With the heat of the Summer right around the corner, I have some tips on how to make the most of the rain Mother Nature bestows on our gardens. There are many simple things that many of us can do to improve our ability to “tap” into this free resource. I have been working on installing many of these in my own garden over the years, and will say that they have made a huge difference in the health of plants and trees.
The picture to the right shows a border that I planted right next to the street where my yard is graded downhill away from my house. By installing this garden on the perimeter of the property it absorbs the rainwater keeping it in the yard, and preventing it from spilling out to the road, or going down the storm drains. With all the pollution that gets into the streams and rivers from residential yards, this tip alone can be one of the most beneficial things we can all do.
Groundcovers of all types are a wonderful way to filter the rainwater and slow it down. Especially on hillsides this is important. Not only will it hold the soil in place, but they will absorb the nutrients from the fertilizers so they will not become a problem elsewhere. The runoff of nitrogen from fertilizers has caused damage in most of this nation’s streams, rivers and tributaries. It is also very important to regularly sweep out curbing to make sure that any sediment which collects doesn’t make it’s way into the stormdrains. The other terrific benefit of groundcover is that they shelter the soil from the sun, so the roots of all surrounding plants have more time to drink in the rain, again- less run-off. With so many groundcovers to choose from there is one for every need- flowering, evergreen, shade/sun tolerant, wet/dry conditions- there is one for you! I must have at least a dozen varieties in my garden, they are a true workhorse. Here are some pictures of some of my favorites.
O.K., enough about groundcovers. Another way to slow down and divert rain is with rocks of all types. Whether it’s gravel, boulders or cobblestones, they are all terrific to manage water. I have replaced my downspout splashguards with cobblestones which diverts the rain over a larger area. At the last house I lived in, I dug pits in all four corners of the yard and filled them in with large gravel to create drywells. These drywells were then covered with mulch so that they were not visible. When it would rain, the excess would naturally seep into them and slowly absorb into the earth. We had no storm drains there so this was a great solution. There are fantastic rain gardens created in a similar way with water loving plants installed around the border. Drywells and rain gardens can be configured into what ever size you need to contain the excess water you receive in your yard. Larger boulders can also be used to slow water on steep hillsides, and retaining the soil to keep the ground stable. Here is an example from my yard right after a storm showing how well these cobblestones hold the soil on the hill under my deck. These are just set in sand and compressed. Of course for smaller needs there are also rainbarrels and rain bladders. Their extra bonus is that they store the water for future use.
One last tip for holding the water in place where it will do the most good is simply keeping the soil loose by incorporating lots of compost and then topdressing it with mulch. In my own experience even in a flat yard, this can collect more than an inch of rain- all on it’s own- in a single storm!
Now if we could just add a few more hours to each day to get it all done! I wasn’t kidding when I said these steps took me a few years to complete, but I have to say it was worth all the effort! Hope you all have a fantastic Summer out in the garden. Enjoy!