Introduction: Terra Cotta Fountain

Picture of Terra Cotta Fountain

If you have been looking for a substantial size fountain for your garden, Terra Cotta planters available at your local garden center offer a lot of possibilities and have a pleasing natural outdoor look.

The fountain we made for our front garden stands about 32" tall from the ground to the very top.  The upper bowl is about 21" in diameter, and the lower basin is approximately 32" in diameter.  The fountain holds a generous quantity of water.

Step 1:

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The fountain pump is located in the large basin.  Its power cord is fed through a plastic pipe plug which was drilled to accept the cord and sealed with silicone. To thread it through, the electrical plug was cut off the end of the pump power cord , and a new plug put on afterward.  One does not want any cuts and connections in the power cord which may be under water because of a possible shock hazard.  And for general safety, the fountain is always plugged into a GFI receptacle.

A pipe bushing glued into the bottom hole of the terra cotta bowl accepts the pipe plug.  In this way, the pipe plug can be unscrewed to remove the pump with its complete power cord intact for winter storage. 

Step 2:

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The pump is positioned in the center like this and loosely held in place by the rigid plastic pump output tube passing through the the parts of the fountain that are placed above it.

Step 3:

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An inverted planter goes over the pump.  This planter supports the upper bowl of the fountain.

Step 4:

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The pump tube passes into the upper bowl through a garden hose fitting.  The fitting is soldered into a large brass washer which is in turn glued into the bowl. 

Step 5:

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The nipple in the upper basin accepts a 1/2" copper riser pipe which slides over the plastic pump tube.  A female garden hose connector is soldered to the lower end of the pipe; with the usual rubber gasket inside, it forms a leak tight seal for the upper basin.

A shouldered bushing on the  top of the riser pipe supports a small terra cotta dish.

Step 6:

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The upper dish catches water bubbling out of the riser and spreads it to drip into the basin below for aeration.  The dish simply fits over the bushing at the top of the riser pipe and rests on the shoulder of the bushing. The inner plastic pump tube is just a bit shorter than the copper riser; an O-ring stretched around the pump tube (visible in steps 2- 4) effectively blocks water from leaking down the space between the pump tube and the copper riser pipe. The O-ring is not at all a tight fit inside the copper riser - it just blocks a little unnecessary leakage.

Step 7:

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Another view of the fountain after fully set up for the summer.

You can see a short video of the bubbling action at:

Hmmm...while working on this instructable, it occurred that with a more powerful  pump, another level could be added!!!  The list of future projects never ends !!!!



shellig (author)2015-03-01

Can't seem to find any pots big enough... where did you find them?

jdjonesdr (author)2010-07-25

How many GPH is the pump, do you know?

TheStarWizard (author)jdjonesdr2013-06-19

Can anyone offer some specs on the pumps needed for these fountains?


awesumeguy (author)TheStarWizard2014-02-15

I have this fountain:

which is 39" high and it takes a 300 GPH pump, so I would assume it just depends on the height and how much flow you want.

TinkerJim (author)jdjonesdr2010-07-27

Sorry, I don't know the rating. It was purchased from a surplus seller as a replacement for fountains. It looks to be about the smallest size fountain pump commonly available. It has been doing a good job in the terra cotta fountain for about five summers now.

Happy2Think (author)2011-12-16

Hey, Nice looking fountain, I have builded 3 of them and solded to friends,
anyways I am writting to you because your fountain can be used indoors too,
and you dont have to put it away in winter time

Thanks anyways for your instructable it gave me some ideas

God Bless you

nicolenic (author)2011-09-20

Superbly nice! would like to make this at my garden too. Would appreciate if you could guide me on some queries. Do you have a constant water supply through pipes? If no, may I know how would we make sure the water won't run dry and damage the pump? Thank you for sharing :)

TinkerJim (author)nicolenic2011-09-21

Thanks for the interest, nicolenic.
There is no water supply to the fountain - the pump just recirculates. The capacity is quite large and the loss of water due to splashing, wind, evaporation, and bird drinks is very small. We simply top it up with a gallon or two every other day. And every week or two we give it a good flush with the hose if it needs freshening up.

nicolenic (author)TinkerJim2011-09-23

Thanx for sharing.. appreciate it!

grooooovy (author)2010-08-24

Your fountain looks really nice- love the terra cotta.

frollard (author)2010-07-23

I built something similar out of a rubber basin (cattle feeding was its original purpose), and concrete stepping stones. I applied about 4 coats of weatherproofing concrete sealant to prevent water from absorbing into the material and destroying it prematurely. It's 6 tiers of the same size 14" stone separated by cut pvc 4" pipe, about 2 1/2" each to create a trickle-fall. Water is diverted at the top by a peice of pipe with radial holes drilled in it, then a clear glass cover is placed on top to evenly disperse the water outwards. I used electrial tape where the author used an o-ring to prevent unnecesary water trickling back down the feed hole. Great ible! Were any steps taken to waterproof the terracotta? I know it inherently is 'waterproof' but it does absorb water.

sgsidekick (author)frollard2010-07-28

Sure would like to see a picture of your fountain/pool!

TinkerJim (author)frollard2010-07-24

Wow - six tiers - That sounds like a real fountain ! In our little fountain, no waterproofing was applied - please see the reply to Kaelessin's comment below for more information on that.

frollard (author)TinkerJim2010-07-24

Thanks for the insight!

rhackenb (author)2010-07-25

Very nice instructable. If I built one like this, I would like to use the solar powered water pump sold by Harbor Freight for under $20. I keep trying to buy the pump but they are consistently out of them. I don't like running AC current across a yard. I like this very simple design.

TinkerJim (author)rhackenb2010-07-27

Solar would be the ideal way to run an outdoor fountain. I too am not totally comfortable with line voltage AC, but it seems to be the norm for commercially available fountains these days. Apparently the pumps and line cord are made sufficiently watertight to be safe, but I always connect to GFI outlets when using any tool or appliance outside. I'm not familiar with the solar outfit sold by Harbor freight. We had a small solar pump in a traditional birdbath one summer, but it was too weak to be really effective.

Questor (author)2010-07-25

I used a shallow terracotta "plate" as the top tier as a sort of bird bath. The birds seem to like it and some of the water drips into the lower bowl adding a nice sound to the garden. I'm going to try inverting a bowl or two for different sounds

TinkerJim (author)Questor2010-07-27

Yes, birds need a shallow place to use for "bathing". Our terra cotta fountain is too deep for that. But birds are attracted by the sound of the water, and will perch on the edges to take a drink. Never have seen one on the uppermost level.

getridof (author)2010-07-25

Wonderful! This is such a great idea and just beautiful!

janettetsmith (author)2010-07-25

Very cool!

NickGriffin (author)2010-07-25

We did this very same thing about 20 years ago-glad to see someone else came up with the idea! Looks great! We ere into the look of copper, so placed it on a pedestal (old smoking stand from a RR station, actually) that I wrapped with copper and let it age from the water exposure. We also drilled holes-and found that in our case, (either too many holes or not enough water being pumped) the water only kind of sheeted down the surface of the bowl(s) In our case 3 bowls, the pump in a pond sort of thing that the pedestal stood in. To remedy the lack of water actually splashing from bowl to bowl, we inserted short lengths of copper tubing (1/4" or so round) long enough to be able to slightly bend to direct the flow to get the most pleasing sound. (it can be set to really rush water...great to mask traffic noise, etc). I liked playing with the water so much, I eventually hand-dug a good sized pond and used "feather rock" to make an actual waterfall. Mine was recirculating with the intake being pierced pipe under about a ton of sand...the sand acted as a natural sort of filter. The Koi loved it...and at the edge was the original Terra Cotta Fountain as shown in this instructable! Thanks for the memories!

BES105 (author)2010-07-25

You have planted a seed and now I am sitting in the garden trying to do the same to my bird bath.................???

xd12c (author)2010-07-24

Maybe drill some holes or slots in the bowl with a wet drill?

ChrysN (author)2010-07-23

Beautiful fountain, the frog is cute too!

TinkerJim (author)ChrysN2010-07-24

The frog was looking out the window of a shop in town that imports items from around the world, and I thought it was too cute to be just left captive inside and so brought it home as a surprise for my wife. It was made in Bangladesh at a cooperative set up to provide work for artisans in a small community.

I just now went out and looked at the bottom of the frog and found this website address:

xaborus (author)2010-07-23

This has to be the most beautiful Instructable ever! (And this is coming from a 16 year old guy lol :D ) How did you make it so shiny at the end?

TinkerJim (author)xaborus2010-07-24

Thanks for the comment. My wife really likes the fountain which she can see out the window when she's at the kitchen sink. I was getting kinda tired of setting it up every spring, but she kept it on the honey-do list again this year. thinking back, I don't remember whose idea it was to make an instructable out of the setup job this spring - it was probably her clever way of getting me to set it up sooner rather than later !! She did the landscaping around it and put the frog on guard duty. The outside was cleaned up with WD-40 when it was set up for the summer.

Kaelessin (author)2010-07-23

Very neat idea for a fountain! all the parts are already made lol

What did you do to prevent the terracotta from deteriorating? I suppose each bit could be replaced fairly easily but that could get pricey qucik!

TinkerJim (author)Kaelessin2010-07-24

We did not apply any kind of sealant when the fountain was initially setup because it wasn't realized that something like that might be needed! It would be a very good idea. Terra cotta is somewhat porous, and a little seepage occurred at first, giving the outside a cool damp look, but mineral deposits put an end to that. We have had no deterioration of the terra cotta itself. The fountain has been in use for about 5 years now, and the pieces are in very good shape. We live in Wisconsin, so the fountain is taken down and put into storage for the long winter months. Mineral deposits are cleaned up with a little vinegar in the water when first put up for the summer and the outside is cleaned up with a wipe of WD-40. The water is partially replaced (by flushing with the hose) and topped up once or twice a week. Sometimes a little bleach is added to further clean and freshen things up.

capricorn (author)2010-07-24

You Sir be AWESOME! I say respect! Thanks for sharing :)

srainsdon (author)2010-07-23

very nice i might just have to build one thinks for the nice ible

About This Instructable




Bio: Emeritus Professor of Mathematics.
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