Saving water in your garden is something Durbanites need to see as a long-term strategy for more than just the time water shortages are being experienced.
While many take the ready availability of on-tap clean water for granted, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reminds us that 783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide.
Water cuts have increasingly become something even people with piped water experience regularly as the infrastructure which gets water into our taps, struggles to deal with the dual problems of age and lack of maintenance, while the shortage of available water means many are encouraged to decrease water use.
While the current water shortage is due to lack of rainfall, the lessons we learn during this time of scarcity could help homeowners cut costs at other times, and help create more sustainable and environmentally and economically savvy gardening a habit which means in future times of scarcity we will be better equipped to cope.
Here are some tips to help you save water in your garden, even if you haven’t set up a proper rainwater collection tank system yet.
Take up water harvesting for your garden
Collected rainwater and water used in the home can be used in the garden as long as you follow some guidelines about what is in the water you collect. Even if you have infrequent rainfall, the use of rain-harvesting guttering will divert water into collection tanks. This takes the pressure off the water supply as harvested rainwater and grey-water from your home allows you to use less of the piped supply.
Using household water you would otherwise throw away can be a source of many litres of water for your garden.
Research ways to use grey water, which runs from baths, washing machines, dishwashers and the the like, into pipes and can be diverted and used to water your garden.
It is important however that if you are going to use grey water you ensure it doesn’t contain bleach, disinfectants or stronger cleaning agents which could harm soil structure and damage plants. Household soaps and most detergents are harmless to plants, but if you are unsure find out before buying a cleaning product.
Look after the soil
One of the first casualties of water shortages is the soil moisture which can undermine soil quality. Adding mulch and other organic matter like compost, can help prevent loss of soil moisture and even improve your soil. If you are able to, collect cuttings and vegetable waste from the kitchen and create your own compost. Adding any water retentive matter helps prevent water from evaporating before it has a chance to be absorbed by the plants.
Similarly, mulching flower beds, adding grass cuttings or water-retentive granules to compost at the base of plants, shrubs, trees and even hanging baskets and planters will allow the plants to make efficient use of the water you are able to provide them.
Choose plants wisely
Some plants need less water than others to grow successfully. Consider replacing plants which have died down due to water shortages with others that need less water.
South African indigenous plants have had years to adapt to the conditions in our country and normally do better in water scarce gardens than exotics which need extra watering to mimic more lush climes.
Using a watering can, watering around plant bases while leaving other areas dry can help to limit weed growth while it ensures the precious water goes where it is most needed.