Drought Tolerant Garden: Water Harvesting Tips

Rain water benefits the garden in many ways whether you have a drought tolerant garden or not. Learn ways to harvest rain water in your own garden.

Did you know that a 1/2 inch of rain falling on a 1,500 square foot roof can yield 500 gallons?

What if we could collect some of that water and use it for our garden?  The good news is that you can harvest some of the rain that falls on your garden.

“Water harvesting is the practice of collecting water from rainfall or diverting storm water to where it is needed”.

There are many benefits of harvesting rain water in your garden and you don’t have to live in a desert to be able to enjoy the benefits.  Harvesting rain water is practiced throughout the U.S. including by those who live in the rainy Northwest and the humid Southeast.

water channeling by contouring

Water harvesting by contouring the landscape so that storm water pools around plants.

First, let’s look at the benefits of collecting rain water:

– Rain water is free from salts, minerals and chemicals that is present in our tap water, therefore it is better for plants.

Harvesting rain water helps to decrease problems with flooding and erosion that can come with heavy rainfall.

– Using water from rain fall helps to conserve water, which is especially vital in drought prone areas.

– Rain water doesn’t cost anything!

rain barrel

Cistern / Rain Barrel

Now that we know how beneficial rain water is for our garden, let’s now look at different ways we can collect rain water:

1. Harvest the water from your roof using a rain barrel or cistern.  Let’s face it, the rain that falls on your roof is not doing anyone any favors.  It simply flows down the rain gutter runs off to the storm sewer.  By connecting your rain gutter to a rain barrel or cistern, you can collect a lot of rain water that you can store and use later to water your garden.  This method also helps to reduce the flooding that can occur in your garden.

You can buy rain barrel kits in many gardening centers or make your own, like my fellow blogger, Jill did.  You can click here to see how she did it.

2. Contour your landscape to trap rain water.  If you don’t have a rain barrel, this is a great alternative to collecting water in certain areas of your landscape.  Instead of allowing the water to run off the driveway into the street, you can direct it toward your landscape by creating shallow depressions nearby trees and plants so that they will be watered.  (The depressions should be shallow enough that water will soak into the soil within 24 hours or mosquitos can become a problem if water is left standing for longer).

This method also helps to flush out the salts in the soil left behind by our tap water that we normally irrigate with – plants do not like growing in ‘salty’ soils.  (You can see an example of this type of water harvesting in the first photo, which is commonly practiced throughout the Southwestern United States where rainfall can be scarce).  *Another benefit from this method of water harvesting is that is allows the rain to replenish groundwater supplies instead of heading toward the storm sewer.

rain garden

Rain garden in Minnesota.

3. Create a rain garden.  Are you wondering what a rain garden is?  Basically, it is a shallow depression with drought tolerant plants surrounding it.  If you have ever stepped into a puddle of water after rain has fallen, then you can understand this concept.  Rainfall collects in the depression and slowly seeps into the ground.  This allows the plants to soak up a good amount of water, enabling them to weather periods of dry weather that occur between rain storms.

Rain gardens can be beautiful areas of your landscape that don’t require supplemental water – they survive on rainfall alone because they are planted with drought tolerant plants.  There are some guidelines to follow in creating a rain garden that you can read here.

Irrigation Seep Water Harvesting

An ‘irrigation seep’

Harvesting rain water is becoming more mainstream as sustainability becomes a goal that homeowners as well as commercial entities are striving for.  In the photo above, rain water is collected from the roof of this college building and stored in large cisterns underground, which is then pumped into the ‘irrigation seep’, (pictured above), which slowly releases (seeps) water that flows down the shallow channel, watering the drought tolerant plants along it.

Collecting rain water benefits us all, whether you have a drought tolerant garden or not. Do you harvest water in your garden?  What method(s) do you use?

  1. Dianne Shaw says

    We put out pans and jars of every size, hook up a piece of gutter to the house gutter so it runs into large shallow pans. As soon as it stops raining, I sit in my chair and start scooping it up to pour through a large funnel with several layers of cheese cloth to put in glass jugs we store under table on the back porch. Then, when it gets dry I have rain water for my plants (no choline or fluoride or salts.) if I can’t my jugs right away, I cover the containers with layers of cardboard held in place with a brick to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs–they are fast! We can’t handle anything very heavy. We are going to make something more permanent for the garden, but I only use glass, safe ceramic pots, etc.–no plastic. At least, we recover some, and the plants love it!

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