Your Ultimate Guide to Drought Gardening
The reality of the drought has hit us hard and a visible result of this has been the dwindling state of our home gardens. We have all struggled to keep our thirsty plants alive, but try as we may so many of them have fallen victim to the lack of water. So do we just give up and make do with our unsightly spaces? No, of course not. We simply pick up our spades and adapt our gardens to cope. With this in mind I thought I would put together the ultimate guide to gardening your way through the drought.
Plan before you dig
You wouldn’t renovate your house without a plan so why would you renovate your garden without planning it properly? Take some time to measure out your space and consider the various options and the space required. Inaccurate planning and estimating can cause huge financial losses, not to mention the reduction of potential in the space. As with most things in life: if you’re not an expert rather cut your losses and hire someone to do it for you. Of course, I would say this, but I can guarantee that the benefits will far outweigh your costs.
Reduce or remove your lawn
Turf grass if possibly the most thirsty plant due to their very shallow roots and while changing your lawn to more water wise species such as Cynodon will help, we need to accept that rolling lawns are not an option anymore. Lawn areas need to be reduced or changed by creating larger areas of planting, replacing lawn with water wise ground covers or opting for hard landscaping alternatives. Artificial lawn is an option, but recent studies have shown that it has terrible environmental effects and it can get extremely hot under foot. More creative solutions using a combination of paving, stones, bark or decking can transform lawn areas into fantastic functional and beautiful spaces.
Change your plants
Yes, that does mean opting for more a more indigenous planting palette, but not all indigenous plants are water wise. Take some time to properly research which plants are appropriate and be careful to take note of the specific conditions in your garden. Obvious choices are our wide range of succulents, but there many other indigenous trees, shrubs and ground covers which require very little water. When at the nursery look out for plants with small, needle-like leaves or grey foliage as these have naturally adapted to reduce water loss. When placing your plants, consider areas of sun, shade, wind and soil conditions clearly and aim to group plants into various zones. By grouping plants of similar water requirements into “hydro zones” you can easily adapt your water requirements. For instance, place those requiring more water close to water tanks or to your house for ease of tank or grey water watering. If there are existing exotic plants that have survived the drought, rather leave them as established plants require less water. That being said, if there are invasive water-sucking aliens growing, make sure you remove them properly.
Add to your soil
The drought has left our ground dry and lacking in nutrients, making it difficult to support even the hardiest vegetation. In order to counteract this you will need to add to the soil when planting with compost, manure and fertilizer. Various water-retentive polymers will also help to hold the water in the soil for longer and mixing in vermiculite or a gel-based product can help to reduce the need to water as frequently. It is also essential to add a layer of mulch on top of the soil after planting in order to reduce the rate of evaporation. Organic mulch comes in various forms such as wood chips, sawdust and peach pips with the added benefit of increasing the level of bacteria as it decomposes. Inorganic mulch includes gravel, pebbles and stones also which help to create micro-climates for insects and organisms.
Collect rain water
Water restrictions have meant that we cannot water our gardens with municipal water and while some plants will survive without water for an extended period of time, they will still require some water. This means that it is essential that we collect and store as much rain water as possible. Rain water tanks are the most obvious solution to this and the various shapes and sizes on the market have made it easier to fit into the tiniest spaces. These can be connected to the irrigation system or fitted with pumps to make hand watering easier. Other methods include creating channels from down pipes to divert water into planting beds or to terrace sloping gardens to retain water within each bed.
Even if you have the benefit of a borehole or well point water, it is very important that irrigation during a drought is done efficiently to give the plants the right amount of water at the right time. Drip irrigation is preferable to pop-ups systems and try to avoid irrigating on windy days which will lead to large amounts of water loss. Plants which have been regularly watered will need to be trained slowly to receive less water, preventing them from going into shock and encouraging roots to dig further into the ground.
Gardens require regular maintenance and this is very important during a drought. Fertilising should take place regularly, but lightly in order to prevent stressing the plants out too much. The same applies for pest control and organic pesticides must be applied as necessary, but without creating a sense of shock. Pruning should also be done lightly and continue to compost and mulch, but be careful not to dig too far into the soil as this will disturb the bacteria. Weeds are considerably less due to the lack of water, but must be removed in order to prevent them from sucking up all the water.
So now armed with a wealth of knowledge I’m sure you’re ready to make your garden drought-proof and beautiful once more. And remember: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” – Audrey Hepburn.
Written by Rose Buchanan