South Africa’s unpredictable climate is one of extremes, and one that can keep gardeners shaking their heads in frustration.
As parts of the country experience water shortages, many homeowners find themselves in a situation where they’re having to let their gardens go, with the result being a desolate landscape of bleak browns.
Award-winning landscaper Glenice Ebedes recently released a guide to indigenous garden plants.
Gardener’s Guide: Indigenous garden plants of Southern Africa features over 140 garden-friendly, low-maintenance trees, shrubs and bedding plants, adapted to our local soils and weather conditions. It’s an essential handbook for gardens that need little maintenance and even less water.
Here, Ebedes shares her tips on how to create a water-wise garden for the coming winter season that’s easy to maintain the whole year through.
It all starts with soil
The addition of compost will improve the quality and water-holding capacity of your soil. It also provides food for soil organisms such as earthworms, which aerate the soil to encourage water penetration.
What to plant
Most aloes flower from autumn through winter. The common species produce torch-like stalks that bear numerous flowers in vibrant colours – orange, red and yellow: enough to lift a garden on a dreary winter’s day. Furthermore, they are abundant in nectar, which will attract nectar-feeding birds like sunbirds to add even more colour and splendour to your garden.
They are water-wise and low-maintenance plants, and are highly versatile in a garden environment. And most species can be grown in a suitable planter to serve as a focal point.
Other species that can also be considered to add colour in winter are:
Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender tree): This tree has light green leaves that develop rich yellow and red autumn colours before they fall. It’s well suited for smaller gardens as it has a compact form and non-aggressive root system.
Strelitzia reginae (Crane Flower): This stately structural plant produces unique orange and blue flowers.
It is hardy and can tolerate a variety of climates. It looks attractive as a single specimen or mass-planted in full sun or semi-shade.
Remember that water-wise plants need not be succulents; there are many attractive plants that can tolerate low-water conditions.
Mulch can reduce evaporation by up to 70 percent by insulating the soil against extreme temperature changes.
It has the added benefits of reducing the number of weeds and preventing run-off. Organic mulches like fallen leaves and bark chips enrich the soil as they decompose.
Do not turn the soil once mulch is applied – turning or aerating the soil increases the rate of evaporation and disturbs the balance of micro-organisms living in it.
Reduce and manage your lawn
Maintaining a lush green lawn requires a lot of water. Typical gardens have at least 80 percent of the surface area covered in lawn, which is exposed to the elements and has higher rates of evaporation.
There are other alternatives like groundcover, permeable pavers, gravel and pebbles or pine bark chips.
Manage your lawn by choosing an appropriate lawn variety to suit your climate and garden conditions.
The most water-efficient lawn types are indigenous species such as buffalo and cynodon.
Also, water your lawn less frequently to make it less dependent on water.
When mowing the lawn, cut the grass to a higher level – longer grass blades result in deeper roots and therefore greater drought resistance. If irrigating, use water-efficient nozzles with a low precipitation rate.
Use efficient watering habits
Water your garden at the coolest times of the day to prevent excessive evaporation. Water deeply and less often to encourage deep root growth.
Harvest rain water from gutters to water your garden in dry periods, thereby lessening your dependence on municipal supplies.
Plant indigenous trees and shrubs
They provide shade to help cool your garden and prevent excess evaporation. Ensure the species used are water-wise and suited to your local climate.
Get in the zone
Zone your garden according to the water usage. Choose a selection of species to provide interest and colour throughout the year.
Screening is a big requirement in most suburban gardens. While the use of tall and closely-planted trees and shrubs can achieve this, it is important to note that a densely-planted garden has higher water requirements.