Making your own Seasonal Desert River

Making your own Seasonal Desert River


Okay, listen.  When I first conjured up this post, I thought “I’m going to make the coolest graphic showing how your roof can boost your landscape power.”  Then I came up with what you see above and below, which is a bunch of nonsensical arrows and squiggly lines and other crap.  So I’m sorry about that.  I really meant for it to be a work of art.  Maybe next time.  What you see above is the creation of a “rain water course”, which simply means a fun and useful path that water will take when it falls from the sky and moves from a gutter into a garden.  You should do this.  Especially while it’s not 110 degrees and digging is something you can do without hallucinating (more on that real soon).


This much is definitely true: your roof harnesses a lot of power here in the desert.  You probably have 1000+ square feet of roof that gathers our infrequent rain and then promptly spits it out into a healthy strip of weeds when the water falls off into the dirt.  I imagine you have some specimens that reach 3+ feet in the summer.  Way to go!  Those weeds love you, and they’ll come back until the end of time.


If you’d rather use the roof/rain water for a better purpose, your first step is to get gutters and downspouts.  I’m about to add some to our house, so more on that when I install them.  Here’s why I’m going to do it: my 1000 square foot roof can gather 600+ gallons of water in a 1 inch rainstorm.  Rather than let it land in a tidy strip of weeds, I prefer to channel it into a recessed basin containing (native) trees, shrubs, and flowers.  They’ll get a nice deep drink that can sustain them for a long time – potentially months.  And it means you (and I) can be that much more hands-off with your landscape – everyone loves that part.


So that’s what this drawing actually shows.  I’m working with a client that is interested in using water as smartly as possible, so we’re adding gutters, downspouts, “pop-up” drains (another post on that), and the water will flow through a course that sustains lots of different cacti, shrubs and trees.  Brad Lancaster has written a boatload about this subject, so I suggest looking up his work if you want to know more.  Or, give me a call and we can start designing a water course that sustains your desert landscape.    I promise it will make a huge difference in the livelihood of your plants, and you’ll feel super accomplished about not having that weed strip.

water from roof-02

  1. I am Natalie’s client and I had planned to install irrigation. After seeing Natalie’s plan, we decided to forgo the irrigation in lieu of the desert seasonal river and her other great ideas to optimize rainfall. With the water issues facing the SW now and in the future, Natalie is right on!

    • Hi Danna, thanks for tuning in to the blog! Your yard has been such a fun project – I can’t wait to post some pictures of the finale. Then I can’t wait to come over during a monsoon and see the water in action!

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