Splish-splash those roots are takin’ a bath!

There’s nothing easier or healthier for your yard than to let rain water it naturally.

After a shower, temporary puddles let water soak into your plant root zones. Then, water moves deeper into the water table. That ground water not only helps plants withstand intense summer droughts, but also provides a better quality supply for wells and even local streams.

To be effective, sustainable yards delay and capture as much rainwater as possible. Rain barrels, cisterns and rain gardens are designed to do that, but there’s an even easier way to control the water.

It is simply through grading that the magic happens.

Use these green irrigation strategies to retrofit and tweak existing or new yards.

There is no resource more valuable than water. Yet, every day we undervalue and waste it in so many ways. Have you ever watched where rainwater goes when it falls in your yard?

Leverage rainwater for your highest returns
Bottom line: If water leaves by pipe, pavement, or crosses the yard perimeter, it is costing you money and opportunity.

If that rain is lost, when your lawn and garden calls for moisture, you are forced to use drinking water from the hose or sprinkler system. That process can directly increase your monthly costs for water and power for pumps.

Besides, plants and chlorine-treated water don’t get along very well. Plants love to grow in soil rich with microorganisms and bacteria. Drinking water is treated to kill bacteria and as a result, can hinder healthy plant growth. Rainwater is simply the best nutrient-rich irrigation source for your yard.

Create areas where rainwater can soak into the soil
Limited lawn areas have their uses for play spaces and other walked-upon areas. While lawns may look flat, successful grass areas actually are not. Completely flat lawns can drown your grass, encourage weeds and ground moss.

Typically, I like a domed grading approach. It splits extra rainwater among multiple planting beds. Start at a higher center ridge in the middle then grade ever-so-slightly down toward the edges.

Here’s an example just after a rain. Within 24 hours, expect the puddles to be gone; otherwise, soil compaction may be an issue.

Yard grass tends not to absorb water as much, or as quickly as meadows, planting beds and naturalized wooded areas. That’s why eco-friendly yards have more low-maintenance beds than lawn grass.

Look around and target yard areas where rainwater can easily puddle and soak in.

Swales can guide water effectively
Another way to control rainwater is by using swales. Imagine you are Tiger Woods putting a golf ball from a high spot to your destination low spot. Where is the most natural route for it to take? Mark it with powdered lime or flour.

Now grade a continuous shallow depression along that route.  It doesn’t take much of an angle and warp to encourage water to flow the way you want it to go. Go too deep on the sides and it will be difficult to mow.

A useful tool when retrofitting existing lawns is a sod cutter.  This machine cuts your grass (roots and all) so you can easily roll it up, re-grade, and replace it in one day.

Quit fighting your hills and slopes
While a common mistake, planting grass on hills and slopes is not the best solution. The grass never seems to thrive and mowing it can be quite dangerous.

During storms, water washes down picking up speed and often causes erosion. Consider converting the area over to naturalized planting beds. Extend the zone from the top just above the slope ridge, down the bank and past the toe (or bottom).

Over time falling leaves improve the soil in that area by adding humus. Like a soil sponge, humus is the most absorbent ground layer. Water soaks in and less runs off. This is also the best way to protect your soils from compaction. A once high maintenance area begins to irrigate itself effectively and with little effort on your part.

To naturalize any yard area: simply stop mowing or raking it. Soon various shrubs and trees will appear compliments of your neighborhood.  It is a ‘lazy-man’ approach and very cost effective.

As you phase over to more native plants, your overall water requirements drop too. The neighbors tend not to complain because your yard still has an overall manicured and mowed look.

Some Pavements are better than others
For safety, driveways and walks should be tilted to drain off sideways into the lawn or planting bed. This grading is subtle and still the surface can look flat.

Try hard not to let driveway grades dump water out into the street. You squander a harvesting opportunity and can even contribute to storm system flash floods!

Be aware that rain can wash dripping vehicle oil and fluids into your lawn. These chemicals can even harm your pets. Remove any residue as soon as possible with a degreaser before it damages both your driveway and plants. (Until then, put cardboard under the car to soak up leaking oil.)

Your house is a source of rain water
Considerable rain washes off your roof. Gutter and downspouts help, but fast moving concentrated water around your foundation needs to be watched. Check that water drains away from your house foundation.  If it collects there, it can cause chaos under your house.

At your downspouts, splash blocks are useful low-maintenance items. Where does that valuable water go from there?  Consider adjusting the grades around downspouts so rain ultimately waters your adjacent planting beds.

For big storms, grade the planting area to let any extra water wash over the lawn to another planting bed.

Carefree yard irrigation is just one of many other Build That Green infrastructure strategies you can use at home. Here’s an easy way to get more landscaping perks-that-pay.

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