber pipe through the screen and attach it to the pump. Thread the rest of the pipe up the base of the birdbath. If you are building a fountain that needs a bit more structural integrity, such as a stacked-rock or cairn-style (so named because of its resemblance to the formations seen in woodland settings) fountain, copper pipe should be substituted for the rubber hose. However, using copper pipe requires additional connectors and increases the complexity of the project a bit.

5. Using a saw, cut the waterproof boards slightly longer than the width of the basin. Place them atop the screen, one on each side of the center, and set the base of the fountain atop them.

6. Using a drill with a masonry bit, drill a hole in the center of the birdbath's bowl wide enough for the pipe to be fed through. Attach the mushroom sprayer to the top of the pipe and, using waterproof caulk, seal the base of the sprayer.

7. Finish up the construction by covering the screen and the supports with river rocks, mulch or other porous decorative cover. Fill both the basin and the bowl with water and plug in the pump.