Be wise with water in your garden

Written by Catherine Clulow

So you’ve all heard it before, water is scarce…, gardens are thirsty… So what do you do? Today we remind you of some handy ideas and tips to be wise with water in your garden.

Water is a scarce and precious commodity globally, and especially in South Africa with unpredictable rainfall and an ever increasing demand. We need to think of the future, garden for the future and encourage that waterwise indigenous gardens should be the norm. Don’t be fooled by a common misconception that waterwise means something dull and dreary, perhaps an image that pops to mind is that of rockeries and cacti…

Think of beauties like these, not to mention the diverse variety of fynbos gems out there:

The succulent Kerky Bush requires little water (Crassula ovata)

succulent leaves Kerky Bush Crassula ovata ALN 098
Crassula ovata ©Alice Notten

The wind and drought tolerant camphor bush (Tarchonanthus littoralis)

wind and drought tolerant small tree Coastal Camphor Bush Tarchonanthus littoralis ALN 054
Tarchonanthus littoralis ©Alice Notten

The wind resistant and fast-growing Keurboom (Virgilia divaricata)

wind resistant fast growing Keurboom Virgilia divaricata 9 Oct 15 ALN 137
Virgilia divaricata ©Alice Notten

The highly adaptable and bee loved Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)

Alice Notten- adaptable Cape Honeysuckle Tecomaria capensis yellow ALN 053
Tecomaria capensis ©Alice Notten

The deep, strong rooted Plumgabo with its delicate soft flowers (Plumbago auriculata)

strong deep roots Plumbago Plumbago auriculata ALN 087
Plumbago auriculata ©Alice Notten

There are many ways to use water wisely and plant for the future- here are some ideas and tips from The Botanical Society of SA

6 simple water-wise garden tips and ideas

1. Prepare the soil well and add compost

Dig in plenty of compost, it keeps the microbes and earthworms happy and is great for water retention, as well as adding nutrients.

2. Reconsider your lawn

Think about the lawn space you need and use and perhaps you’ll consider alternates. Buffalo and Cynodon grass require less water and less mowing- double win there. Remember not to cut your grass too short as longer blades shade the roots and reduce water evaporation.

groundcover Trailing Gazania and mulch instead of lawn Gazania rigens
Groundcover trailing Gazania rigens and mulch instead of lawn ©Alice Notten

3. Choose locally suitable water-wise plants

There are numerous beautiful plants that require minimal to no watering once established. Plant before the rains to facilitate plants development of strong root systems before facing the dry season. Find out about the best indigenous plant options for your soil type and climate.

4. Group plants with similar water needs together to optimise watering regimes. Be wise with watering correctly and only when necessary

Water thoroughly, less often and when evaporation is low (early mornings and evenings). Drip or underground irrigation also saves water and reduces weed growth.

5. Use mulch between plants

Mulch prevents water evaporation and keeps the soil cool. It also reduces run-off and erosion, suppresses weed growth, enriches the soil and prevents soil from compacting. There are a variety of options: Be creative (bark, compost, newspaper, straw, dried leaves).

mulch examples
Mulch examples ©Alice Notten

6. Create shade and windbreaks

Plant fast-growing wind-resistant waterwise trees and shrubs suited to your area to shelter your garden from drying out.

SANBI gardens also have water-wise demonstration gardens for your guidance, education and inspiration and many nurseries can advise on suitable local indigenous plant options.

Further information:

Visit PlantZAfrica to find out all you need to know about indigenous plant options for your area.


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The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

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