Save on utility costs and labor when maintaining your landscape this summer. Rain barrels and other alternative methods to watering and upkeep will make this season easier on your wallet. You also get the environmental advantage of conserving water using these tips from the HBA.
“A good option for cheaper watering is low-flow irrigation,” explains Jacqueline Sarach of Rivertown Landscaping. “It’s effective, conserves water, and even prevents some diseases on plants that are due to overhead watering.” Also known as micro-irrigation, drip and low-flow watering systems use much less water than conventional methods. They regulate the amount of water supplied, taking the guesswork out of watering rates, and they distribute water close to individual plants, so water goes only where it’s needed, soaking slowly into the root zone, and isn’t wasted on walkways and weeds or lost to evaporation and wind.
Some specific low maintenance plants require less water because they are more suited to the climate they are planted in. This is another smart way to add lush landscaping while boasting less work and costs less because of their natural adaption to the Michigan climate. You can determine which plants you should plant in your area by referencing the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Look for plants and flowers that will thrive in your area. West Michigan is in Zone 6 with a few areas in 5. Flowers like daffodils, peonies, lilacs, and chrysanthemum will bloom in Zone 6 during the spring and summer.
An option growing in popularity is rain barrels. You can save up to 1800 gallons of water per summer season in Grand Rapids. Depending on the type of rain barrel you purchase, you can make up the costs of setting up with the water bill savings from the system. Each year after, you can save approximately $23-$32 dollars every summer. While this number may seem insignificant, when properly taken care of rain barrels can last a lifetime. In just 10 years, with one barrel, you could save $300 on water costs alone. When deciding to install a rain barrel, the most common way to collect rainwater is from the home’s roof, which is usually directed via gutters and downspouts into a rain barrel or a cistern for later use. For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can collect up to 600 gallons of rainwater! “Rainwater is naturally good for plants,” says Sarach. “It doesn’t contain the minerals, chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals that municipal water does.” This means it can be used directly from the rain barrel or cistern without special filtering.
“I love having a rain barrel,” says HBA Communications Director Tanya Gonzalez. “We have it rigged up to water our vegetable garden through a soaker hose so my plants get the water they need and I don’t have to worry about it. We let Mother Nature take care of it for us.” Rain barrel water can be safely used to irrigate a vegetable/herb garden. Pathogen treatment should be conducted and best practices utilized when applying the water. If a rain barrel is the right choice for your lawn and garden, consider the following to ensure a safe rainwater collection system.
- Check with the local government about possible environmental contamination. If the home is in an area that produces heavy industrial pollution, the rainwater may be contaminated.
- Locate rain barrels on level, stable ground. At maximum capacity, rain barrels will weigh quite a bit and will tip more easily on uneven ground.
- Cover barrel openings. A tight-fitting lid will keep children and small animals from drowning. It also will stop algae from growing, minimize accumulation of leaves and other contaminants and prevent the barrels from becoming mosquito-breeding grounds.
- An alternative to screens or plastic covers are integrated planters that not only improve the look of the rain barrel, but also filter the water as well as keeping other organisms out.
- Use an overflow device. Make sure the collection system has an overflow device to direct excess water away from the home’s foundation when the rain barrels or cistern reach capacity. An overflow device can consist of something as simple as allowing excess water to continue through the downspouts into the municipal storm sewer.
- Monitor water collection. Check rain barrels regularly to make sure intakes and overflows aren’t blocked with leaves or other debris that could limit collection or delivery.
- Select the roofing materials carefully. Stainless steel and galvanized steel with a baked-on enamel, lead-free finish are the best because they’re smooth and not treated with chemicals that will leach into the water.
- Avoid organic roofing materials such as wood shakes, clay tiles and concrete materials, because they’ll support algae and mold growth, and wood shakes treated with preservatives can contaminate the water. Other poor choices include asphalt shingles, rolled roofing and porous or rough materials, because they’ll hold more particulates such as bird droppings, heavy metals, and will absorb more rainwater, reducing the collection efficiency.
- In addition to roofing materials, consider the materials used for the gutters, downspouts and piping. Avoid using lead-based solder in all metal-to-metal connections. Opt for piping made of roll or channel-formed copper, aluminum, stainless steel, galvanized steel or PVC to limit water contamination.
- Algal growth occurs when water is stagnant and/or when sunlight penetrates the barrel. One of the best ways to prevent this is to empty your barrel every 3-4 days. Keeping your barrel out of direct sunlight will also decrease the chances of algal establishment.
- To prepare for the winter months, drain the barrel of as much water as possible so it doesn’t freeze and expand, and be sure to leave the spigot open. Cover all openings to keep as much moisture inside as possible to prevent the barrel from drying out due to the dry winter air.
Whether you decide to go with a rain barrel or an alternative low-maintenance landscaping method, you can DIY or go with one of our pros to ensure the best set up and appearance for the summer. Our landscaping experts at the HBA have the experience and talent to transform your yard into something spectacular. In addition, many businesses in Grand Rapids also have workshops you can attend to learn how to best install and maintain a rain barrel. Keeping a nice-looking lawn and garden doesn’t have to be an expensive hassle. Once you have a good setup, you can let Mother Nature do her work keeping your plants looking lush and your vegetables delicious.