A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape. Not necessarily a pond, but a low point in the yard where water can settle. Plants are grown in the area that like their feet wet for extended periods. Sedges, rushes, grasses, lilies, standing cypress, some penstemons, and iris are examples of plants that appreciate standing in moist soil.
Installing some rain barrels around your house will be the easiest way to capture some water to save for a dry day. Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes and styles, even setting out 5-gallon buckets under downspouts will catch some rain for those precious plants you love. However, I suggest starting with at least a 50-gallon barrel of some type.
Before installing your barrels, you want to be sure you know where the water runs off your roof. Roof valleys are the best location, as are the ends of long runs where the gutter downspout is located. Keep your gutters free of leaf debris so the downspouts are not blocked and leaves or shingle particles don’t fill up the barrel. If you don’t have rain gutters, look for the most worn out spot of soil around the eaves of your house, it shouldn’t be hard to miss.
Once you have selected the best spots to place barrels, level the ground where they will go. Fill the area with pea gravel then stack some landscape bricks, cinder blocks or paving stones on the gravel to support the barrel. This will keep the barrel from sinking into the mud and possibly tipping over. In most areas where I have installed rain barrels, I raised them up so gravity can flow the water for me. Stack the bricks higher on your pad for this.
Make sure your barrel has a screen on top where the water enters to keep out debris and mosquitos. If, however, you are starting with the five gallon bucket set-up, be sure to put some mosquito dunks in the water. Mosquito dunks contain a bacteria that keep mosquito larvae from maturing, this keeps you and the neighbors happy.
Many commercial barrels come with or can be outfitted with a hose bib or faucet. This makes utilizing your fresh water easier than dipping it out with a watering can. Hook a hose up to the bib and add a valve on the other end of the hose to close it off when not in use.
All of the barrels pictured here were available in the Austin area at local nurseries. A new favorite of mine is the green 100-gallon barrel purchased at Plastic Mart in Burnett and western Travis County. http://www.plastic-mart.com
But there are numerous rainbarrel and tank resources in the Central Texas area. I encourage you to look around and have fun designing yourwater collection system, it will be such a benefit to you and your landscape or veggie garden!
If you live on a larger property or have a commercial property, consider installing a rainwater harvesting system. These systems generally collect and store 500 gallons or more and include filters and pumps. For great examples of these visit the Windsor Park Library, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, or the LCRA headquarters on Lake Austin Boulevard.
A great reference for rainwater collection is “Rainwater Harvesting” by Brad Lancaster from Tucson, Arizona. His book includes easy to understand diagrams. He also highlights innovative approaches in other cities to collecting and keeping rainwater in planted areas rather than allowing it to run off parking lots and roads. Believe it or not, there are other cities in the country much more advanced than central Texas for water conservation and use.
The city of Austin is offering rebates to water customers for installing rainwater harvesting systems (500 gallons or more)
Hays County offers rainwater collection incentives
The LCRA provides information on rainwater collecting