DIGGING IN: Rain Barrels

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Thursday, May 14, 2015, 6:00 am
Paige Filice

It’s hard to imagine that your yard may be bone-dry in just a few weeks, but during the hot summer months it is likely that you will need to water it.

An easy, economical and green way to capture water now and store it for the future use is via rain barrel. Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is actually an ancient practice, dating back as far as 2,000 years ago.

The benefit of rain barrels, aside from saving money include reducing the amount of stormwater runoff, which carries pollutants from roadways and sediment to rivers and streams. Rainwater can also improve the health of your landscape, because it is naturally “soft” and devoid of minerals, chlorine and other chemicals found in city water.

It is recommended that you do not water fruits and vegetables directly with water collected via rain barrels, but to water the soil around the plants instead. Soil has the ability filter out potential pollutants that could come from the rooftop.

Rain barrels come in many shapes and sizes. The size of your roof will determine the size of the rain barrel needed. One inch of rainfall on 100 square foot roof (10 ft. x 10 ft.) yields 60 gallons of water. In Michigan, you can expect approximately 5-7 rainfall events that produce 1 inch or more of rain, per year. A simple equation for figuring out the size of rain barrel you need is: Roof Square Footage x 0.6 = Rain Barrel Size in Gallons.

It is helpful to place rain barrels on a sturdy platform a few feet off the ground. This will allow for more clearance under the spigot and will increase the water velocity if a hose is attached. Rain barrel maintenance is also important; mosquitoes are attracted to standing water and will rapidly infest uncovered rain barrels. Usually rain barrels come standard with a screen mesh that is too fine for mosquitos to lay eggs in. Other designs include a hard plastic top directly connected to the downspouts.

If you are going to construct your own rain barrel, it’s important to consider a mosquito barrier. Rain barrels can be purchased at most lawn and garden stores as well as online for $70-$300. You can also reduce your costs considerably by making your own.

Besides capturing rain via rain barrels, there are many other easy practices to limit the amount of water your landscape requires. First and foremost, go native! Plants native to Michigan’s climate generally require less and sometimes even no watering at all.

Second, water your lawn and plants during the coolest part of the day, and only when it is truly needed. An easy way to tell if your lawn needs to be watered is to step on the grass - if it springs back up when you move, it does not need water. Allowing the grass to grow taller than usual, to 3 inches or so, also promotes water retention and will require less watering in the future.

A final landscaping technique to increase water infiltration is the use of porous alternatives like stepping stones, porous pavers, or porous concrete that allow water to infiltrate into the ground as opposed to sidewalk or concrete.




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