The Cape Town drought, accompanied by hot and dry weather, affects our local gardens far more negatively than we realise. The effects of drought on our gardens can last for many years, impacting most harshly on trees and large shrubs. While we have no control over when rain falls, and when not, we can attempt in some way to minimise its effects on our plant life.

While being mindful to adhere to the specifications of the current water restrictions, and using only grey water, when watering your garden, you should water less often but water thoroughly when you do. While some plants will simply wilt, others may lose their leaves, or at worst, may die. The drought conditions can turn leaves brown, make them curl up, or even cause plants to grow more slowly or stop growing completely. Plants are generally weaker, and therefore more susceptible to disease and insect attacks.

A few considerations for your garden during the drought conditions:

• Water intentionally
Plants still require watering during a drought. When watering your garden, you should water less often but water slightly more when you do. If the ground gets moisture on a deeper level, it encourages deeper roots as opposed to a smaller, more superficial root system. Additionally, bark, woodchips, and pebbles can be used as a form of mulch layer which will add protection against evaporation.

• Give a mulch boost 
Using mulch has several benefits, especially in drought conditions. The mulch keeps the soil cooler because it prevents direct sunlight on the soil, and as such prevents evaporation from taking place; bark, woodchips, and pebbles can be used as a form of mulch protection.

• Weed your garden
The small amount of water available should not go to weeds so be sure to weed your garden and deadhead your flowers.

• Use the correct fertiliser
Fertilising encourages your garden to grow. In the times of drought, it is about using the correct fertiliser and the right composition. Remember that your grey water does contain nutrients that will add to your usual feeding scheme. Using pelleted fertilisers without water will add no value to your garden; you should consider liquid fertiliser or dissolving your fertiliser or consider worm tea as an organic alternative. Salt build-up in the soil from overdosing can be detrimental to plants in times of insufficient water if you do fertilise.

• Lawns
It is also advisable to leave your grass a little longer as the extra length protects the roots and assists with keeping the soil cooler, thereby preventing unnecessary moisture loss. Certain areas of grass can also be replaced with pebbles, chip stones, and rocks as well as other hard landscaping solutions, such as peach pips and even crushed glass! Certainly, the demand for a variety of synthetic turf has exploded and brings back the calming green of your beloved garden. But the feel is different and note that synthetic turf can get quite hot in the sun.

The current dry spell gives all of us the opportunity to think about when to next invest in our gardens, what to buy, and what to add to our outdoor spaces. It also gives us an opportunity to ask how water-wise our gardens are, and how we can improve it.

For advice on water-wise garden design and maintenance, please contact Julian Bartels on 021 418 4000 or

afriserv march 2018 article 3