Returning home, I was welcomed by many of the winter-flowering plants that will flower for the next few months. My garden is a winter garden that does not need much water. Here are basic steps to creating a water-wise garden:
Grow water-wise plants
Durban is a summer rainfall region, so select indigenous plants from this area. Many of these plants will be well suited to your climate and, once established, will require very little water.
If you live on the coast, select plants that are well adapted to saline, tropical conditions compared with plants grown in the Drakensberg, which has a very cold winter.
Once you understand the habitat you live in, then you will get a better idea of what plants to select. Avoid growing alien plants that could potentially invade natural areas.
Group plants according to their water needs
Plants have different water requirements, so it is important to group plants into water-use zones. This ensures you don’t over- or under-water certain plants that are grouped incorrectly.
To avoid this happening, make a list of the plants in your garden. Consult gardening books or get advice from a horticulturist on each plant’s water requirements. If you have a plan of your garden, mark where each plant should be located.
You should have high-, medium- and low-water-use plants. Never put high-water-requirement plants with low-water-requirement plants because this will cause rot of those plants that need very little water and vice versa.
Lawn versus groundcovers
So many of us have large areas under lawn which require lots of cutting, plus lots of water and lots of fertiliser to keep the grass looking green and healthy.
If you have a lawn area, try to reduce the area under lawn and plant a low-maintenance groundcover.
Check areas where the lawn is struggling, such as in shady areas under a tree. In a high-traffic area, rather pave the area or put down a low-maintenance groundcover. Check what type of grass you have planted. Cynodon requires a lot less water and mowing than Berea.
Do not have shrubs growing on the lawn because you will need to water these plants more often than if the area was just lawn.
Make sure you don’t cut your lawn short because this requires more water. Long lawns help shade the roots and reduce evaporation.
Maintain your gardens
Correct maintenance is very important for the health of your garden. Ensure you remove weeds and unwanted plants because they require water and maintenance to stay alive. Prune and remove unhealthy and dying plants, plus dead plant material. Try to plant fewer annuals and more perennials because annuals require lots of water for a very short lifespan. These plants live their entire life in one season. Perennials have a deeper root system and prevent the soil from eroding.
Improve your soil
There are three main soil types: sand, loam and clay. By the use of well-decomposed compost, you can improve the quality of your soil and its water-holding capacity. Compost enriches the soil, encouraging earthwork activity which in turn helps aerate the soil and improves water penetration. It helps produce healthier plants which, in turn, require less water and, in turn, become more disease-resistant. Compost consists of decomposed organic plant material. During the planting stage, make sure once you have dug the hole that you add lots of well-decomposed compost into the soil.
Turn well into the soil and, before you plant, add some organic fertiliser. What you put into the soil is what you get out of the soil. Compost your flower beds at least once a year.
Mulch can be defined as a thick layer of organic or inorganic matter which covers the soil.
Mulch can reduce evaporation of water from the soil by at least 70%. There are many advantages to mulching. It suppresses weed growth, prevents soil compaction and reduces soil erosion. It also makes a wonderful landscape feature in gardens.
Organic matter could be compost, bark, straw, wood chips, dried leaves, etc. Inorganic mulches would be pebbles, newspaper and black plastic sheeting. Always put down mulch between the plants straight after planting, but make sure you don’t cover the stems. This can be done on a yearly basis as part of your maintenance.
Plant in the right season
Spring and summer would be the best time to plant. Many plants would have come out of their winter dormancy. It is not too hot, days are getting longer, soil temperature warmer and it’s a good time to establish a root system before it gets too hot and dry.
Check to see which type of soil you have, sandy, loamy or clay. The best way to test what type you have is to take some wet soil in your hand and squeeze it and roll it into a sausage. If it falls apart, then it is sandy; if it crumbles easily, it is loamy; and if it moulds into different shapes, it is clay. How much moisture the soil holds is known as its water-holding capacity.
The best way to determine if the plants need water is to push your finger in the soil to see if it’s wet. The plants will also show when they need water as they will wilt. Try watering in the early mornings or late evening because this is when there is less transpiration.