Use Rain Barrels to Capture Rainwater

Melinda Myers

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses ‘How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone’ DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by AAS for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is

Photo cutline:  Elevate your rain barrel for easier access to the spigot for filling containers and to speed water flow with the help of gravity.

Photo credit: photo courtesy

Use Rain Barrels to Capture Rainwater

by Melinda Myers
Put rainwater to use in your landscape with the help of rain barrels. This centuries old technique allows you to capture rainfall to use for watering ornamental gardens and containers.


Always start with a call to your local municipality. Some have restrictions on water harvesting, but most encourage this practice and some even offer rebates or rain barrels at a discounted rate.

Purchase a rain barrel or make your own from a large, recycled food grade container. In either case, there are some features to consider when purchasing, creating, and adding a rain barrel to your landscape.

Make sure the top is covered to keep out bugs and debris. Some come equipped with a solid lid with an opening just big enough to accommodate the downspout.  Others use a screen to keep out debris, while letting in the rain.

Don’t worry about mosquitoes breeding inside your rain barrel. Just use an organic mosquito control like Mosquito Dunks and Mosquito Bits ( in rain barrels and other water features. Mosquito Bits quickly knock down the mosquito larval population, while Mosquito Dunks provide 30 days of control. They are both safe for people, pets, fish, wildlife and beneficial insects.


Look for one with the spigot near the base of the barrel so water does not stagnate in the bottom. Use the spigot to fill watering cans or attach a hose for watering.

Include an overflow outlet near the top of the barrel to direct excess water away from the house or for connecting adjacent barrels. A downspout diverter is another way to manage rain barrel overflows.  When the rain barrels are full, this device diverts the water back to the downspout where it is carried away from your home’s foundation.

Elevate your rain barrel on cement blocks, decorative stands, or similar supports.  This provides easier access to the spigot for filling containers and speeds water flow with the help of gravity. A water pump will boost water pressure for a nice steady flow of water.

Dress up your container with a bit of paint suited for outdoor use on plastic surfaces. And don’t worry if you are not an artist, you can hide your rain barrels with some decorative screens or plantings or upright shrubs, perennials or ornamental grasses. Just make sure you have easy access to the spout for retrieving water.

Start your conversion to rain barrels one downspout at a time.  You can capture as much as 623 gallons of water from 1,000 square feet of roof in a one-inch rainfall.  This can be a lot to manage when first adjusting to this change of habit.  Disconnecting one downspout at a time allows you to successfully match the use of rain barrels and other rain harvesting techniques to your gardening style and schedule.

The choices are many, making it easy for you to conserve water and grow a beautiful landscape.


Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article. Her website is

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