Last month, we talked about ways of being “water-wise” in our dry climate, such as using drip irrigation systems and selecting drought-resistant plants for your garden. Now, as the monsoon season starts, we thought we should examine how you can take advantage of these naturally wetter months by practicing rainwater harvesting.
When you read “rainwater harvesting” just now, I bet the first thing you thought of was rainwater barrels. And, yes, they are an important part of this story and we will get to them soon, but there’s more to rainwater harvesting.
In fact, if you live in a newer home in Flagstaff, you might already be practicing rainwater harvesting and not even know it. The city’s building regulations require that new single-family residences use passive rainwater harvesting techniques. For example, roof downspouts have to be directed toward landscape and natural areas and not toward a street. Smart, huh?
There is more, however, that you can do to get the most out of monsoon season. Plus, there are plenty of great reasons to do it.
- Using captured rainwater means you don’t have to use tap water, lowering your monthly water bill.
- It’s the best water for your gardens because it is not treated with any chemicals.
- It helps reduce soil erosion.
- It increases general water conservation and helps prevent local flooding.
- It can make your plants more drought resistant because it forces damaging salts down and away from your plants’ roots. This allows for greater root growth and water uptake, increasing drought tolerance.
Ready to keep more of nature’s free water on your lawn and in your garden? Here’s how:
First, learn how rain moves on your property. This just involves watching how the water flows during the next rainstorm. Does water come on to your property from other places? How does the water flow once it’s on your property? Does it go toward streets or your driveway instead of soaking into the ground?
Then, take steps to keep more of the water onto your property. Part of this is making sure you have as many permeable surfaces as possible. For example, if you are trying to keep weeds down, don’t use a waterproof plastic barrier. Instead, opt for a landscaping cloth that will keep weeds from coming up but allow rainwater to flow down into the soil.
You can also create swales on your landscape. Basically, these are level or gently sloping trenches that collect water, slow it down and divert it. Be careful about where you place your swale – you want to make sure you are diverting water toward your plants and not toward the foundation of your house! If you need some advice on how and where to create a swale, Warner’s Landscaping can help.
Your next step is to make sure you protect your soil, and a big part of that is not having your soil go “bare.” Soil without any plants or covering like mulch do a bad job of letting rainwater infiltrate into the ground. Bare soil can become compacted (increasing runoff) or even just wash away, eroding your yard. But planting with native grasses or wildflowers will help get water into the soil and keep it there. (Even though grasses and plants use up some of the water, more soaks into the ground with plants than without.) Mulch like straw, bark or gravel can also be used, but they don’t have quite the benefits that good plant cover offers. In either case, plants, wildflowers or mulch all look a lot better than a bare dirt lot!
And now, we come to rain barrels, which can be any container you use to catch water from a downspout, but typically have a screen mesh to prevent debris from getting into the container and a spigot allowing you to attach your hose to the barrel and water your plants or grass.
You want to make sure your barrel is on a sturdy platform. Remember, unless you plan to install a pump, your rain barrel will be using gravity to move the water from the barrel through the hose and into your garden or yard, so the additional height will help increase the rate of flow.
Here’s a couple of tips to make using a rain barrel safe and easy.
- You can use emitters and timers with your rain barrel system for distribution, but make sure they are for low-pressure systems. If you get parts that require 10 or 15 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI), they will not work with your rain barrel.
- Make sure to keep your rain barrel clean; remove any debris that might block the screen mesh and clean the inside regularly to reduce algae growth.
- Keep your rain container out of direct sunlight. That will slow down evaporation of the rainwater you collect and also discourage mosquito breeding.
- Make sure no one drinks from this water. This water is great for your plants, but it’s not potable, so you might want to mark it so and take extra care that your kids and pets don’t try to drink from it.
Properly thought out and installed, rainwater harvesting can be great for you, your wallet and your garden. Our friendly experts at Warner’s Nursery are always on hand to answer your questions on making the most of this wet and wonderful monsoon season.
Happy gardening (and rainwater harvesting)! FBN
By Misti Warner