A rain barrel is an easy, accessible way to get on the water-cherishing bandwagon. Use rainwater for your plants and it will replenish groundwater without a detour through the sewer and sewage plant. New designs make barrels more attractive: Fiskars (fiskars.com) has a new 58-gallon model just 24 inches deep in a handsome stonelike Salsa finish ($189.99). Aquascapes (aquascapesinc.com) has a 75-gallon barrel with a planter built into the lid ($249.98). Gardener's Supply Co. (gardeners.com) has a petite, 33-gallon model shaped like a beehive that could tuck into a small patio or garden ($159). With help from Maree Gaetani, director of public relations for Gardener's Supply, we've got some tips to bear in mind as you shop. Times staff and wires
Location. Choose a spot next to a downspout. Measure the space to see how large a barrel you can get without blocking a sidewalk or intruding on the patio seating area. Most barrels are round and 30 to 36 inches wide. If you have a tight space, shop around on the Internet.
Overflow. A typical rainstorm dumps far more water than a barrel can hold. "You want to be careful about where it overflows," Gaetani says. (Hint: away from your foundation.) In some simple barrels, the surplus just sloshes over the rim. Others have an outflow spout near the top. Some have downspout diverters (which also can be bought as separate kits). These send rain to the barrel until it's full and then shoot the rest back down the downspout, where you can direct it safely away from the house.
Access. Are you satisfied to dunk your watering can in the top, or do you want a spigot? If so, make sure a can will fit underneath. If the spigot isn't high enough, the whole barrel can be elevated. Stands are sold to fit some barrels or you can make a platform of concrete blocks. Be sure the spigot has an on/off valve. If the spigot is threaded for a standard hose connector, you can use a soaker hose (you won't have enough pressure for a nozzle or a sprinkler).
Safety. A screen on the top to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs is essential. And it should latch, Gaetani says, so children can't open it. "Kids will want to peer in," she says. Make sure the barrel is too stable for a child (or an adult) to tip, especially if it's elevated; once full of water, it will be heavy.
Expansion. Your appetite for rainwater may grow, so think about that next barrel. Some come with connectors; kits are available too. But in choosing a location, you might want to allow for Barrel No. 2.