In the Garden: Try collecting rain water in barrels

After last week’s downpour, I was happy to find a new supply of water in my rain barrel.

Growing in popularity with the recent “green” gardening trend, rain barrels help conserve water by collecting rainwater as it drains from a home’s gutter system. Gardeners can save about 1,300 gallons of water each summer by using one, according to EPA statistics.

While it makes good sense for the environment—and the pocketbooks, es-pecially of city water users—collecting rainwater can also benefit plants. The water in many municipalities contains chemicals used to treat the water and keep it safe for drinking. Some city waters also have an especially high or low pH, which creates challenges in growing certain plants. For example, rhododendrons and azaleas do best in acidic soil. Watering with high-pH water can raise the soil pH to levels unfavorable for these acid-loving shrubs.

The simplest type of rain barrel is a water-tight container, such as a trash can placed at the bottom of a gutter system.

At the other end of the spectrum are manufactured rain barrels, ranging in price from $65 to $299 a barrel (see gardenerssupply.com, rainbrothers.com or rainbarrelguide.com). Many come with a fine mesh screen for the top to prevent mosquito egg laying, an overflow outlet to direct excess water away from a home’s foundation, and a spout to attach a watering hose. (Note, I’ve found my rain barrel doesn’t offer enough water pressure to attach a sprinkler.)

Do-it-yourselfers can make their own version using a 55-gallon, food-quality, plastic barrel. For detailed instructions, see http://www.hgtv.com/landscaping/rain-barrels.

A Master Gardener friend also reuses plastic milk jugs to collect rainwater and to hold excess water from her rain barrel. She not only saves on her Clintonville water bill but also takes joy in nour-ishing her plants with rainwater.

Teresa Woodard is a volunteer with the Madison County Master Gardeners. Questions and gardening news items are welcomed at 740-852-0809 or  madison@columbusmessenger.com.

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