How to make your garden drought resistant
WRITING a gardening column in the midst of a drought and with our current water restrictions may seem a little absurd but with long-term forecasts suggesting that in future we need to get used to greater weather extremes, more extremely hot days and longer dry periods, it is important for gardeners to start planning their outdoor spaces more carefully and choosing plants that can cope with these conditions.
Here are a few tips to help plants currently in the garden that might be suffering and to help conserve water and comply with water restrictions.
Apply a generous layer of mulch over any garden beds, vegie patches and pots. This will help to reduce the amount of moisture that is lost from the soil or potting mix.
During extended dry periods, a waxy, water-repellent layer can develop on the surface of the soil. Soil-wetting agents help to break this down, enabling water to penetrate and thereby making the most of any rain or irrigation that does arrive.
Soil that contains a lot of organic matter can hold more moisture. Regularly mix concentrated sources of organic matter into your soil, such as compost, manure, grass clippings and leaf debris.
It's best to water in the cool of the early morning, which helps hydrate and prepare plants for the heat of the day when evaporation is low.
Don't waste water
Instead of letting the cool water from your shower run down the drain while you wait for it to get hot, try placing a bucket underneath the water stream to catch it. You can then reuse this water for your garden.
Use environmentally friendly detergents in your washing and this water can also be saved and used outside.
Even with great care to conserve water, inevitably you will lose some plants in your garden during this dry, hot period and you will want to replace these. Wait until cooler weather arrives (or, even better, good soaking rain) before doing so.
By choosing drought-tolerant plants you will ensure your garden survives when water is scarce in the future and there are plenty of beautiful varieties to choose from.
Here are a few common attributes of plants that are hardier in extreme temperatures and dry conditions.
- Fine lacy foliage, like that on conifers, lavender and westringia, reduces surface area, leading to less water loss through the leaves.
- Thick, fleshy, waxy leaves store moisture within them, as is the case with succulents and cacti.
- Hairy or fuzzy leaves, like lamb's ears and geraniums, keep moisture on the surface of the leaf for longer to allow absorption.
- Silver and grey leaves help to reflect harsh rays, thus reducing water loss. Great examples are santolina and senecio cineraria "Silver Dust”.
- Australian native plants, particularly those endemic to dry, hot areas, are naturally adapted to cope with harsh conditions. Examples in this area are westringia, leptospermum and lomandra.
- Large trees provide shelter from the heat for more tender plants and the shade cast by trees reduces the soil temperature, meaning that plants in the understory do not require as much water.
- Lawn is a great consumer of water. Think about restructuring gardens and landscaping with gravel and rocks to reduce water consumption.
- Take note of any plants currently thriving in your garden and plant more of these.