Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2010
Regional Report

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A rainwater harvesting system can be as simple as these rain barrels attached to a downspout.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is enjoying a resurgence in interest. This is not surprising in the arid parts of the south but there is considerable interest in rainwater capture in southeastern areas of the country where rainfall is normally more plentiful.

There are many ways to capture rainwater and many reasons why a gardener would want to take advantage of the rain that falls on their home and landscapes. First all rainwater is the best water on earth for our plants. Have you ever noticed the difference between the way plants respond to the "store bought" water you spray out of the garden hose and the way they respond after it rains?

While rain is often plentiful in the southeast, in the hot summer season it often is not. Some plants such as azaleas and blueberries that your southwestern gardening neighbors wish they could grow will thrive on high quality rainwater saved from spring and early summer rains.

Rainwater is also free. When it falls, you either get to use it or watch it run off the property to the nearest gutter or stream. It makes sense to capture what would be otherwise be lost for another watering later on.

Most people think of cisterns, gutters and tanks when they hear the words rainwater harvesting. But in fact the simplest way to capture rainfall is in our landscape design. Steep slopes result in little rainfall soaking in before it runs off. Create a stepped slope or berms to hold water back and allow it time to soak into the soil. Think of your soil as a moisture bank account for dry times to come!

It makes sense to capture rainwater for our landscapes. Rainwater collection isn't just for plants. Some gardeners have included simple systems designed to attract and supply wildlife with a refreshing drink of water. You can even design a system to provide water for use inside your home!

Traditional rainwater capture systems utilize gutters and storage tanks to capture and store rainwater for future use. Consider the fact that with each inch of rain that falls on 1,000 square feet of your home, garage or other outbuilding over 600 gallons of water can be harvested!

Think of how many square feet of buildings you have on your property and how many thousands of gallons an inch or two of rain can provide. The initial cost of a system can vary from under $50 for a simple rain barrel with a spigot for filling your watering can to, well, you name it. I have seen homes designed with elaborate underground storage tanks that held tens of thousands of gallons which were essentially off of the public water system.

Tanks for water storage come in many types including wood, fiberglass, plastic polypropylene, metal, and concrete. Do some investigating before your purchase a tank or design a system for your home. There are ways to cut costs but there are also many factors that should be considered before you launch out with a home system.

In many areas there are companies that will design and install home rainwater collection systems. For those of you with a do-it-yourself bent, it is not difficult to find great information on how to build your own.

So whether you are into water saving and environmental concerns or simply want better gardens, there is a rainfall harvesting technique that may be just right for you. With the hot dry summer a vivid reminder and the cool rainy season soon to come this may be the time to consider installing some form of rainwater capture.

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