Gardening in drought conditions

Gardening in drought conditions is a reality in South Africa, so if you are planning on a new garden or simply want to maintain your existing one, you can make every drop count with these savvy approaches to design and upkeep.


Hard, impermeable surfaces like paving reflects heat which will make your plants thirstier, as well as preventing rainwater from seeping into the soil. Lift some pavers or bricks to make areas where water can sink in. You can also resurface driveways, yards and paths with porous surfaces or paving blocks and plastic grid systems filled with plants.

Contour the land to form rain gardens. These are shallow, channel-like depressions or bioswales that intercept and slow down run-off rainwater, giving it time to soak into the soil. Plant these with plants that can cope with both periodic flooding and dry periods, and also filter the water.

As water tends to run off slopes, devise a way to catch this run-off water or build level terraces where it can soak in. Furthermore, you shouldn’t waste rainwater. You can harvest it from the roof, the driveway and patios. Direct it into water tanks or reservoirs which can be hidden underground. This won’t necessarily be sufficient for the whole garden, but it’ll be enough for high-water-use zones.

Install a grey water system to capture and recycle water from baths, showers and washing machines. Make sure you use cleaning products that are safe for garden use. Cover your swimming pool to reduce evaporation and install a holding tank for backwash water so that it can be returned to the pool.

Protect plants from drying winds by erecting semipermeable screens or fences of latte, bamboo or trellis. A solid barrier will create severe turbulence or eddies causing more damage on the lower side. Another idea is to plant loose, informal hedges as screens.

Increase your soil’s water-holding capacity by mixing crystals and granules like Terra-Sorb, Aquasoil or Stockosorb polymers in with the soil in the base of your planting holes. These absorb water and release it in dry periods. Dig in compost or hydrated coir peat at planting time.

Improve sandy soils and those that repel water by breaking or loosening the surface crust. Apply soil-wetting agents or surfactants, like SaturAid.

Use mulches, preferably organic, such as pine needles, bark, straw or wood chips. Apply a 5cm-thick layer to soil that’s already moist. Check that water is able to penetrate; simply loosening the mulch can improve its porosity. Reapply periodically.


Your lawn is probably one of the biggest water guzzlers, and while we all want to have a big green lawn it is definitely not advised when you want to implement water saving methods. You don’t have to do away with your lawn, you can opt reduce its size.

Planting waterwise grasses like MayFord’s new ER, All Seasons Evergreen and Shade-Over grasses is the first step as these have bigger and deeper root systems, which improve nutrient uptake and help the grass become more drought resistant.

Encourage local, endemic grasses that can cope with dry periods and let them merge with your present lawn to dominate in dry periods.

In small areas, use artificial grass such as Duraturf. There’s an amazing range of extremely realistic faux grasses available, or replace lawn with gravel and groundcovers.

The top 10 water wise plants

Before you plant, remember that you should always use native plants, non-native plants usually require more water. Also group plants together that require relatively the same amount of water - this way you are not drowning plants that require little water when you are watering other plants or drying out thirstier plants.

1. Agapanthus (also known as Lily of the Nile)

2. Krantz Aloe

3. Cape Honeysuckle

4. Clivia

5. Lavender

6. Cape Leadwort

7. Rosemary

8. Star Jasmine

9. Strelitzia

10. Succulents

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