How to Build a Water feature or Pond with Real & Fake Rock

When I started my career in water feature construction decades ago it was exclusively in the field of pond construction.  I used rubber liners and pond kits.  The projects were natural plant and fish ponds or biological features.  I then added pondless waterfalls as well.   

But I learned early on that I was somewhat limited in what size rocks or boulders I could use.  If they were too heavy to carry by hand then I needed to use excavators and heavy equipment to move in and place the stones.  It was doable but it also added considerably to project costs and budgets with some projects being pretty much inaccessible for heavy equipment at times and thus not doable.  And that's never good when you need to tell a client you can't make what they are asking for.  

At one point I spoke to a sand sculptor friend who was building fake rock projects in Arizona.  He was tired of the travel and was therefor moving into faux rock design and construction working in his own town.  It was a natural fit for him as a creative person.   

So I flew out to meet him and he showed me some of his projects.  At that point I could see the opportunity and thus began learning all I could about this amazing field.  I began experimenting with cement, wood frames, rebar and lath building small demo projects at my house in San Diego. 

So after becoming fairly competent building faux rock projects I was called in to create a project that would need fake AND real rock in it's design and construction.  Others follow of varying size and scope.  I will share two examples...

This first project was built just like a traditional swimming pool.  A compete rebar framework then shotcrete, waterproofing and a textured, (plastered) finish.  I built numerous Satellite boulders, a pond edge, and waterfall using my usual rebar "bubble" approach . 


In the photo above you see the "bubbles" with a fabric inside and chickenwire on the outside vertical areas.  All areas below water will be filled solid to a few inches above water to avoid future rusting of the steel.  Then in the photo below you can see the real and fake rocks around the features edges and beyond.  The rubber liner connects the upper starting pond with the intermediate pond in the center.  


What you can see in this photo is both real and fake rock.  Large real rock could be placed using tow straps and an excavator while I also created some large boulders and tried to match the real ones as best I could.  While not perfect they do a pretty good job of mimicking the real thing.  Then once all the rock has been placed the pool was filled with river rock, landscaping plants, water and fish.  Then all the outside landscaping was installed.  It's one of my favorite projects and as the plants and algae grow it will only get better with age.  


The next project was a pondless waterfall using mostly real rock.  Very small compared to the previous feature the end result worked out well.  The project utilized a 45 mil epdm liner with approximately 1.5 tons of river rock.  


The upper 1/4 large rocks are fake while the lower 3/4's of the feature's rocks are real.  The start of the feature is a biological filter box.  This was covered in artificial rock to hide it's appearance.  The process begins with a hole for the vault or catch basin.  This was a space approximately 4' x 4' x 3'.  Moving up from there you simply terrace the slope planning where your steam or watercourse will be going.  You then lay down the underlayment which helps protect the liner from puncture.  On top goes the liner and the plumbing and vault boxes.  After that the stone are placed, large first then smaller ones. Before the gravel or 1" rock the fake rocks are created.  I used rebar and diamond lath to shape them then hand applied the scratch or structural coat. 

After that the texture coat and paint.  Once they where completed the rest of the stone and gravel goes in and it's good to go.  In the following photo we see how things have changed in about 10 months since the install during a check on the pump.  The feature is just about perfect with a new set up plants being planted to dial it all in.  


The beauty of faux rock is that is allows for the creation of literally any size and style of rock or boulder to be made.  They can fill in unique and challenging spaces giving the impression that thousands of pounds of rock are there when in fact it may only be hundreds or less.  Placing stones where you could never reach with equipment or by any other means.  


For more information on the How-Too's of water feature design and construction using real and/or faux rock please go to and sign up for my newsletter.  I also have FREE pdf downloads and other content you might like here including my new book Makin’ Rocks.

Adding fake rock to your arsenal of creative tools is definitely something worth doing.  It will open up more opportunities for new projects and increased income.  And that's always a good thing when we can make that happen.

- Dave 


Dave HendersonComment