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Fall and winter is a wonderful time to improve a landscape and garden.

There are many projects to consider; a new vegetable garden, a creative garden gate, some masonry work, building a compost bin or an entire re-landscaping.

Ron Vanderhoff

Why not go green by harvesting rainwater? Rainwater has many benefits over municipal water, especially when used in a garden. Most importantly, rainwater is chemical and salt- free. Plants respond much better to rainwater than they do irrigation water. In fact, by comparison, the results are often dramatic. Other benefits of rainwater collection include cost-savings and a reduction of storm water runoff, which carries pollutants into our coastal waters, damages property and degrades water quality.

Rainwater can be harvested and stored off your roof as is, by using your existing roof gutters and down spouts. The water can be collected in specially made containers called rain barrels. A series of rain barrels can even be connected together. However, when using standard 40 to 50 gallon rain barrels, you’ll soon discover how easy it is to collect the water, and you’ll probably want more capacity.

Fortunately, there are now well constructed water collection tanks that can store hundreds, even thousands of gallons of rainwater.

Although still unfamiliar to many local gardeners, these well crafted and attractive water harvesting tanks are readily available. The best models are sturdy, well built and offer attractive styling. Many can even sit flat against the wall of the house or garage and come in pleasing colors.

Bushman Tank

Water that is harvested from a rooftop and stored offers a very sensible alternative to government imposed and mandated water rationing ordinances. As these water restrictions become increasingly stringent and new ordinances are added, determined gardeners are turning to the free supply of water falling on their rooftops as a solution. Now, before the onset of winter rains, is the time to get started.  

The math is pretty simple. One half inch of rain on a 1,500 square foot roof will yield about 500 gallons of water – water for your garden. A rainwater tank located adjacent to a downspout makes this a pretty easy set-up. In fact, most homeowners can do the installation themselves, but contractors are also available for those who want a little help. I’ve been capturing roof rainwater at my own home for two years now and did the installation myself.

No algae, no mosquitoes and no evaporation. When it comes time to use the water, just hook up your garden hose to the spout near the bottom of the tank and start watering.

Rainwater harvesting is so effective at conserving water that many communities across the country are now offering rebates and incentives for their purchase and installation. Unfortunately, Orange County municipalities have not yet begun offering incentives for rainwater collection.  

If the current drought continues, or worsens, those gardeners that have planned ahead and collected their winter rainwater will have a distinct advantage; but the time to act is soon.

To learn more about rainwater harvesting ask for advice or a demonstration at your local independent nursery or garden center.  

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar. 

Questions from Readers December 5th.

Question: My Purple Fountain Grass is enormous and needs to be cut back. When should I do this?

Ramiro
Newport Beach

Answer: Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is very popular in local landscapes. A native of northern and subtropical portions of Africa, this is a warm season grass, meaning that it does most of its growing during the warm half of the year and rests during the cool months. Therefore, don’t cut back fountain grass now or it will be slow to recover and look shabby for months. Instead, wait until mid to late spring next year. Then, cut the entire clump to about six or eight inches high and within a few weeks it will look fabulous again, with all fresh foliage. This would also be a good time to divide any overgrown clumps.


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