5 Easy Steps for Converting Outdated Fountains into Low-Maintenance Planters

Outdated fountain converted to low-maintenance planter


Water features have always been a popular outdoor amenity for apartments and are great ways to draw attention while causing a splash. But like everything else, they have a lifespan and become a challenge and expense to maintain.

At some point, management has to weigh the ongoing cost and maintenance – and sometimes image – of large fountains that shoot sprays of water high in the air at the property entrance or small ones that softly trickle near the front office door.

Some cities are actually banning or choosing not to run fountains in an effort to save water that is wasted by evaporation or leaks. That’s probably not a bad idea.

From eye sore to eye-catching

After 10 or more years, pipes typically break and reservoirs crack causing leaks and high water usage. But rather than taking on the expense of repairs or even removing the fountain, a more desirable and effective alternative is available: turning fountains into decorative planters.

This simple conversion is a great opportunity to turn a money pit into an attractive, low-maintenance amenity that welcomes guests and residents while making a statement for water conservation.

In several cases, converting a fountain to a planter is seamless. The exteriors of many circular fountains, for instance, are already covered with native stone, rock or brick, and adding plant life in the middle will look natural. At the same time, the landscape can take on a whole new look that enhances curb appeal.

When converting a leaky fountain into an eye-catching planter, follow these five steps:

Step 1: Establish a Plan of Action

Like anything, a fountain-to-planter conversion should be done with an established game plan. Because plants grow, carefully think about the right kind of greenery for the area. Plants that grow tall can create visibility issues and take away from other elements of the overall landscape.

Step 2: Add Proper Drainage at the Base of the Fountain

Before anything is filled or planted, the basin for the fountain has to be modified to allow proper drainage. This can be as simple as drilling 1/4- to 1/2-inch holes through the fountain. A planter area that doesn’t drain will create more problems than a fountain that leaks or becomes a nuisance.

Step 3: Install Effective Irrigation

Once drainage has been created, think about how to irrigate the plants that will be installed. With a water supply already in place, running irrigation lines and installing sprinkler heads will likely be the best option for larger fountains.

Step 4: Fill the Fountain with Layers of Rock and Soil

To fill the fountain basin, back fill with two feet of gravel in the bottom, then place filter fabric on top. The fabric will help prevent the soil or potting soil mix that will be added on top from settling to the bottom of the rock and potentially clogging the drain holes.

Step 5: Get Creative

Once the base is filled, the fun begins. Elevated fountains offer an opportunity to create layers of landscape that differ from typical flat, linear beds which are common across the front of the property. Colorful plants and annuals or perennials can be used around the edges or on the exterior of the base. They will stand out because they are closer to eye level.

Also, ivies that grow vertically up a fountain fixture left in place offer a nice contrast. In some cases, ivy that spills out of a fountain with two or three basis will create the illusion of water spilling over the edges.

Depending on the size of fountain to be filled, the one-time cost can range from $1,000-$20,000. More likely, the cost will be in the $3,000-$5,000 ballpark. After the initial expense, the property can enjoy a virtually maintenance free amenity without the potential waste and expense of a fountain that has seen its better days.


(Image source: Shutterstock)



President, Earthworks

author photo two

Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

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