Protect your yard from summer rains in the Southwest

Protect your yard from summer rains in the Southwest

by Jacqueline A. Soule

The heavy summer thundershowers that sweep into our area are called "male rains" by many Southwestern tribes. Fierce, loud and aggressive, these rains - our monsoon season - have helped carve our land. And no doubt about it, they can be real gully washers.

Luckily, with a little planning, you can keep gully washers from ruining your landscape.

A steep side yard with erosion issues was paved and planted — the runoff water is guided to plants. A sloping yard of turfgrass did eliminate runoff, but created additional maintenance issues. A series of seating areas and low-water evergreen plantings provide a userfriendly space year-round.

Photo courtesy of Outside Dreams

Depending where you live in the Southwest, there are many options to resolve the gully washing issue. In Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, homeowners can actively harvest rainwater in specially designed containment tanks, avoiding runoff completely. This stored water can later be used to irrigate the landscape. Colorado homeowners generally don’t have this option.

Gully washing can also be prevented with passive rainwater harvesting. Careful grading of slopes, adding plants, rocks or other hardscapes and occasional terracing can help slow the flow of fast water and erosion. Grading can direct the rain that falls on your home and hardscape to the yard, where it can be captured by ground covers, lawns, flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees. Berms, channels and wells around plants also can all help this process.

Contact a landscape design professional so that capturing rainwater doesn’t create more problems than it solves. They can create a passive rainwater harvest system that looks good and enhances your home’s value.

Colorado has unique water laws, but there are many water-smart solutions to runoff issues, says Amy Kruse, co-owner of highly rated Outside Dreams Landscape Design and Construction in Littleton, Colo. “First of all, the landscape should be graded so that the water runs off slowly, allowing the plants and soil to absorb as much as possible,” she says. “Care is needed with grading to avoid creating standing puddles that can cause problems for plants.”

Redirecting gutter downspouts to landscape areas you wish to water is another option. This, combined with appropriate grading, allows the soil to absorb the water that falls on your land, and is considered passive rainwater harvesting.

In Texas, many homes have expansive lawns and turfgrass as one type of ground cover that can control erosion issues while providing a useful area for homeowners and their pets to play.

But what about shady yards where grass won’t grow? Rhonda James, owner of highly rated James Landscaping Inc., in Grapevine, Texas, recommends dry creek beds. Created with a blend of smooth river rock and decorative boulders, a well-done dry creek bed captures the floodwaters and carefully directs them to an area where they will not cause problems.

No matter where you live in the Southwest, with a well-designed landscape you can use rainwater to help save your plants and save money on your water bill.

Jacqueline A. Soule has been gardening in the Southwest since an early age, and writing about gardening for almost three decades, with weekly and monthly columns in a number of Southwestern publications. She has degrees in plant sciences, ecology & environmental biology and botany, obtaining her Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She currently resides and gardens in Tucson, Ariz.

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Photo courtesy of Jacqueline A. Soule – By adding earthen berms, rain runoff is slowed and encouraged to sink into the soil around plants that need water rather than running off into the street.
Photo courtesy of Jacqueline A. Soule – By adding earthen berms, rain runoff is slowed and encouraged to sink into the soil around plants that need water rather than running off into the street.

Planting flowers and trees based on drainage patterns aids recycling effort. Barrels, berms help capture rain.

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