You can have a lovely, flourishing garden during the summer months without being water-greedy, and saving precious water can also save you time and effort in the garden.
Mulching keeps moisture in the soil longer, making it a top priority for water-wise gardeners. The most effective mulches have big pieces that let water through and into the soil. These chunky bark or stone-based mulches also absorb little water themselves, so they don’t take it from the soil. Finer mulches tend to soak up more water, and can actually increase water loss from the soil.
There is an enormous range of plants able to cope with less water — proteas, succulents, grevilleas, leucandendrons, lavender, euphorbias and many natives. Deep-rooting systems, small, waxy, greyish or hairy leaves, or the ability to store moisture are among the adaptations that make these plants efficient users of water.
Water wisely — droplets of water from a sprinkler may look pretty, especially lit by the setting sun, but it’s actually falling in all the wrong places — pathways, leaves and plants that don’t need it. Water should be targeted only at the roots of specific plants (such as new plantings, vegetables and roses) and the best way to do this is by hand-held hose or watering can.
You could also consider partially burying a cut-off plastic bottle or flowerpot at the base of newly planted trees or shrubs. Fill this when watering and the water will be directed straight to the root area.
Although you can occasionally throw water from the rinse cycle of your washing machine onto ornamental plants without a care, grey water should not be used on edibles, and with long-term use detergents can cause salt build-up in the soil.
You can improve the water-holding capacity of your soil by digging in plenty of compost. Light sandy soils, heavy clay and everything in between will benefit with improved structure and water retention.
Lawn grasses require heaps of water if they are to remain lush and green. During a dry, hot summer those big expanses of lawn become a high-maintenance luxury item.One option is to bite the bullet and let the lawn go brown through the hottest part of summer — it will green up again in spring. Another alternative is to replace part of the lawn with hard landscaping materials, such as pebbles, gravel or paving, or a dry garden mulched with stones.
New plantings need more water until their roots establish — let the rain do the majority of the watering for you by planting in spring and autumn.
Those small pots and containers dry out quickly — choose larger containers and fill them with drought-tolerant species. That way you’ll no longer be a slave to the watering can.
Water-retentive products such as gels added to potting mix help container plants survive dry periods. ‘Re-wetting granules’ like Saturaid are designed to improve water penetration, and can be added to sandy, dry soil (especially good with new plantings) as well as pots.