Run-Off Redux: Reusing Rainwater in the Garden

Surface run-off can cause a variety of problems. Instead of nourishing your garden, the water runs away and takes your fertilizer with it. Fertilizer chemicals and lawn debris get washed into local water sources, causing pollution and eroding your landscape in the process.

Don’t worry, frustrated gardeners, there’s more than one way to deal with run-off and protect your lawn and the environment. Check out the list below to find the right solution for you and your garden.

Build a Rain Garden

Water Hose 400x267 Run Off Redux: Reusing Rainwater in the GardenRain gardens are lowered garden areas that gradually slope towards the center. The ideal place for a rain garden is a location in your yard that has a natural depression. For best results, you’ll want to choose plants that are native to the area and can withstand both wet and dry conditions.

You can also plant according to the slope, putting plants that tolerate dryness the best on the outer rim and plants that prefer wet conditions towards the center. To make sure the area you choose drains properly, you’ll want to dig a six-inch hole and fill it with water. Once the hole is filled, measure how long the water takes to empty. The hole should be drained in six hours: If a location takes more than 24 hours to drain, it won’t work for curbing run-off.

  • Your rain garden should be at least 10 feet from your house, especially if it has a basement.
  • Don’t build rain gardens within 50 feet of septic tanks.

Grade Your Yard

This solution isn’t cheap and will require professional equipment (and possibly a professional to run the equipment) for the best results. Grading your yard results in a more level lawn and reduces the rate of run-off. Your garden gets watered as it needs and none of your fertilizer runs down into local water sources. If your lawn is already fairly level and you still notice that water isn’t being absorbed, this could be due to soil compaction. There are very few solutions for soil compaction other than replacing, aerating or ‘burying’ the compacted soil.

  • If you only need to level a small area, you may be able to do the task on your own with a steel-headed rake.
  • Moist soil will grade better than dry soil.

Collect Rainwater

Garden Lawn 400x267 Run Off Redux: Reusing Rainwater in the GardenCollecting rainwater to use later for your lawn or garden is another option for handling run-off. To safely install your tank, you’ll need a compacted base with a reinforced concrete slab to keep the tank level.

  • Installing leaf filters for the pipes on your roof will keep your collected water free of debris.
  • If you plan to use the water for livestock or human consumption, you’ll need to fit your pipes and tank with special filters. If sunlight reaches inside your tank, it may begin to grow algae, making the water unsafe for use. Test your water regularly to ensure safety.
  • Always call 811 before you dig to find out about the location of any utilities in your yard. Safe digging requires planning.

Install a Dry Well

A dry well connects straight to one of the downspouts on your home to capture rainfall from the roof. Locate the downspout you’d like to use to create your dry well and prepare for this project by making sure the spout is clear of leaves and other debris. Your dry well must be located 10 feet or more from your basement, 10 feet away from any nearby buildings and 25 feet from any buildings downhill from the well. Call 811 at least two days before beginning this project to discover any utility lines that may be at your planned dig site.

  • You’ll need to modify your downspout with an elbow piece so the water flows into a swale you dig. Your swale will carry water into the dry well.

Replace Impermeable Surfaces

Impermeable surfaces are barriers that water can’t penetrate and will instead have to roll off of. Objects like roofs, hard soil and asphalt are all examples of impermeable surfaces. While getting rid of asphalt isn’t the cheapest option, it should be considered, especially if the asphalt needs to be replaced or redone anyway due to landscape erosion. If you are replacing asphalt, put in a different surface such as gravel or small pavers, as these allow water to soak into the spaces between them and slow the flow of water to reduce run-off.

Reduce Exposure

Watering Can Garden 400x267 Run Off Redux: Reusing Rainwater in the GardenIt may not be possible to stop every bit of garden run-off, but you can put a cap on the damage being done by practicing safer habits at home. Reducing the number of chemicals being used in your lawn greatly cuts down on what eventually gets washed away into water sources. Always safely store chemicals and check regularly for leaking containers or signs of chemical exposure.

  • Little drops of oil on your driveway might not seem like a big deal at the time, but run-off will wash that (along with any other harmful items) down through your yard, eventually returning to water sources and creating a pollution risk.

Handling run-off may seem like a huge task, but the payoff makes whatever effort you put in worth it. While it’s not always a cheap project the benefits of reducing run-off make it easy to see why so many people invest in rain gardens and other options. Reducing run-off results in a healthier garden and reduces the amount of land damage and erosion while protecting the planet’s water supplies.

Megan Wild is an environmentalist who is passionate about reducing our impact on the Earth. When she’s not writing for her blog, Your Wild Home, she can be found outside hiking, biking, or running.