Tips for establishing a water-wise garden

As the weather heats up, it is a constant reminder of the need to conserve water, a precious, life-sustaining resource that we all need to survive. Saving water is crucial for the preservation of our environment. With homeowners in South Africa consuming an estimated 30% to 50% of water on maintaining their gardens, it is an area in the home where the most water can be saved.

Currently in the Western Cape homeowners are prohibited from watering their gardens with municipal drinking water due to this very fact. While an attractive, established garden can add considerable value to a home, a water-wise garden that takes less water to maintain but is still beautiful makes sense from both an environmental and financial perspective.

Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa says: "With water a dwindling resource and many more people becoming concerned about environmental issues, a greater emphasis has been placed on green properties. More and more buyers and tenants alike are placing a higher value on eco-friendly homes. Properties with water-wise gardens are attractive because they reduce cost and waste while still maintaining their aesthetic appeal.”

With relatively little effort, an established garden can be transformed into a water-wise one. However, in an ideal situation, it is best for the garden to be designed water-wise from the beginning. The more water-wise the garden is from the outset, the easier and cheaper it will be to maintain and keep beautiful.

Here are some tips you can use to establish a water-wise garden:

Select the right plants

Once the decision has been made to concentrate on water-wise plants for your garden, go down to the local nursery and discuss which ones will work in your garden. Indigenous plants are normally the best option as they consume very little water and require minimal maintenance.  Certain bedding plants can consume a lot of water, however, adding mulching to the garden bed and water retention granules to the soil will reduce the need for watering substantially.

Group plants with similar watering requirements

Grouping plants with similar watering needs mean that only certain areas of the garden require more frequent watering. These plants should be used as a prominent feature, rather than the norm. Once these plants are established, watering can be greatly reduced. 

Reduce lawn areas

Lawns guzzle water. Assess how much lawn is required for things such as entertaining, children playing and pet exercising, and consider reducing these areas without reducing the enjoyment.  Adding hardscaping features such as a paved or cobblestone footpath will reduce watering areas while adding to the aesthetic appeal of the garden.  The lie of land may influence the placement of hardscaping features, particularly if drainage is affected. Water features should be placed in shaded areas to reduce evaporation.
Lawn maintenance

Be sure not to cut the lawn too short during growing season. Sprinklers should only water areas that need it, and timers should be set to early mornings or late afternoons. If it rains, override the system because too much water results in shallow root growth and will encourage fungal and other attacks on the lawn.

“With increasing temperatures and water restrictions in certain parts of the country, water-wise gardening is essential. Everything possible should be done to save this precious resource,” Goslett concludes. 

Note – In the Western Cape, level 5 water restrictions apply, so any watering of gardens is prohibited with municipal drinking water

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