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Gardens are typically blessed with spring rains that bring summer flowers — and then the hot, dry months of July and August take their toll.

Often, thoughts turn to, “How do I water without running my water bill sky high?”

A rain barrel could be part of the solution.

It’s hard to justify rain barrels for major landscapes, but they are quite practical for small vegetable and flower gardens, especially plants grown in containers. More importantly, rain barrels benefit the environment.

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“Installing a rain barrel is one of the easiest things a homeowner can do to protect water resources,” says Julia Hillegrass, team leader with, an environmental public-awareness program based in Vermont.

“Rain barrels pull double duty by providing a free source of water for outdoor uses while preventing water pollution. When you catch rainwater instead of sending it down the storm drain, it prevents pollutants like fertilizer, pet waste and roadway grime from dumping into local waterways.

“Plus, with your free source of water, you’ll be conserving water and the energy used to treat and deliver tap water to your home. It’s an all-around great addition to any home.

“Watering plants, washing your car, even giving your dog a bath — all are great ways to use the rainwater you collect.”

While you can purchase a pricey rain barrel from a retail source, you can make your own for about $50, Hillegrass says.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, Williamsburg, Va., master gardener Dennis Wool says YouTube has numerous how-to videos that show a variety of ways to make a barrel. He recommends using food-grade plastic barrels, because some barrels can contain hazardous materials that should not be recycled.

Rain barrels should be placed immediately adjacent to your home’s down spouts, according to Wool.

“Most designs work best when the barrel is raised by stacking several cinder blocks or making a stand/bench for it to sit upon,” he says.

If you use the water in the rain barrel regularly, mosquito breeding is not a problem, Wool says. Otherwise, cover your opening with window-screening material to keep mosquitoes out.

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