Build your own or buy, rain barrels are a great way to save water for gardening, and save on water bills if you’re on city water, especially in drier climates.  They can be as simple as a garbage can, or a 50 gallon drum barrel that’s plain or painted up artistically. Or, you can splurge on some cool wine barrel rain barrels. If you’re near a winery you can probably buy some used real wood barrels, for less than online, though still will cost more than the homemade garbage can version.

What you decide depends on your budget and tastes, but either way you go, rain barrels for watering, are a smart idea. We have some rigged with a soaker hose for our upper garden and plan to install more.

Why Make a Rain Barrel?

Excerpt from Better Homes and Gardens,

Using a rain barrel can save you a significant amount of money in a season. For each inch of rain that falls on 500 square feet of roof, you can collect 300 gallons of water. In most areas of North America, that means you can collect more than a thousand gallons of water a year to use in your containers, house plants, garden, or even your lawn. That’s a lot of water!

Here’s how to make a very simple rain barrel — inexpensively — in just a couple of hours.


Step 1: Gather Your Materials

It’s probably easier than you think to make a rain barrel. Most, if not all, of these items should be readily available at your local hardware store. Here’s what we used:


1 large plastic garbage can (the larger it is, the more water you can collect)
1 tube of watertight sealant or roll of Teflon tape for plumbing
2 rubber washers
2 metal washers
1 hose clamp
1 spigot
A drill
Landscaping Fabric
Downspout diverter

Or, you can just take a shortcut and invest in a rain barrel kit.

  • Step 2: Drill a Hole
  • Step 3: Insert the Spigot
  • Step 4: Seal it up
  • Step 5: Make Entry and Exit Holes

For specific instructions on each of these steps, and more, you can find this full article on the Better Homes and Gardens website.1)

Rain Barrel Basics: Painting, Planting, Pests, and Placement

Article by Claire Jones of


ILLUSTRATION: Elayne Sears2)

Perhaps you’d like to dress up your rain barrel(s) with a paint job, or put a little planter on top with trailing vines?


Follow these easy steps in creating your masterpiece:

  • Prepare the surface-this stage is critical for the white plastic ones as the surface is slippery and smooth. Clean the barrel thoroughly with a soap solution and dry.  You have to lightly sand the surface to rough it up so that paint sticks to it.
  • Prime- it– I went to Home Depot and picked up Martha Stewart’s Living Exterior Flat Latex Paint to prime and paint it.  It took 4 coats to completely cover  it!  You might be able to get away with 3 coats but I wanted to make sure that it lasted and didn’t flake off. It is important to use a high-quality paint as it will be out in the weather.
  • Decorate– This is the fun part!  If you don’t  feel comfortable painting designs on the barrel, enlist some artist friend’s help.  Sketch out what you want to do before you start painting.  Anything goes and here is your chance to be creative! Use stencils like the grape vine barrels below if you feel intimidated about painting a design. I painted the base and had my talented daughter paint the designs.
  • Protect- I bought a few cans of polyurethane spray and coated it thoroughly with a couple of layers. 3)


For flat top barrels, adding greenery and flowers is just a matter of finding a suitable vessel in which to grow your plants. Another way is to cage around the barrel with fencing and plant vining plants to twine their way upward and around. You can see examples of rain barrels with built in planters on Amazon.


Mosquitoes and other bugs may well find their home in your barrel. Three ways to go at this:

  • Place a few tablespoons of veggie oil occasionally into the top of the barrel.
  • For a typical 50-60 gallons of water. one quarter of a Bacillus Thurgiensis “mosquito dunk” (or similar product) dropped into your container will last a few weeks worth of protection and not hurt humans, animals, or your plants.
  • Put a few fish in your barrel. A goldfish or two or a few gambusia (mosquito fish) will do. Just don’t use the oil or mosquito dunk treatment at the same time!


Placing your rain harvesting system up off the ground on rain barrel stands is the best approach. Elevating your rain catcher will provide more pressure for flowing into a hose and also give room to collect water into your sprinkling can.


harvesting rainwater,
Traditionally, harvesting rain water was common practice.

Traditionally, harvesting rain utilizing rain barrels and large rainwater cisterns, was more often the norm. In countries like India, with long periods of drought followed by monsoon season, large cisterns are everyday rooftop fixtures.

Today, it’s more common to see decorative rain barrel fountains. While these are lovely garden accents, you’ll want something more functional and practical as well.

There are many choices and varieties of pre-made as well as options for homemade rain barrels for harvesting rain water. When it comes to deciding which way to go for any project, pre-made or homemade, it’s wise to consider the cost of raw materials plus your time, versus the cost of buying one ready made. We find that things tend to take twice as long in reality as we imagined in our minds, so whatever number we first come up with, we double it. Then, consider how much your time is worth and whether it makes more sense for you to buy the ready made, or do it yourself and
One of many beautifully painted rain barrels from Pinterest for ideas.

If you love creative projects, then perhaps none of those details matter, and you just want to have fun making and creating. If that’s your thing, you will also love visiting this Pinterest page for ideas.

For more articles on rain barrels and rain gardens, you may enjoy these articles.

References   [ + ]