Jul 19, 2023

Conserve water, protect your yard, save the lagoon with a rain barrel

Many people use rain barrels to conserve water and use rainwater to water their plants.

Another great reason to have rain barrels is to collect the storm water running off the roof so it can’t cause soil erosion and run off the property, carrying pollutants to the nearest water body. Homes with gutters could easily collect all the rainfall that flows off their roof, greatly reducing or eliminating storm water runoff from their property.

Both rain barrels and cisterns have been around for thousands of years, and more and more homeowners are adding them to their landscape to conserve potable water for more important things, like drinking.

Rain barrels are an easy way for homeowners to collect and use the rain that falls on their roofs. Large, 55-gallon food-grade plastic barrels are available at some local businesses or online sources. The rain barrel lid can either be cut to fit tightly around a gutter’s downspout, or the lid can be cut out.

If the lid is cut out, a section of window screening can be placed over the top and secured with a large, 48-inch bungee cord. Both methods will keep mosquitoes from breeding in the rain barrel. A ¾-inch hose spigot can be placed near the bottom of the barrel to fill a watering can or connect a hose.

Rain barrels that have a spigot should be placed on cinder blocks or another type of platform to allow for a watering can to be placed underneath and to increase the water pressure for filling a watering can or using a hose. Watering cans can be filled from open-top rain barrels by simply pushing them down into the water, so less drilling is needed for open-top rain barrels since a spigot is not required.

For the artists out there, rain barrels provide a great surface for painting plants, flowers or butterflies for a beautiful addition to the garden.

For homes with multiple roof lines, there will be locations where large amounts of water will run off during heavy rainstorms. In those areas, you may find that more than one 55-gallon rain barrel will be needed. Rain barrels can also be connected using PVC pipe to hold all the water from a large rainstorm. If multiple rain barrels are attached near the bottom, only one rain barrel will require a spigot. If the rain barrels are attached near the top, each rain barrel would need its own spigot.

In my backyard, I have a rain barrel and a large trash can, set side by side on two sides of my house. In gentle rain or heavy dew, the rain barrel, set closest to the house under the eave, collects the water. In heavy rain, the garbage can, set out from the dripline, gets filled. I also have a small, black 13-gallon trash can in a corner of the front yard to collect rain pouring from two rooftops. I push a watering can into the water to fill it up and use it to water plants in the front yard. Heavy dew can also be collected from a metal roof.

If you live in a neighborhood that has an active HOA, Senate Bill 2080 can help you in your efforts to work with your HOA board to allow rain barrels. The statute states: “A deed restriction or covenant may not prohibit or be enforced to prohibit any property owners from implementing Florida-Friendly Landscaping on his or her land or create any requirement or limitation in conflict with any provision of part II of this chapter.”

A homeowner in an HOA will still need to get prior approval from the HOA. The Florida Florida-Friendly Landscaping statute basically says that HOA boards must work with homeowners so that they can adopt FFL principles while still attractively maintaining their properties.

A rain barrel does not have to be an eye sore as it could be painted to match the home or screened by plants.

The entire statute can be found at Search for "Florida-Friendly Landscaping." There is an additional UF/IFAS bulletin titled, Questions and Answers: 2009 Florida-Friendly Landscaping Legislation, which can be found at

Houses with gutters can collect all the water from the roof by having a rain barrel at the base of each downspout. For most houses, this would mean at least four rain barrels. Not all homes have gutters around the entire roof, but you may find areas where most of the rainwater pours off the roof during a hard rain. A rain barrel could be placed there to collect the heavy flow of rainwater and to prevent soil erosion.

Rain barrels do a great job of reducing storm water runoff. Heavy rainfall is a major cause of storm water runoff. A healthy, properly maintained lawn absorbs storm water runoff, protecting Florida’s natural waters, but if the rainwater falls on impervious surfaces, that water should be collected in a rain barrel.

When storm water runoff is not absorbed, it can carry unused nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers and pesticides. Storm water runoff can also carry organic matter that is lying on sidewalks and driveways, plus oils and grease that are commonly found on driveways. Both our groundwater and water bodies, such as the Banana River, Indian River and the St. Johns River, benefit from keeping fertilizers, pesticides, organic matter and oil out of them.

If you don’t have a gutter system, take a little time this weekend to walk around your home to look for areas where you have soil erosion because of storm water runoff from your roof. Consider adding a rain barrel or two to help collect the rainfall and eliminate the runoff and soil erosion.

If you would like a brochure on constructing a rain barrel, email the UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County Master Gardeners at [email protected].

Sally Scalera is an urban horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences. Email her at [email protected].

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