With the changing climate, many of us are experiencing droughts and water shortages. The luxury of watering the yard when and as much as we please is a thing of the past. An endless supply of clean, cheap, available water is a precious commodity that is becoming less available and more expensive each year. Yet most of us waste huge amounts of water, normally purified in our municipal water systems, for watering grass, gardening and washing our cars. We do all this while plentiful rainwater flows unused into our streets where it then enters the rainwater sewer system carrying oil and pollutants into our lakes and rivers.
Rain water: in most of the United States there is more than enough rain throughout the year to provide most, if not all, of your watering needs for outdoor plants and gardens. Simply placing a rain gutter system with rain barrels or cisterns to capture the thousands of gallons of water that normally would run off of our roofs would supply most of us with plenty of water for our gardens and outdoor plants. As a bonus, this helps to cut down on the rainwater flowing into our streets, flooding the rainwater sewers and flushing lawn fertilizer, pesticides and motor oil into our treatment plants, streams, rivers and lakes. Rain water is better for your plants, prevents pollution, and helps the environment because fossil fuels are not needed to purify it--and saves you money because it literally falls from the sky! (Just do not drink unpurified rain water; it does have bacteria and needs to be treated or boiled before human consumption.)
Making a Rain Barrel: Used 55-gallon plastic food grade barrels are available for from $5 to $50 in most locations. You can also buy specialty barrels made specific to catching water.
To make your own rain barrel to capture rainwater from your downspout, simply cut a hole in the top of the barrel slightly larger than your downspout. Take a piece of metal or heavy plastic window screen and screw the corners to the top of your barrel with metal screws. Purchase a metal water spigot and some plumbers' tape or putty. Take a drill bit the size of the threaded section of the spigot, and drill a hole near the bottom of one side of the barrel. Now wrap the spigot threads with plumbers tape or putty and twist it into the hole. When finished, set your water barrel up on cinder blocks, a metal barrel, or build a stand for it. The barrel should be elevated at least high enough to place a bucket or watering can under it. I place my water barrels on metal 55-gallon drums to elevate them enough to use a gravity-fed hose to water with. Place the barrel so that the downspout will deliver water into the screened hole on top of the barrel. I have seveal water barrels like this and they work great.
Cisterns: You might also consider the installation of a cistern. These are specialized large plastic or metal water-catchment containers usually in the 500, 1000 to 5000-gallon capacity. Bigger is better, but they are expensive. (My 1000 gallon cistern has not run dry but in the 2009 drought all four of my 55 gallon rain barrels did; and the cistern got down to 100 gallons.) Cisterns may be placed above or below ground. Often they have manual or electric pumps for water retrieval; to save energy mine, is gravity feed.
Native Plants vs. Grass Lawns: If you are really concerned about water usage, waste and the environment, or you live in a drought area, you may consider planting native plants and removing most, if not all, of your short-grass lawn. Lawn grass takes large amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides to maintain a green lush appearance free of weeds, other plants and brown spots. Watering grass is wasteful, time-consuming, expensive, and results in the lawn needing mowed often which causes air pollution from the lawn mower.
If you simply must have a grass lawn, look for the most-drought resistant grass types. Learn about proper watering of lawns from your garden center. Water early in the morning or late in the evening to limit waste through evaporation; don't over-water. Turn off automatic sprinklers when you have rain and don't allow runoff. When possible, use rainwater instead of purified drinking water.
Water Conservation: Spot-water your plants; otherwise, put the water on the roots. Use soaker hoses, watering cans or drip irrigation to take care of your vegetable and flower gardens. Watering with sprinklers and soaking with a garden hose spray wastes precious water, plus you end up trying to saturate the entire garden area, encouraging weeds and fungal growth on your plants leaves. Plants need moisture on their roots, not on their leaves, flowers and fruit.
Mulching: Consider organic mulch for vegetable and flower gardens. Think six inches of good natural mulch. This will cut down on watering, retaining the moisture in the soil, preventing evaporation and keeping your plants' roots cool in the heat of summer. As a bonus, good mulching cuts down on weeds and makes gardening less of a chore