How to Make Cascading Clay Pot Fountains: Tilted Pottery Is Key

  • 01 of 08

    Learn How to Build a Cascading Clay Pot Fountain

    Water cascades from this clay pot fountain down into a pool below.
    Water cascades from this two-tiered clay pot fountain down into a pool below. David Beaulieu

    If you follow my instructions for building this cascading, clay pot fountain, the result will be a unique water feature. The fountain brings value to your yard in two ways, one geared to sight, the other to sound:

    1. It's a striking focal point, thanks to the brightly-colored pottery used.
    2. The sound of cascading, gently-splashing water will relax you.

    Two pieces of pottery are the key to the project in terms of materials (which I'll discuss further on Page 2). I came across them, by chance, while...MORE browsing in a garden center. I knew that their golden-mustard exterior would work well with the house destined to serve as their backdrop, which is painted in a color evocative of the American Southwest. But, more importantly, one of the pieces is a so-called "tilted" pot. Such a pot sports a flat side, where the drainage hole is located. It's normally used as a container for plants (the plants spill out of it in what might be termed a "cornucopia" effect), but I saw an opportunity to make a  cascading fountain out of one, in conjunction with a conventional pot (in the same color) that would serve as the base.

    I had entered the store that day looking for ideas for an attractive cascading fountain that wouldn't break the bank. The first unit that caught my attention was a two-tiered, antique barrel fountain that sold at an inexpensive price. I liked the concept behind this ensemble, but the fountain struck me as too dull in color -- and too obviously made of plastic. Nothing says low-end like plastic. I was seeking something a little more up-scale. Besides, I wanted a project that would exercise my creativity; this fountain didn't present me with any challenge.

    Instead, for a bit more money, I undertook my clay pot fountain project, instructions for which I present on the ensuing pages. This water feature represents a compromise for me, in terms of price. I've built two that were more expensive:

    I've also built a very inexpensive fountain, suitable for the DIYer committed, first and foremost, to landscaping on a budget

    In step #2, I'll present the required materials in greater detail....

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  • 02 of 08

    Materials Needed: Tilted Pot Key to Making Project Easy

    The tilted pot is the supply that
    The tilted pot is the supply that "makes" this project. Tubing is shown here inserted in the drainage hole. Also shown is the pump. David Beaulieu

    The concept behind my clay pot fountain is simple enough. Water will be pumped via a tube from a reservoir (namely, a preformed pond liner sunk into the ground) through two pieces of pottery. The piece on the bottom (which is a standard pot) is the bigger of the two; it will be inverted. The piece on the top is a tilted pot and will function as a "spout" of sorts. The water cascades from this spout down onto the exterior of the bigger pot and thence back down into the reservoir,...MORE completing the cycle.

    Here's a list of the major materials and supplies I used. I had some of the minor materials and supplies already on-hand (indeed, one of the virtues of such a project is that you can use materials that you've had lying around in the yard or that you can scrounge from the trash):

    1. 14-inch pot (glazed)
    2. 12-inch tilted pot (glazed)
    3. Vinyl or rubber tubing 
    4. 158 gallon/hour pump 
    5. Preformed pond liner
    6. 4 bricks
    7. Old grill
    8. Stones
    9. Sand
    10. Carpenter's level
    11. Tape measure
    12. Garden spade and trowel

    Optional materials:

    1. Hose clamp
    2. River rock
    3. Plants

    If the pottery you buy isn't glazed, you'll have to waterproof it, yourself. Apply two or three coats of a clear finish (one intended for ceramics and for outdoor use) to the inside and the outside of the pottery. Let it dry thoroughly between coats and after the final coat. This is what I had to do, because I was impatient to begin my project and didn't want to shop around for glazed pottery (I bought my pottery at Lowe's, and it was unglazed).

    But I highly recommend that you take the extra time (and spend the extra money) to purchase glazed pots, because they are higher quality. If the least little thing goes wrong with the DIY waterproofing job, the paint may start flaking off of the pottery. You do not have to worry about all that if you just start out with glazed pots.

    The trick, though, is to find a glazed tilted pot that will match the color of the pottery you are using for the bottom piece (or, if not match it exactly, then at least be compatible with it). Some garden centers carry glazed tilted pots put out by The Pottery Patch, others sell potentially suitable products from the Talavera Pottery or Ravenna Pottery lines. Small, local potters may take custom orders. If you prefer to shop online, ThePotteryPatch.com carries a glazed tilted pot in blue (CH706 Chata On Side); match it with a regular glazed pot (to serve as the bottom half of the water feature) in a similar color.

    Now that you've been exposed to the basic idea behind building this fountain and know what materials to use, on Page 3 we'll begin the project in earnest....

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  • 03 of 08

    First Step: Set the Preformed Liner Into the Ground

    Ensure that the preformed liner sits level in its hole.
    Ensure that the preformed liner sits level in its hole. David Beaulieu

    The following considerations should factor into your decision as to where to locate your water feature:

    1. Is a GFCI electrical outlet nearby? This will be the power supply for your pump.
    2. Are there any underground utility cables present (call the Dig Safe phone number if in doubt)? If so, you won't be able to dig there.
    3. If you will be growing plants around your water feature, what sunlight conditions do they need? The spot you choose will have to meet those requirements, since horticultural succes...MOREs largely hinges on locating plants properly.
    4. The optimal location will be one where you will be able to enjoy your clay pot fountain to the fullest (for example, near a patio where you can relax and listen to the gurgling of its cascading water, or maybe near a garden arbor where you can sit in the shade).

    Once you've decided on the location, invert the preformed liner, place it on the ground, and trace around it with a spade to indicate where you need to dig. Remove the liner and begin digging. My liner has a depth of 7 inches (its diameter is 2 feet), so I dug down gingerly to remove a few inches of soil, checking on the depth with my tape measure as I proceeded. When I had dug down to a depth of 5-6 inches, I switched from spade to trowel, so that I could control my digging better and not over-shoot the 7-inch depth required by too much.

    On the prior page I listed sand as a material for this project. This is where the sand comes into play. Pour a small amount of sand into the hole and spread it out along the bottom. This is something you'll have to play by ear: I can't dictate the exact amount required, because it's to be used on an "as needed" basis. The idea behind the sand is that it serves as an adjustable base for your liner, a base you'll be able to subtract from or add to as needed in leveling the liner. I ended up digging down 8 inches, so I poured 1 inch of sand into the hole as a base for my 7-inch-deep liner.

    Now insert the preformed liner into the hole and check for level, making the appropriate adjustments. The rim of the liner should stick out about 1 inch above the ground. You can hide it with rocks now if you'd like, as I've done in the picture (or you can wait till the end of the project if you prefer).

    On Page 4 we'll begin laying the foundation for the clay pot fountain within the preformed liner....

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  • 04 of 08

    Second Step: Insert Bricks, Grill to Form Base

    The base for the clay pot fountain will be a grill supported by bricks.
    The base for the clay pot fountain will be a grill supported by bricks. David Beaulieu

    There's more than one possible way to build a base for a fountain. I relate the way I chose for my own fountain below. By all means adapt the instructions to your own unique goals and circumstances.

    For example, I happened to use a grill for my base simply because I had an old one lying around (people often salvage these from the dump or buy them on the cheap at yard sales). But feel free to substitute based on what you can find in your own area for free or for minimal cost. Other DIY'ers...MORE have used heavy gauge mesh, a plastic grate, and similar materials to achieve the same end. You can sometimes pick up grates on the cheap at flea markets. All you need is something with holes in it (for the tube to pass through) that is strong enough to support the two pottery pieces.

    I placed 4 bricks on the bottom of my preformed liner first, then I laid my grill on top of these bricks. Why bother with all this? Well, the idea is that the pump will sit under the grill, and the pottery pieces for the fountain will rest on top of the grill. A tube will be fed up from the pump -- through the grill -- into the pottery. Remember, a cord runs from the pump to an electrical outlet, so the pottery can't rest directly on the bottom of the liner: there needs to be a space for this cord to pass under, at the very least. Besides, elevating the pottery means that more of it will be plainly visible, and you'll have a taller fountain.

    While on the subject of the pump and the tube that fits into it, I have a few remarks to make about these supplies on Page 5 that may help you make better decisions when you're shopping for them and unpacking them when you get home....

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  • 05 of 08

    My Opinions on Two of the Products Used in My Fountain Project

    Closeup showing (from left to right) the pump, adapter, and plastic tubing.
    Closeup showing (from left to right) the pump, adapter, and plastic tubing. David Beaulieu

    When you buy a pump, inspect what's inside the packaging carefully once you get home. Mine contained a little plastic bag with two adapters in it. These are reminiscent of adapters you might see in a ratcheting socket wrench kit, except that they're plastic. Point is, they're very tiny and insignificant-looking, so it would be easy to lose them or -- worse yet -- throw them away by mistake. But you do need an adapter; it will function as the conduit in between your pump and your...MORE tubing. In the photo above, the adapter is the small piece in the center (with the pump to the left and tubing to the right).

    The pump I used in this project is an Aquagarden pump (put out by Pennington). In terms of power, it is one step up from least powerful, which sold for $17.00. I felt that it was worth the $3 extra to gain additional power. My conclusion regarding this pump, however, is that it is cheaply made. Its casing fell off at one point when I was setting up the fountain, due to some pressure I had put on it. So I had to halt my project and put the pump back together again. I never had this problem with the pump I had used for past projects, which was called "Little Giant." If it's available where you shop, I advise buying a Little Giant pump.

    I was also somewhat disappointed in the tubing that I used for this project. Its label calls it SmartPond Flexible Tubing (1/2 inch ID, 20-foot length); it is manufactured by GeoGlobal Partners. It's made of plastic. I found it hard to work with. In past projects, I've used an older, rubber tubing, which is more supple. If you're stuck with using a plastic tube, see if you can purchase a hose clamp that will fit it. The right hose clamp could secure the tube around the pump's adapter more tightly, giving you a more reliable fit (it kept slipping off for me).

    On Page 6, I'll offer further observations about working with the tubing, which is the most difficult aspect of this clay pot fountain project....

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  • 06 of 08

    Third Step: Thread Tube Through Grill, Attach Tube Onto Pump Using Adapter

    threading tube through grill in water feature
    Threading the tube can be tricky. It worked better for me to thread it through the grill first. David Beaulieu

    Sometimes, it's the (seemingly) simplest steps in a DIY project that trip us up. And almost as often, the solution is as simple as reversing the order in which we take the steps. That was my own experience in setting up this clay pot fountain. Specifically, I'm talking about the initial step that involves working with the tubing.

    You might, at first, think it easier to attach the tubing to the pump (using the adapter), place the pump under the grill, then thread the tubing up through the grill....MORE I, myself, in fact, found it hard to do so. Instead, here's what I ended up doing:

    1. As shown in my picture, I temporarily moved the grill off its bricks in order to facilitate the operation.
    2. I threaded the tube through the grill.
    3. I then attached the tube to the pump underneath. 

    I did not make a final cut in my tubing right away. Instead, I began by cutting it to what I felt was approximately the correct length, but very much erring on the side of too long rather than too short (since the former can be corrected; the latter cannot). That's how I try to approach everything in DIY landscaping projects: the motto, "Better safe than sorry" is a good one to keep in mind.

    By the way, while you still have easy access to your pump, make sure the setting for water flow is on high (assuming you want maximum power). You don't want to assemble all the plumbing only to find that it's on low -- meaning you have to disassemble the plumbing to access it, and then assemble the plumbing all over again.

    On Page 7 we'll start working with the beautiful pottery that makes this clay pot fountain sing its vibrant tune....

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  • 07 of 08

    Fourth Step: Place Bigger Pot on Grill, Thread Tubing Through It

    Invert the bigger pot and thread the tubing through it.
    Invert the bigger pot and thread the tubing through it. David Beaulieu

    The project is really quite easy from this point on. Bring the larger pot to the preformed pond liner, invert it, and thread the tube through its drainage hole. Once you've taken up the slack, you can place the pot on the grill.

    The larger pot is now ready to serve as support for the smaller, tilted pot, as I'll show you on the next page, where you'll glimpse the stunning results. A selling point for this design is that you don't have to worry about caulking between the two pots, as...MORE is necessary in some fountain designs (I've actually found expanding foam insulation better to use in such cases than standard caulking). The little bit of water that seeps out at the intersection of the two pots (as gravity pulls water from the top pot down through its drainage hole) won't be noticeable, since it will be overwhelmed by the main cascade of water. This seepage will drop back harmlessly into the pool; there will be no water loss is your pots are positioned over the pond liner. 

    By the way, upon disassembling the clay pot fountain when cold weather comes, I plan on storing the pottery away somewhere out of the elements.

    On Page 8 we'll turn the pump on, finish the project, and sit back to marvel at our work....

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  • 08 of 08

    Fifth Step: Thread Tube Through Tilted Pot, Add Water, Turn Pump On

    Cascading fountain
    This is one possible look for the cascade, but I decided against it in the end. Return to Page 1 to see the look I settled on, ultimately. David Beaulieu

    The final step is simple.You are going to be resting the tilted pot on top of the first pot you installed, lining up their respective drainage holes. First you'll need to thread the tube through the drainage hole of the tilted pot. Now plug the water pump into the GFCI electrical outlet to gain a sense of how effectively your fountain is working and what impression it is creating.

    What do you think of the look of the water jet shooting out of the tube in this picture? Some will like it, some...MORE won't. It adds drama, and it also intensifies the sound of the moving water. But if you don't like having the tube showing, go back to Page 1 to see what I ended up doing in my own clay pot fountain project (I inserted stones into pot to hide the tube as my final step). Another way to obscure the tubing would be simply to trim it so that it doesn't protrude very far up into the pot (in which case it will be covered in water).

    But there are, in fact, all kinds of variations as you put the finishing touches on the clay pot fountain project. Which variation you choose will depend on your objectives and tastes. One factor to consider regarding the jet is water loss over time. If there's a lot of spray (i.e., if the cascading action produces significant splashing), little by little you'll lose water from your reservoir.

    Water loss may seem minimal at first glance, but it adds up. So you will have to remember to refill the reservoir periodically even if you notice just a bit of water loss. This is especially true when you're using as small a pond (that is, the preformed liner sunk into the ground and acting as a reservoir) as I used for my fountain. Is the effect produced by greater cascading action worth this inconvenience? Only you can decide. Just remember: if you fail to keep the pump submersed in water, it will burn out.

    Another finishing touch you may wish to apply is decorative river rocks. You'll notice them in some of the photos I've used to illustrate how to set up your clay pot fountain (they're the small, shiny, black rocks). Finally, consider using water garden plants such as Egyptian papyrus in your pond to complement the fountain. To further embellish the water feature, grow plants suited to wet areas around the perimeter of the pond.