Don’t let the thousands of gallons of rainwater that collect on your roof go to waste. With a rain barrel (or two) attached to your gutter system, you can capture the liquid and channel it to your veggie and herb patch, use it to water your pretty flower containers or even soak down your decorative shrubs. You won’t have to tie up your outdoor spout with clunky sprinkler contraptions. Plus, you’ll never have to wrangle a muddy hose in your work clothes or accidentally soak yourself with the sprayer again.

Getting a rain barrel

You can purchase a rain barrel at your local gardening center, but check with your water utility company first. Many municipalities offer them at a discount through an annual distribution program. You can also order a rain barrel online.

How to install a rain barrel

First, choose which downspout is closest to the plants you’d like to routinely water. Detach the elbow at the bottom of your downspout. Your rain barrel will be heavy when full of water, so it will need to sit on stable ground. You can use pavers or blocks to level and stabilize it. Rain barrels operate via gravity, so preferably the plants or garden you plan to hydrate are located downhill from your rain barrel. If not, you will need to elevate your rain barrel to the desired height using pavers. Alternatively, you can buy a water pump.

Once you’ve determined the height of your rain barrel, cut your downspout (above the barrel) using a hacksaw. You will re-attach the elbow after cutting, so make sure you leave enough room above the rain barrel for it. To attach the elbow, crimp the edges of the downspout slightly and slide the elbow over it. The goal is for the bottom of the elbow to hang about two inches above the rain barrel. Save all of your gutter hardware for winterizing.

Using soaker hoses

Most rain barrels have a ball valve that you can hook up to an extender hose. You can route an extender hose to your garden or your decorative landscaping and attach that to a network of soaker hoses. If using soaker hoses, weave those through your plants as close to the root balls as you can. When it’s time for a watering during dry spells, all you have to do is head outside and flip the valve on the rain barrel.

Filling a watering can

You can also use your rain barrel to fill your watering jug. Most rain barrels come with a short hose (four feet or less) to attach to the ball valve. Just use that to fill your watering canister. If you’re using a soaker system, add a splitter with your soaker system on one side and the short hose on the other for filling the jug. It’s as easy as flipping a switch.