Even a durable plastic rain barrel has some maintenance requirements to keep it working in tip-top shape. Winter maintenance and summer maintenance differ slightly, but both are necessary to enjoy years of rainwater harvesting with your rain barrel.
Keeping Mosquitoes out of the Rain Barrel
A large barrel of rainwater sitting for more than a day or two can end up creating a major mosquito problem. It takes two weeks from a mosquito egg to an adult. An adult mosquito lives for about two weeks, and can lay thousands of eggs during her lifetime. Because of the relatively short incubation period, the best way to keep mosquitoes from breeding in your rain barrel is to make sure that it is fully drained regularly. No water = no adult mosquitoes, because their first three life stages take place in the water.
Other mosquito control methods include covering any openings with a screen, using barley balls, and mosquito rings inside of the barrel.
Cleaning the Rain Barrel
At least once a year, you’ll want to clean out the rain barrel with a scrub brush and cleaner. Vinegar works well for this purpose, because it doesn’t have the environmental impact that soap does. Biodegradable soap is another option. Be sure to rinse thoroughly. Cleaning the rain barrel ensures that all of its parts function properly and are not clogged with algae and soil.
Caring for the Rain Barrel for Winter
Brass and plastic fittings in the rain barrel can crack if water is allowed to freeze and expand inside of them. If the temperature is supposed to drop below freezing and stay there for several days at a time, drain the rain barrel completely and leave the spigot open.
Keep Debris out of the Rain Barrel
Another way to keep the entire rain barrel in working order is to make sure that leaves, twigs and other debris does not make its way into the barrel. Keep gutters clean and install gutter and downspout screens. Also, keep the screen on top of the rain barrel clear to ensure that water flows directly into the barrel, and does not splash out in the garden, patio, or other nearby landscape feature.
Check the Downspout Diverter
Though maintaining the downspout diverter is not directly rain barrel maintenance, keeping the diverter clear of debris buildup and working properly can save you problems with your gutters and will help avert potential leaks and backups under your roof.
Make Sure the Overflow Spout and Hose is Not Clogged
A backup in the overflow spout and hose can cause rain barrel problems. If the rain barrel is prone to tipping over, the stress of a full barrel with nowhere to drain can back up the gutter, cause the rain barrel to fall over, and a deluge of water to cover plants within the vicinity. Check the overflow outlet periodically by simply running water through it.
In terms of environmentally friendly garden methods, a rain barrel is hard to top. It is, even with the above maintenance requirements, still incredibly low maintenance and can save a significant amount of water.