Top tips for creating a waterwise garden that can withstand the summer heat including what species to plant, mulching, soil and water saving ideas

Top tips for creating a waterwise garden:

  1. Plant species with lower water requirements, such as cacti, succulents or native species suited to local conditions.

    Plants from other regions of the world that have similar climatic conditions to Australia, such as South Africa or the Mediterranean, generally also perform well here.

  2. Plant species with similar water needs in the same area of the garden – then you know how much to water them and you won’t over-water plants that don’t need it.
  3. Mulch the garden to prevent water evaporation from the soil. Mulch can also provide thermal insulation for the soil and protect plants from the effects of temperature extremes. Mulch also keeps weeds down. Mulch to a depth of around 50mm to 100mm once or twice a year – as this breaks down you will be adding organic matter to the soil and encouraging earthworms too.
  4. Start from the ground up – improve the soil. All soils benefit from adding compost and organic matter and it will improve water-holding capacity. Naturally sandy soils are freer-draining which means they leach both water and nutrients, whilst clays hold the most water and nutrients but are harder to work so need applications of gypsum and elbow-grease to break up clods.
  5. When planting, dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, incorporate planting compost and fill with water. Plant out then give another good drink then mulch, creating a slight dish around the roots to help catch any water. The best time to plant a lot of species is late summer going into autumn whilst the soil is still warm but you have many months for establishment until the next hot summer.
  6. Creating swales along a sloping block then planting in the base of these is a good way to slow the water down on a sloping block and utilise available rainfall; select fibrous rooting plants to bind soil together and prevent soil washing away.
  7. Remember that longer infrequent soakings are far better than shallow frequent sprinkles as this encourages a deeper root system and greater drought tolerance. If you’re finding that water is just beading on the surface or running away from the plants, it probably means the soil is repelling water which can occur with extended dry periods and mostly in sandier soils. Use a wetting agent to hose on or spread granules to aid water retention then water in.
  8. Think about how much lawn you need as lawns account for about 30 per cent of water usage in the garden. If you need lawn for pets and children choose hardy varieties such as Sir Walter and Palmetto Buffalo. Don’t cut grass shorter than 2cm. If the lawn is too short it will burn. Taller grass also holds water better.
  9. Use tank water where available or fill various large containers for use throughout the garden. Gutters or collection points work best clear of leaf litter or debris so clean regularly. Placing a tank on a raised platform will give you natural pressure but if you need to get water further or increase pressure, you will need a pump.
  10. Consider diverting ‘grey water’ (from the washing machine etc.) onto the garden but be sure washing powders are low in phosphorus (usually indocated on the pack) as some natives are sensitive to this. You will usually have to dilute grey water with tank or town water to make it suitable for use.
  11. When using porous pots, like terracotta,seal the inside to help retain moisture and invest in a good quality potting mix which should contain water-saving crystals as cheaper brands can ‘shrink’ and become water-repellent over time.
  12. Submerge pot plants for a few minutes in a sink or bucket of water. The water will soak in, push out trapped air in the soil so your plants will be healthier from getting a thorough soaking and you can keep reusing the water for the next plant. A plastic garden bin is perfect for this.
  13. In the veggie garden, prepare beds well by digging through well-rotted compost to a depth of 40cm prior to planting, plant in blocks not rows to lessen evaporation and select heavy cropping plants like tomatoes, capsicum and squash.
    Some of the more drought-tolerant herbs and vegies are spring onions, tomatoes, artichoke, carrots, chives, chokos, endive, mustard greens, rosemary, thyme and parsley. When considering fruit trees think olive, mulberry, feijoa, avocado and almonds.

As seen in bmag issue 250