Down in the Garden: Waterwise your Garden

With the refreshing spring rain we are enjoying, it can be hard to think about heat and how dry our gardens will likely become this summer.

Even if we do have a better season than last year, water costs money, it costs our environment and is a resource we all need to use more efficiently.

Becoming ‘waterwise’ in the garden means planning and planting with a focus on water needs and implementing practices that will use this precious resource in the best way possible.

Save Water in Your Existing Garden

Few of us have a blank slate to build our botanical dreams upon.

Maybe your garden is established, or perhaps it is a jungle in need of taming, but whichever it is, you can introduce more water-responsible gardening methods.

Even the slightest changes will make a difference to your water bill and environment.

Do you really need those resource gluttons – palms?

You may love their lush tropical look, but the majority of palms are from, you guessed it, the tropics.

They need lots of water and nutrients and, to achieve this, they send out a secondary root system just below or on the soil surface.

In the tropics with lots of rain and a more nutrient-dense environment, they are good plant neighbours but here they are resource thieves.

(When I moved into my home, the very first thing I did before lifting a trowel was to call in the tree removers to take away four huge palm trees … and my lovely native gum trees thanked me for it!)

Have you got weed matting?

Consider getting rid of it as it inhibits the natural movement of air and water through the soil.

Try using layers of newspaper as these will break down and provide a natural compost and implement other weed limiting techniques such as mulching, direct watering and feeding.

Plan your garden beds to sit closer together and be sure to mulch your garden well.

You can still have a beautiful garden with groupings of similar water needs.

Group any potted plants closer together in water need type as this will create micro-climates so that the plants support each other and make watering more efficient.

There are water saving crystals and wetting agents that help retain water, especially in potted plants.

Polyacrylamide crystals is one type that has a useable life of up to five years and will break down into water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Waterwise Garden Design

If you do have a blank slate garden or are up for some redesigning, then a bit of easy garden area planning can do wonders for water conservation.

Water moves downhill so if you are even on the slightest slope, try situating the plants that require the most water in the lowest areas of your garden.

In the higher areas, plant those that like their feet drier.

Plant wind breaks, especially across the south and west.

Our coastal winds are not only damaging they also greatly increase transpiration (loss of moisture through leaves) for all plants.

We all love raised beds for so many reasons.

They are easier to work as there is less bending involved and they do offer some protection from weeds and pests.

However, there is no getting around the fact that they use more water.

A solution is to construct from solid walls such as metals (although these do increase heat and evaporation in summer) or from mortared bricks/stones.

Thoughtful Planting to Save Water

As well as selecting plants that are better suited for our conditions, garden with the seasons by planting what is suggested for your zone in that season.

Here on The Central Coast, we are a ‘warm temperate’ zone.

Look ahead to the forecast – if rain or drier weather is predicted, tailor your watering schedule to suit.

When it comes to transplanting your new seedlings or young plants, stand punnets or pots in a bucket of water to soak.

Wait for bubbles to cease as this will indicated saturation of the soil.

Dig your planting hole wider and deeper than recommended and fork through the surrounding soil to soften and loosen it.

This enables stronger and deeper root growth so the plant can take advantage of water at deeper and wider levels.

Next, soak the planting hole well with water before planting and of course, mulch well!

You can check out the Smart Watermark Plant Finder for more Waterwise plants for your garden at: https://www.smartwatermark.org/smartwateradvice/plant-finder/

Vegetables

The challenges we face with the most popular vegetables that most of us enjoy is that generally, they are not self-adapting to our conditions.

Our favourite foods have evolved over centuries in places where agriculture has developed them to suit a greater water supply and far milder weather than ours.

To conserve water use, remember vegetables and fruits usually require more water when they are planted and when they are fruiting.

Reduce watering in-between these times.

The following is a small list of drought tolerant edibles that you may wish to consider but remember that even these suggestions will need to be watered well until established:

Amaranth, Artichoke (Jerusalem and Globe), Asparagus, Capsicum, Chickpea, Eggplant, Lima Bean Mustard Greens, Okra, Sweet Potato.

Dwarf varieties are also naturally less thirsty as they have a shorter growing period.

Watering, Mulch and Compost

Stop using sprinklers!

These waste water and give a drink to possible weeds surrounding your plants.

Spot water your garden beds and plants which means pouring from a watering can or hosing slowly close to the plant’s stem/trunk.

Do this at regular intervals with a larger amount of water rather than smaller amounts less regularly as this will drench your soil more deeply, encouraging deeper roots and slow the rate of surface evaporation.

Water either very early in the morning or late in the evening, avoiding the moisture zapping heat and sun.

Mulching is probably the easiest way to store water while providing much needed insulation for your soil – it can save water loss by up to 70 per cent!

Mulch also supports beneficial soil life including insects, micro-organisms and fungi.

It improves soil aeration and water uptake while reducing nutrient and moisture loss by rainfall runoff and evaporation.

As it decomposes it will also add carbon to the soil while supressing competing weeds and makes weeding easier.

Depending on the plants, lay mulch thick but not too thick (usually around 4 to 6cm) and do not have the mulch right up alongside the stem or trunk.

Best practice is to use an organic mulch such as pea straw, sugar cane mulch or lucerne mulch for vegetable gardens and smaller plants. Wood chips, pine bark, pebbles for larger shrubs and trees.

Water-saving Devices and Water Tanks

Those more adventurous gardeners might wish to explore options like wicking beds that retain a body of water within a garden bed, or buried clay vessels (pots and pipes) that you simply top up and let slowly release water and cool the soil.

Collecting rainwater to use on your garden as well as in the home is the ultimate waterwise strategy.

Gone are the days of the space-hogging ugly tank – we now have buried tanks and slimline models in all shapes, materials and colours to blend in.

So get planting.

This week, you can plant: potatoes, climbing beans, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, Beans (climbing and bush), carrots, echinacea, borage, basil, pansies, asters, petunias, polyanthus, forget-me-nots and marigolds.

Upcoming Events

On now: The Central Coast group of the Australian Plants Society is holding its first online plant sale. Order at www.austplants.com.au and then collected from Kariong on either 4 October or 18 October.

28th September 12 October 8:00 am each day: Library Online School Holiday Spring Explorers

What kind of bugs, plants and flowers can you find in your backyard? Free, go to –

https://www.centralcoast.nsw.gov.au/libraries/whats-on/library-online-school-holiday-spring-explorers

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘The Gardening Gang’ 8am every Saturday on Coast FM.

To list gardening events and news, email: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com

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