By Dr. Susan Hamilton
Would it surprise you that lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40 percent of total household water use during the summer? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use copious amounts of water to keep our gardens and landscapes productive, lush and beautiful. But treated water from civic water districts comes with an environmental and monetary price!
The national trend is to be more “green” and conservative, so rain barrels or cisterns have become quite popular and readily available. I’ve even seen them for sale at my local grocery store. They are also easy to construct if you’d like to make your own. Plenty of educational workshops, literature and Internet sources are available to guide you through the process of constructing rain barrels.
Basically, rain barrels collect and store rainwater from your roof, via gutter downspouts. Their purpose is to save the water for later use, especially during periods of dry weather. A single rain barrel can save an estimated 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months. Because rain barrels can provide a ready supply of free “soft water” – water containing no chlorine, lime or calcium – they are ideal for watering gardens and lawns or for washing cars or windows. A gigantic plus in my book is the collected water is prevented from becoming runoff diverted to storm drains and therefore no benefit to my garden.
A typical rain barrel is a plastic drum or container. Sizes range from 50 to 80 gallons, although some can go up to 300 gallons or more. A variety of designs and colors are commercially available, with many that serve as a decorative accent for your home and garden. No matter the system you choose, it is important to have a secure lid on the barrel for child safety and to prevent the growth of mosquitoes and algae.
Rain gardens are a great way to capture and soak up rainfall and stormwater runoff from your property. A rain garden is ideally located in close proximity to your roof gutter downspouts or other impermeable areas around your home like driveways, walkways and patios. They should not be within 10 feet of a foundation or building or built over a septic system.
The garden can be a natural or shallow-dug depression, no more than 8-10 inches deep, which is designed with plants to withstand the extremes of moisture and concentrations of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, that are found in stormwater runoff. Through the design and plant selection, the garden can add beauty to your home landscape and at the same time protect the environment by giving stormwater time to filter into the ground and help to reduce potential water quality problems.
Numerous resources are available to help you with your rain garden design and with selecting the ideal plants for your area. Scroll down for a couple of links.
Rain gardens are typically designed to be drained within four hours after a one-inch rain event, but some designs allow the soil to be saturated for longer periods. Plants with deep fibrous roots tend to have a competitive advantage in a rain garden and provide the most cleaning and filtration benefits to the environment.
I have joined the crowd with respect to water conservation and installed both a rain barrel for my garden and a separate rain garden. My rain garden is located at the bottom of my sloping front yard and driveway right at the curb of the street. I personally think it is a beautiful combination of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals, and it adds to the beauty of my home while helping me to conserve water, provide wildlife habitat and protect the environment.
Rain Barrel, Rain Garden Resources