Spotlight on water saving in the garden

Succulents are the most water-wise of all plants, and can yield beautiful flowers. Stones around the bases also serve to retain the water.

With the introduction of the latest Level 3 water restrictions, all South Africans need to make an extra effort to conserve water – after all, no life form can survive without it.

Many homeowners have invested a great deal of time, effort and money into their gardens, and are worried about how they can continue to make their gardens look good, while adhering to the new restrictions.

According to MD of Stodels Nurseries, Nick Stodel, it is not quite all doom and gloom for gardeners. “We have been in discussions with the City of Cape Town for a long time around the introduction of the new water restrictions, and are pleased that they have taken some of the industry’s comments and advice into consideration.

“The reality is that we all need to be more water-wise. This means choosing less thirsty plants and rather opting for indigenous plants, using more containers and pots, making sure we are watering correctly with no wastage, and generally putting more thought and planning into our gardens.

“Over the past few years we have looked to Australia for guidance,” he says. “They have had a seven-year drought and have implemented some excellent strategies, which we starting to use locally. It might take some time but, in the interim, here is a quick three step approach to keeping your gardens growing.

“This should help you to continue to have good colourful plants and a beautiful summer garden.”

Step one: Get water to your plants

Use water wisely by getting the water directly to the plants, where they need it. Watering cans are perfect for this as you can get to the roots of the plant, and a rose attachment will prevent damaging the flowers – and watering cans can be easily filled with grey water.

Step two: Retain water

Once your plants have been watered you need to retain the moisture for as long as possible by mulching and composting. Mulch retains soil moisture and prevents soil erosion plus it suppresses weed germination and growth. Work plenty of compost into your garden beds as this too holds moisture in the soil and provides nutrients for plant growth.

“Moisture absorbing granules are also a great way to reduce water usage,” says Mr Stodel. “Mix the granules into the soil to absorb and store water when the soil is wet and then they will slowly release it back into the soil.

“They drastically reduce the amount of water you need to give container plants while ensuring the roots don’t get soggy and rot.”

Step three: Garden to ensure survival of your plants

This means not digging garden beds up unnecessarily, and pulling out weeds as soon as they appear – you don’t want them competing with your plants for water. Introduce colourful plants in containers but pots are also ideal for herb and vegetable gardening.

You should also:

Use bordering like cobbles, edging or wood around beds, to create pockets for water to collect.

Go indigenous, these plants save you time and money once they are established.

Use low growing, hardy groundcovers. You can effectively create a barrier between the sunlight and the soil surface, decreasing soil temperature and minimising soil surface evaporation.

Group or mass the same succulent for the best effect. This is a simple tool for the low maintenance gardener who wants the greatest impact with the least work.

Clever gardeners combine contrasting succulents to add extra interest to their gardens. Spiky, toothed, spongy, and rounded shapes or foliage of gold, copper, silver, bronze, red, green and so on, can be very appealing.

Before you water, stick your finger a few centimetres into the soil to check the moisture content. Sometimes soil looks dry on top, but it’s moist just below.

Water less frequently, but more deeply. This will encourage your plants to develop deeper root systems, which are more drought resistant (the temperature can be up to 5°C cooler just 10cm below the soil).

Use water retention products – this will go a long way to help your garden survive the summer

Mulch, mulch and mulch mulching helps to conserve water by slowing down moisture evaporation and shields plants roots from temperature extremes.

It should also break down into the underlying soil gradually and thereby improve the soil’s texture.

Avoid watering on windy days, as wind accelerates evaporation. It’s also best to water before 9am or after 5pm, rather than during the heat of the day.

Use a watering can as it will help you water directly onto roots and is also easily filled using grey water, and use a fine nozzle to water new seedlings.

“All our horticulturists have been given additional training around gardening in drought conditions,” says Mr Stodel. “They are geared up to assist customers, advising on everything from water-wise and non thirsty plants through to unusual ways of getting water to the right part of the plant and water retention products.”

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