Anyone can practice rainwater harvesting — you don’t have to be an expert, and natural-looking landscapes take less time and energy than more elaborate ones.
To start, try digging a small indentation in the earth and adding just a few desert plants to soak up rainwater.
“Have an idea of where you want to go, but start small and simple,” Sleeper said.
Watch out for overflow
“No matter what you’re doing, imagine it filling up, and where does that water go?” said Sleeper, cautioning people to plan ahead so water doesn’t flow out of small basins into the rest of the yard. “The key is to direct and control that overflow.”
Plant roots prevent erosion and soak up water as it sinks into the earth.
By reshaping the land or adding a hardscape structure — a wall or pathway — you can re-route water toward other plants or away to a street or a storm drain.
Use plenty of natural ground cover
Plants and organic mulch can help absorb water into the soil, while a layer of rocks in some places can provide a place for water to gather and help prevent erosion.
Mulch and fallen plant parts will break down over time, attracting worms and bugs that burrow holes in the ground and add nutrients to the soil.
“The more life you have in your soil, the more pockets you have, the more groundcover you have, the more water can be absorbed at the top,” Sleeper said. “Any kind of life can create more holes, create more places for water to go.”
Let your yard reflect your lifestyle
Your yard isn’t just about looks – it’s a way of life.
A tree can provide shade, privacy or food. It can attract wildlife such as hummingbirds or cactus wrens. Good-looking plants can also increase your property value.
Sleeper said to consider how you use your yard — whether children play there, pets explore it or you cultivate a garden.
Remember to check back
Landscapes change constantly. Rain and wind can wash away soil and vegetation, transforming hills and basins.
With care and regular maintenance, you can use rainwater harvesting techniques to create vibrant landscapes and attract a variety of wildlife.
“We can take advantage of our natural rainstorms, improve water quality, reduce the amount of water running down our streets so quickly, while also improving our neighborhood and the experience of living in our home,” Sleeper said.
Sources: Tina Sleeper of the Phoenix Water Services Department; Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster; Phoenix Water Services Department; and the Water Use It Wisely campaign.