Aspirations and admiration of a garden as beautiful as this one from Lou Murray has motivated me to search for supplemental water sources for my garden.
With California residents experiencing a record breaking dry season, many landscapes are feeling parched, while garden caretakers are feeling pressure to conserve water. When Los Angeles receives any rain, I feel a sense of relief for my small backyard garden (although this much needed rainfall seems to come and go all too quickly), but realize we can’t rely upon rain alone for our gardens. So I’ve been trying to find ways to efficiently save water during these drought years and take care of my garden, and my research has brought me to the conclusion rain barrels are an essential rainfall collection solution.
Collecting rain using catch barrels and utilizing the water for garden irrigation is a water wise strategy, and the practice is even supported by many city organizations. For instance, the City of Los Angeles offers great incentives for residents who choose to install rain barrels through their “Keep Los Angeles Beautiful” program, periodically offering rebates which bring down the cost of rain barrels to the subsidized price of “free”.
While readymade rain barrel catchment systems are occasionally available for free or for sale online, anyone can build their own rain barrel system quite easily following these steps using parts available at local hardware stores or big box home improvement retailers:
Step 1: Gather required parts and materials (all equipment is available at most home improvement stores)
- Large catchment basin of your choice; a plastic garbage can or wooden barrel work equally well
- Mesh fabric to keep debris out of basin
- Plumber’s teflon tape
- Washer and nut fitting for spigot
- Cutting tool
Step 2: Determine the best placement for your rain barrel
Locate an area in which you a redirect the rainfall from your gutter into your container and safely situate a large container without the worry of it tipping over (remember, water is very heavy, so a stable base is mandatory). If the ground isn’t stable, you might need to lay a foundation or build a raised platform.
Step 3: Cutting the inlet and outlet for your rainfall
With the gutter source directed toward your container, cut an opening at top of the basin and secure a fabric mesh over it. This mesh will keep debris out of the basin. Afterward, drill and cut a hole on the bottom of the basin, matching the opening to the ring size of your spigot.
Step 4: Installing the spigot
Attach the spigot into the drilled and cut hole and secure it into place with a washer and nut.
Step 5: Start collecting
Now the hard work is done! Position the barrel directly under the gutter downspout. The next time it rains you’ll enjoy the rainfall even more knowing the water you’ve collected in helping conserve water and benefitting your garden!
About 12 years ago I did a major home remodel and I remember when the building inspector told me that in order to get final sign-off of my permit that I needed to install rain gutters throughout the house. The gutters had to be directed to the driveway or directly to the street. I proceeded to comply to get my final approval, but I wondered why my rain water had to be drained away from my landscape.
After two years of watching rain water flow to the street, I decided to do something about it. I re-hired the same rain gutter contractor and had them reconfigure all of the downspouts so that rainwater would flow into several rain capture strategies, including landscape planters, dry well, permeable driveway, and a rain barrel. Fortunately, my house sits in an area of Los Angeles that has well-drained soils – my soil is very sandy and drains about 2 to 3 inches per hour. – which is key to having these strategies succeed.
Here are four rain capture strategies that I used around my home.
1. Use Raised Planters: I built a raised planter in front of the house to capture half of the roof drainage. Since I buried part of my raised foundation I made sure we waterproofed the house footing to eliminate moisture from migrating to the wooden sill. I kept the soil level 6 inches below the top of the foundations. I reconfigured the front portion of the roof water to this planter. I planted a combination of Chondropetalum and Agaves which will take both drought and wet conditions. However, mostly drought these days. (image A)
Diagram by: Richard Quinn
2. Install a Dry Well: I raised my front yard around 14 inches so that none of my front yard drainage would run over the sidewalk. I installed a “Dry Well” along the street edge. You can see the two plastic drain covers which not only captures the surface water, but also gave me a place to observe the drywell. The drywell basically consist of a 20 foot long, 24″ diameter perforated PVC pipe in a 36″ deep trench that is filled with gravel and a 12″ layer of topsoil. This has been my flower garden, strawberry patch and vegetable garden for the last 10 years. (Image B)
3. Think Permeability: I re-built my driveway to be more permeable. I placed gravel strips along the entire length of the driveway to capture all the surface water. It essentially created a series of “mini-check dams” that stopped the miscellaneous water from running down to the curb. Each gravel strip had a 24″ deep by 12″ wide gravel filled area to hold the water. What you see on the surface is a 4″ wide strip which most people think is simply a aesthetic design feature.
4. Add Rain Barrels: I installed rain barrels to capture, hold and re-use the rain water. We use this water to irrigation our surrounding landscape. If you go on to the City of Los Angeles DWP website you may qualify for a rebate. Check it out.
If you need help installing it, the City of Los Angeles has a great video. Rain barrels are inexpensive and easy to install. Here is a video from the DWP website: