Virginia Terry has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the Ohio State University. Her experience varies from working in a botanical garden setting, residential garden design and maintenance and floral design. Currently Virginia is developing her small urban garden in Columbus, Ohio, and offers her horticultural and floral design services to clients in the Columbus area.

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Conserving Water with Rain Barrels
by Virginia Terry       #Environment

An inexpensive blue plastic drum can be used for a rain barrel. By adding some paint, the barrel is more aesthetically pleasing and can actually add interest to your garden.

A ¾-inch hose bibb/faucet is one of the items you will need for your rain barrel. It will be inserted near the very bottom of the barrel to allow gravity to move the water from the barrel, through the hose, to your garden.

The entire plastic top of the barrel can be cut out, removed and replaced with screening. This enables the downspout to sit above and pour rainwater into the barrel without any debris entering. In my case I chose just to remove half of the top, so only half of the rain barrel is covered with screen.

The rain barrel was painted a dark red to repeat the color of the front door.

Rumex sanguineus, or bloody sorrel, was planted in front of the rain barrel to repeat the burgundy red color.

Vitis coignetiae
, or crimson glory vine, is a grapevine that is grown for its spectacular fall color and used here not only to soften but to make a showy autumn display against the burgundy red of the barrel.

Rain barrels are not a new concept. However, based on the many benefits they offer, it is surprising that they are not more commonly used. I have had my rain barrels now for three years and would highly recommend them to any gardener looking to conserve water by harnessing what nature provides.

It is amazing how quickly a 55-gallon barrel can fill up. A small 800-square-foot house like mine can provide enough rainwater to fill up two 55-gallon barrels in about 20 minutes of rainfall. Just imagine how quickly a barrel can fill on a house with a larger roof surface. This is why it is recommended to have an overflow barrel attached to the main barrel, or at least an overflow tube attached to your single barrel.

A rain barrel offers many benefits. The rainwater collected does not contain the additives found in city water like fluoride and iron which may irritate your plants. The natural rainwater you collect in your barrel is better for your plants. Utilizing a rain barrel can also lessen your water bill. Additionally, rain barrels can help to diminish stormwater runoff, which is better for our streams and rivers.

Rather than buying a rain barrel and spending $60 or more, I decided to make my own. I started by finding 55-gallon blue plastic drums that were selling on Craigslist for $5 to $10 each. Only a few other supplies were needed: a small section of window screening, a tube of silicone sealant, a 1-inch washer, a ¾-inch hose bibb/faucet (male), a ¾-inch female pipe coupling, and a 5/16-inch spade bit. It was helpful that I had a neighbor with a Sawzall® reciprocating saw to cut out the top half of the barrel’s lid and a staple gun for then attaching the screening. I already owned a power drill so all I needed was to purchase a 5/16-inch spade bit to create a hole for the hose bibb/faucet. In total, I probably spent $30 per rain barrel.

Building Your Rain Barrel


A rain barrel can be constructed with relative ease. First you want to start by installing the faucet 1 inch from the bottom of the barrel. To do this, drill a hole with the 5/16-inch spade bit. Put a small amount of silicone on one side of the washer and secure the washer around the outside of the newly drilled hole. Insert the hose bibb/faucet and then crawl inside the barrel to attach the pipe coupling to the hose bibb. Next, you want to cut a section on the top of the barrel large enough for your downspout to empty into. After cutting and removing the plastic, cover the area with screening so that no debris can enter into the barrel. You can use a staple gun to attach the screening.

Setting Up Your Rain Barrel

Once completed, place your rain barrel under a down spout. In my case, I had to shorten my down spouts by cutting them in order to fit the barrel underneath. You also may want to set your rain barrel on a couple of cinder blocks to elevate it off the ground. This will make it easier to attach a hose or fit a bucket under the spout.

I did not make my barrels with an overflow. This is something that in hind sight I should have done and a feature I still may add to my barrels. As mentioned previously, a 55-gallon barrel will fill up quickly. When you don’t have an overflow on your barrel, when it reaches capacity the water will spill over the top of the barrel, concentrating unwanted moisture right next to the foundation. An overflow tube attached near the top of the barrel will funnel excess water to a designated area in your garden, away from the house. There are many sources online for instructions on how to add an overflow.

Not only is a rain barrel functional, it can add to the aesthetic beauty of your garden. You can paint it any color to tie in an existing color from your garden or your home. It can be a lot of fun to use plants around the barrel to bring added interest to the garden.

It is my hope that if you don’t already have a rain barrel that you will be inspired to make one and incorporate it into the design of your garden. Have fun and remember there are many online sources to consult during the process.


Posted: 07/02/12   RSS | Print


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