Water gives life – Work smart

The drought of a while back and the lingering effects of it has made us all aware of the fact that we need to rethink the way we use our water resource.

By making a few changes in the garden we can reduce the impact we have on the water supply

Here are a few tips to help you use less water:

Mulching

Mulching is an excellent water conservation practice that reduces water evaporation and stress on your plants.

Mulching is when you apply a layer of organic material to the soil surface. This layer protects the soil surface from the rays of the sun and reduces evaporation.

Mulching has the following benefits to your soil:
•     Protects the soil root zone
•     Conserves water and moisture
•     Stabilizes soil temperatures
•     Reduces weed growth

Mulching can compose of compost (which also improves water retention of your soil), bark chips, mulch, kraal manure, peach pips, or macadamia nut shells.

Do not use raw wood shavings or gravel as mulching.

The raw wood shavings absorb nitrogen out of the soil to help break down the wood and depending on the wood used, can make your soil more acidic. The wood shavings can be used as mulch once they have been composted, and fully broken down.

The gravel, on the other hand, will bake in the sun and heat the soil temperature to unfavourable conditions.

Group plants according to their water needs

By putting plants in groups with the same water needs, you reduce the amount of water you need to use to irrigate. If you have a big piece where plants with different water needs are mixed over the whole area, you will need to irrigate the whole area regularly. But if you group plants with the same water needs together you only need to water the groups with high water needs regularly, and the rest of the groups you can water less often as their needs require.

Don’t water your plants over the heat of the day in the spring and summer time

Water your plants from 6pm to 6am, avoiding the heat of the day time when the sun’s heat evaporates most of the water. If you water in the evening, plants have the longest time to absorb water from the soil.

Some plants do not like being wet at night. In this situation, water the plants early in the morning, allowing ample time to dry before nightfall.

Greywater systems

Greywater systems can be used when water is really scarce.  This is not a good long-term solution, as the soap used in the household can build up in the soil and have an adverse effect.

Collect rainwater

Rainwater collection has been around for many centuries. With our landscapes being mostly concrete, there is a lot of water that runs off and ends up in the storm water system instead of filtering into the soil as it would have.

Collecting rainwater entails the use of some sort of system. Usually rain falls on the roof and flows down to the gutter. From here it can be redirected to a tank that stores the water. A connection from the tank to the irrigation system via a pump will get the water out of the tank and to the sprayers to irrigate the garden.

Plant water wise plants

This does not mean you need to convert your whole garden into a succulent garden. Indigenous plants, especially endemic plants (plants that grow naturally in the area), tend to be more water-wise, as they have evolved to survive in the specific environment and have fewer water needs than say a tropical plant endemic to Natal.

Deep watering vs superficial watering

Water close to the surface of the soil gets heated by the rays of the sun and evaporates. By giving a deep watering weekly to plants, especially shrubs and trees, you reduce the water lost to evaporation. Plants with shallow roots such as annuals and shallow rooted veggies need daily watering to keep them healthy, and thus needs to be kept to a minimum and planted together to reduce the size of the patch that needs to be watered every day.

Water retaining agents

In patches where plants with shallow root system grow, a water retaining product can be added to the soil. This will ensure that water stays available for longer periods of time.

Products that could be used is:

  • Water retention crystals
  • Peat – Sphagnum or coir
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Compost and organic material

Choose organic fertilisers

Chemical fertiliser needs ample water to keep them from burning your plants. This usually involves watering before applying fertiliser, directly after and frequently afterwards.

Organic fertilisers are considered to be water-wise, as they do not contain chemicals that can burn your plants. A good quality organic fertiliser could be spread throughout the garden and then left until your next irrigation or rain. Organic fertiliser also improves the soil condition, which in turn helps your soil to retain water better.

We all need to do our part to conserve one of earths most needed, and scarcest resources. If we all do a little towards sparing water every day, it will add up and make a big difference in the end.