In the Garden:
Can you spot an eyebrow terrace that slows the flow of rainwater?
Rainwater Harvesting that Blends into the Landscape
Finally, Mother Nature favored us with a winter rain! Unlike summer's raucous thunderstorms, which dump a deluge in an instant before moving noisily on, winter rains are sedate; rain falls steadily, often softly, for long periods of time. It's worth trying to direct or collect rainwater. Not only does it reduce the amount of precious drinking water applied to landscapes, rainwater is healthy for your plants. It is less salty than normal water sources and can help flush salts in the soil past a plant's root zone. (Salt burn appears fairly regularly on landscape plants that are not watered effectively and deeply). Rainwater also contains such plant nutrients as sulfur and potash.
I recently visited a Prescott, Arizona, landscape with a fairly steep slope behind the house that had been terraced to reduce runoff and erosion. The homeowners, Nichole Trushell and Steve Morgan, created simple "eyebrow" terraces on the downhill side of plants to slow the flow of water, allowing it time to soak into the soil. The eyebrows were so unobtrusive that I didn't notice them until Steve, a landscape architect who includes wildlife habitat and rainwater harvesting in his designs, pointed them out to me.
Basically, these mini water wells (4 to 6 inches high) are the shape of an upside down eyebrow (or semicircle). The open end faces up the slope, allowing the flow of water to enter. The size of the eyebrow can be adjusted as needed: the wider the spread of the eyebrow's flared sides, the greater the water collection. Mulch spread on top disguises the look of the water well and also enhances water penetration into the soil.
Even if you decide it's not feasible to create water-harvesting methods in your landscape, it's worth collecting a few buckets as a healthy treat for your houseplants. You might also consider setting houseplants outdoors during a winter rain, in a protected spot where they won't get a downpour from the eaves. Gently wipe the rain off the leaves with a soft cloth to remove dust and return a shine to the foliage.
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