Harvesting Runoff For Lush Gardens


by Barbara Bourscheidt

roundup contributor

Payson has an average annual rainfall of between 17 and 20 inches. Roofs shed about .6 gallon of water per square foot per inch of rain. If your home is 1,500 square feet, in an average year, somewhere between 14,000 and 20,000 gallons of water pour off your roof and onto your property.

Many of us see rainwater runoff as a nuisance, forming puddles where we don't want them, or causing erosion where the water rushes along.

But if we take a few minutes to study where the water goes as it leaves our downspouts or pours off the flat side of our roofs, we could learn to channel that water and use it to our advantage.

Driving along the highways and into the natural areas around our communities, we can see how Mother Nature uses water runoff. Wildflowers are most abundant where water collects.

We can mimic the work of nature with some very simple adjustments to our yards and gardens. With no rain gutters, a planting area in the area of direct runoff can be very effective. The placement of gravel or heavy mulch on the drip-line will prevent erosion. Channeling runoff to specific plants that have deep wells around them to give the water time to soak in can save significant amounts of money on water bills.

If the home is fitted with gutters, then French drains, bermed planting areas and rock walls can be used to divert the water to the places it can be most effective.

When these landscaping elements are installed, a 2-percent slope is all that is needed to send the water to an area where it can be used. Existing gravel or granite drives can simply be re-graded to direct runoff.

Native trees and large shrubs are helped tremendously by building crescent-shaped holding areas on a slope. By digging a shallow well at the dry-line all around the tree, but using the soil removed from the uphill side to build a crescent shaped berm on the downhill side, the tree will be able to store and use water for several days after the rainstorm has moved on.

The problem with rainwater harvesting is that it is not spaced evenly throughout the year. We often experience gully-washers and long periods of dry weather. More complex and sophisticated systems for storing water for use between rain storms can be designed by the homeowner to fit almost any situation.

To learn more about rainwater harvesting, check out the Waterwise Landscape and Garden Festival April 28 at Julia Randall School.

Barbara Bourscheidt is a longtime resident of Payson, a member of the Rim Area Gardeners, and a participant in the Gila Country Master Gardener program. She also is a member of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona and the author of articles on the subjects of gardening techniques that are appropriate for natural conditions, the use of native plants, and how to create lush landscapes with low-water-use plants.

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