What are some ways to recycle water for your outdoor garden?

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Lawn & Garden

Recycling water can significantly reduce water wastage. This is especially important as landscaping irrigation accounts for about one third of all residential water usage in the United States. Each day, approximately 7 billion gallons (26.5 billion liters) of potable water are used to water lawns [source: EPA]. However, by recycling water, we can reduce the amount of water that drains into sewer systems. One cost-effective and convenient method is by collecting untreated wastewater from your home and using it to irrigate your garden.

Gray water, which is the drainage from sinks, showers, laundry, dishwasher, and other non-toilet sources, can be a great source of water for your garden. Although it may require a little more effort to capture, the benefits to both the environment and your wallet make gray water recycling worthwhile. Another water source is the drainage from your roof, and many houses are already equipped with gutters that can be retrofitted to funnel rainwater into barrels. This water can be stored until needed to water plants during droughts.

Recycling water has several benefits, including contributing to a healthy environment. This method reduces the amount of water diverted from sensitive ecosystems and into municipal water supplies, which can prevent nutrient-rich wastewater from being discharged back into these ecosystems. While nutrient-rich wastewater may seem helpful, it can actually be harmful as it encourages algae growth and chokes out aquatic life. Recycling water also saves energy by reducing the need to pump water from rivers, reservoirs, or underground sources and transport it hundreds of miles to meet the needs of arid cities. Additionally, recycled water can help lower utility bills and is usually not subject to usage restrictions during droughts.

How to Collect Rainwater

During rainfall, a significant amount of water runs off roofs and into the ground. If your home is equipped with a gutter system, this water can be easily diverted to your outdoor garden. A good estimate is that half a gallon of water per square foot of roof is produced during a one-inch shower. This means that a 1,000 square foot (92.9 square meter) roof produces around 500 gallons (1,893 liters) of water.

There are five simple steps to diverting rainwater to your garden:

How to Build a Rain Barrel

  1. Start by acquiring a large container, commonly known as a rain barrel, which can capture water from the downspouts. Food-grade plastic drums that hold 55 gallons (208 liters) of water are ideal for this purpose as they do not rust or rot and have never been used to store harsh chemicals. Choose an opaque barrel, as clear or translucent ones can promote the growth of algae. Before using the barrel, clean the inside with a mixture of 1/8 cup of bleach and 5 gallons (19 liters) of water.
  2. Install a spigot a few inches above the bottom of the barrel to prevent debris from clogging the flow. Drill a 15/16-inch (2.4-centimeter) hole and thread it with a 3/4-inch (1.9-centimeter) spigot similar to the ones found on the exterior wall of a house.
  3. Create a sturdy platform for the rain barrel, as it can weigh almost 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms) when filled with 55 gallons (208 liters) of water. Concrete blocks make an excellent foundation for the platform, which will also provide clearance for filling watering cans and increase water pressure for hose usage.
  4. Connect the downspout to the rain barrel by cutting it a foot or two above the drum’s top and attaching a flexible plastic pipe known as a downspout extender. Ensure that the bottom end of the pipe fits snugly into the barrel to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water.
  5. Drill a small hole near the top of the barrel to drain excess water and avoid overflowing. Cover the hole with a screen to keep mosquitoes out and connect it to a hose to divert the excess water to your garden or another rain barrel.

Reusing Gray Water

Some buildings have systems in place to collect and use rainwater on a large scale, such as the Heifer International Headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. Rainwater is diverted into a 25,000-gallon (94,600-liter) tank and used to run the building’s heating system and flush toilets. Gray water, on the other hand, refers to the water used for tasks like washing dishes, bathing, and doing laundry. While it is not suitable for consumption, it is cleaner and safer than black water and can be used for irrigation in the garden.

One way to collect gray water is from sinks and showers, but the most convenient source is from your washing machine. By installing a three-way valve on the end of the washing machine’s drainage pipe, you can divert the water into your garden instead of sending it down the sewer. You can collect the gray water in a container with a hose or route it directly into an irrigation system. However, since laundry water is not completely sterile or free of contaminants, it’s important to take precautions when using it to irrigate your garden. Use it only on flat areas where it can quickly soak into the ground and avoid using bleach, liquid fabric softeners, and soaps with sodium or borax. Also, spread the laundry water over a large area and alternate with fresh water irrigation to reduce the negative effects of impurities. It’s worth noting that some states have laws regulating gray water reuse, so it’s important to review these policies before starting a recycling system. If you plan to use gray water to irrigate your vegetable garden, use drip hoses at ground level to avoid splashing onto the edible parts of the plant. It’s best to avoid using gray water on root crops, especially if they’re meant to be eaten raw. Ultimately, recycling water is a simple solution that can save a lot of water and help conserve the environment.

This article provides a list of related articles, great links, and sources that readers can use to learn about green technologies and conservation methods. The related articles include a variety of topics such as green architecture, surviving the apocalypse, teaching kids about water conservation, and green technologies for the home. The great links section includes resources like Greywater Action and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) green infrastructure and “soak up the rain” programs. The sources section provides readers with links to articles from the EPA and other organizations that discuss rain barrels, water recycling and reuse, and other environmental benefits of green infrastructure.


1. What is water recycling and how does it work for outdoor gardens?

Water recycling is the process of reusing water that has already been used for a different purpose. In the case of outdoor gardens, it involves using wastewater from the home or rainwater to irrigate plants and trees. The water is collected, treated, and then distributed through a system of pipes or hoses to the garden.

2. What are the benefits of recycling water for outdoor gardens?

Recycling water for outdoor gardens is beneficial for several reasons. It helps conserve water, reduces the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated, and can save money on water bills. Additionally, recycled water is often rich in nutrients that can help plants grow better and healthier.

3. How can you collect rainwater for your garden?

There are several ways to collect rainwater for your garden. One option is to install a rain barrel to collect water from your roof. Another option is to create a rain garden, which involves planting a garden in a low-lying area that collects rainwater. You can also use permeable paving stones or gravel to allow rainwater to filter into the ground and be absorbed by plants.

4. What types of plants are best suited for recycled water?

Most plants can be irrigated with recycled water, but some are better suited to it than others. Plants that are native to your area and are adapted to local rainfall patterns are usually the best choice. Additionally, plants that are drought-tolerant or have low water requirements are good options.

5. How can you treat wastewater for use in your garden?

Wastewater can be treated for use in your garden through a variety of methods. One common method is to use a natural filtration system, such as a wetland or bioswale. Another option is to use a mechanical filtration system, such as a sand or gravel filter, to remove impurities. Chemical treatments, such as chlorine or ozone, can also be used to disinfect the water.

6. What types of systems can be used to distribute recycled water in a garden?

There are several types of systems that can be used to distribute recycled water in a garden. Drip irrigation systems are a popular choice, as they deliver water directly to the roots of plants and minimize water loss due to evaporation. Sprinkler systems can also be used, but they tend to be less efficient and can waste water.

7. How can you ensure the safety of recycled water for your garden?

Recycled water can be safe for use in a garden, but it’s important to take precautions to ensure its safety. The water should be treated to remove impurities and disinfected to kill any harmful bacteria or viruses. Additionally, it’s important to avoid using recycled water on edible plants, such as fruits and vegetables, unless it has been tested and deemed safe for consumption.

8. Are there any laws or regulations regarding the use of recycled water in gardens?

There may be laws or regulations regarding the use of recycled water in gardens, depending on where you live. Some areas may require permits or have restrictions on the use of recycled water. It’s important to check with your local government or water utility to ensure that you’re following any applicable laws or regulations.

9. What are some other ways to conserve water in an outdoor garden?

There are several other ways to conserve water in an outdoor garden. Mulching can help retain moisture in the soil, reducing the need for watering. Choosing drought-tolerant plants and grouping plants with similar water needs together can also help reduce water usage. Additionally, using a rain sensor on your irrigation system can help prevent overwatering during rainy periods.

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