Winning Water Wise Ways

With the recent increase in water restrictions, we’ve come up with a few ways in which you can make your garden more water wise.

Don’t fret - being a water wise gardener doesn’t mean your garden will be dull and boring. A water wise garden can have all the colour and vibrancy of any other garden, and will reduce water wastage during the drought. All it takes is a new approach to gardening that is easy to adopt.

Wherever possible, use plants that grow naturally in your region and locally, and create different water-use zones by grouping plants with similar water needs. You can still have exotic plants, but try and choose those that need minimal water. Plants with hairy leaves (lamb's ear), grey leaves (lavender) and needle-like leaves (rosemary) are able to withstand wind, salt spray and drought.

Lavender

Become a water wise gardener and plant to limit the amount of water needed. When you next visit a participating Garden Centre Association retail nursery, look out for plants demarcated as suitable for the different watering zones of your garden, namely, the one-drop zone, two-drop zone and three-drop zone. 'One Drop' plants are those with low water needs, 'Two Drop' plants are those with medium water needs and 'Three Drop' plants have higher water needs.

Suitable one-drop zone plants include abelia, agapanthus, arctotis, false olive (Buddleja saligna), big num-num (Carissa macrocarpa), clivia, euryops daisies, blue marguerite (Felicia amelloides), gaura, gazania, ivy-leafed pelargonium, lavender, statice, marigold, wild olive, osteospermum, rosemary, karee, star jasmine, wild garlic and vygie.

Agapanthus

Clivia

Abelia

Mulch, mulch, mulch!

Retain moisture by mixing in generous quantities of compost and well-rotted manure. A blanket of mulch spread 10cm thick around plants, keeping away from the stem, will keep the soil cool and moist, smother weeds that compete with plants for water and nutrients, and insulate plants from temperature extremes. Organic mulches can consist of coarse compost, shredded bark, cocoa husks, peach pips, nutshells or pine needles. Bark chips or nuggets are also suitable and are decorative and long-lasting.

A shredder is a good investment, as it reduces the amount of garden refuse to a small amount that can be used as mulch or added to the compost heap.

Allow leaf litter to accumulate on the soil. This keeps the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.

Bark chip mulch

Lawns

While lawns can have their place in a garden, particularly as a play area for children and animals, try to reduce this area and replace with ground covers, gravel or paving. Bear in mind that hard landscaping means that water cannot soak into the ground, while gravel allows water to be absorbed into the soil. Before spreading gravel, level the area and lay down a weed-suppressing membrane. Paving can be softened if occasional spaces are left for hardy, water wise plants, such as arctotis, bulbine, festuca, gazania, lavender, rosemary, stachys, strelitzia, succulents and verbena.

If you do decide to install a lawn, select a turf mix or blend that matches your climate and site conditions. This will ensure that water is not wasted, on lawn which requires more water and care. When mowing your lawn, adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. A taller lawn shades roots and holds soil moisture better than if it is closely clipped. Choose shrubs and groundcovers instead of grass, for hard-to-water areas, like steep slopes and isolated strips. Another good practice is to aerate your lawn at least once a year, so that water can reach the roots, rather than just run off the surface.

Gazania

The new look border

The traditional border can be adapted in a way that reduces watering. In this new look border with its relaxed approach to planting, tidying and deadheading, hardy plants are the answer.

Arrange plants in an informal way, with form and texture of flowers, foliage and seed heads as important as colour. Hardy, ornamental grasses with strong vertical or graceful arching forms, and plants with grass-like leaves, play as an important part in this border as do flowers.

Use water wisely

Water your garden thoroughly once or twice a week, instead of with daily sprinklings, so that water penetrates and encourages deep rooting. This also increases drought tolerance. In small gardens, watering by hand is the most efficient way of making sure each plant receives the correct amount of water, and so water wastage is reduced. It also allows the gardener to check the condition of plants.

In large gardens it is not always possible to water by hand and an irrigation system is often used. The best system is a seepage hose. Those that spray overhead only work efficiently where plants of similar height are grown together. Where there is variation in plant height, 'shadow' areas created by taller plants can prevent water from reaching lower growing companions.

Grow plants that like moisture on the south and east side of buildings, and drought tolerant plants on north and west facing areas. Group plants that need the most water near the house and in containers on the patio for easy access. For container plants and hanging baskets, use ice blocks for watering, particularly those ice blocks which you’ve dropped on the floor (you don’t need to throw them away). This will reduce water overflow, and is a sufficient amount for these plants. Invest in a water tank for collecting rainwater off roofs for use in dry periods.

In the vegetable garden, plant closely and in broad rows, so that there will be less evaporation and use frost netting as a mulch. If a shallow basin is made around newly planted trees and shrubs, and around vegetables such as tomatoes and squash, water will collect and slowly filter down to the roots.

Grow plants that like moisture on the south and east side of buildings, and drought tolerant plants on north and west facing areas. Group plants that need the most water near the house and in containers on the patio for easy access. Invest in a water tank for collecting rainwater off roofs for use in dry periods.

In the vegetable garden, plant closely and in broad rows, so that there will be less evaporation. If a shallow basin is made around newly planted trees and shrubs, and around vegetables such as tomatoes and squash, water will collect and slowly filter down to the roots.

Use ice cubes for container plants

Watering the garden:

Collect rainwater in buckets, from washing the dishes, showers, and bathtubs for irrigating the garden. If using sprinklers (during the specified watering times), adjust them so that only your lawn is watered and not the house, paving, stones, or the road. Use drip irrigation for shrubs and trees, to apply water directly to the roots where it’s needed. This allows for slow release of water, and deep-watering. Don’t water your lawn on windy days when most of the water blows away or evaporates.

To decrease water from being wasted on sloping lawns, apply water for five minutes and then repeat two to three times, with a break in between each watering.

Collect rainwater in buckets

More water-wise suggestions for the garden:

  • Use a rain gauge, to track rainfall on your lawn. Then reduce your watering accordingly.
  • Remember to check your sprinkler system valves periodically for leaks and keep the sprinkler heads in good shape. Then check all your taps and hosepipes for washer damage and replace those that need it.
  • When washing your pets, wash them outdoors in an area of your lawn that needs water.
  • Use sprinklers that deliver big drops of water close to the ground. Smaller water drops and mist often evaporate before they hit the ground.
  • Healthy plants are happy plants, so don’t forget to fertilise - this will strengthen plants’ cell walls, which means that plants need less water and will withstand extreme temperatures.

Wash your pets outdoors in an area of your lawn that needs water

Keep calm and do your bit to save water! For more ideas on what you can do to save water, follow Life is a Garden on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and look out for our #WaterWiseWednesdays. Also look out for our water wise posters at participating Garden Centre Association (GCA) retail nurseries!