How to Build a Swale to Capture Water for Your Garden

Water catchment is key to a truly sustainable garden. Here’s how building a swale can help…

Water catchment is one of the most important aspects of permaculture and sustainable gardening. Collecting water for use in your garden that would otherwise run off and be wasted is imperative for a truly sustainable garden. Piping water in from somewhere else (and paying for it) is a huge waste of resources – especially one that freely falls from the sky!

Using a rain barrel is one very popular method of water catchment. But it does take some setup – as well as regular and ongoing maintenance to keep everything flowing smoothly. You also may end up with way more water than you can collect during rainy periods, and still may run out and end up with a thirsty garden during a long dry spell. As this interesting article describes, digging a swale can eliminate all of these issues.

Here’s what a swale is, and how it can help you capture valuable water to keep your garden and landscape healthy and hydrated – even in an urban setting:

A swale is basically a level ditch that catches the runoff water and keeps it on the property a bit longer. This allows the water to seep slowly into the surrounding earth, nourishing the plants around it. I have been on permaculture tours and noticed one thing: None of them, in my area at least, are done on urban property. I have only seen huge swales that stretch for miles and have been dug with heavy equipment. Everything must be scaled down on an urban lot, including the tools used to dig the swale. In my case it has been scaled down all the way to a shovel…

The first step to creating my swale was to watch the water runoff on the property. There happens to be a V in the roof where the rain water comes down in torrents, runs across the side walk, down the driveway and into the street. It has become my mission in life to redirect that water into my swale. I don’t have gutters on that side of the house, but if you did it would be easy to run flexible pipe to divert the water right into your swale.


You might be saying, “I don’t want a ditch running across my yard.” Well hang on to your seat as I explain how water catchment can be both useful and beautiful.

I first found out how to make a swale beautiful when I met Lane…

He had made his swales into wide garden pathways lined decoratively with smooth river rocks. He explained that, by filling the swales/ditches with mulch, it allowed the rainwater collected from the house to seep into the pathways and stay on the property slowly seeping into the surrounding garden beds. The result was brilliant and beautiful!..

I hope I have inspired you to take a look at the way water runs off your property this spring. Give some thought to digging a swale, not only will you utilize the precious resource of water, but you can impress your friends with your permaculture brilliance and you might just lose those love handles in the process!



(Photo Credit:


Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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