Dealing with drought and heatwaves.

Posted by on January 30, 2016

The last two months have been challenging for  gardeners  in Knysna. We have had incessant  heat, persistent wind and very little  rain during December and January.   Rivers are drying up, and our ‘holding’ dam, the Akkerkloof’s level is alarmingly low.

Climate change has presented us with a challenge – the question is,  can we still garden with less water and higher summer temperatures? Gardeners are inventive and persistent –  we will adapt to this changing world and still have our bit of Eden surrounding our homes come what may. Changes will have to be made and this ‘Adapt or Die’ philosophy will be the new mantra.  Take a good look at your garden, whatever is not surviving or showing signs of stress, remove the plants and replace with hardy, drought tolerant plants.  We may still get some wet seasons, but it is a fact that the Western Cape is getting hotter and drier every year.

So what are we to do? With some conditioning of the soil and careful watering, there are plants that can tolerate dry conditions once they are established.

  • Adding organic matter to the soil before planting will help to improve retention of moisture, but do not add fertilisers, as this encourage too much lush growth which require extra watering.
  • Use mulches to retain moisture in the soil.
  • Select plants with small leaves; grey foliage plants are generally more drought tolerant. The light leaf colour reflects the harsh rays of the sun, and some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems which help to trap moisture around the plant tissue.
  • Indigenous plants are generally hardier than the imports, however I have noticed plants that use to cope with short spells of water depravation are struggling with the incessant heat that we have had.

If you are not a lover of indigenous plants, the following exotic shrubs & perennials perform well in dry and hot conditions:

Abelia grandiflora

Abelia grandiflora

  • Abelia x grandiflora
  • Buxus sempervirens
  • Ceanothus
  • Raphiolepis
  • Hebe (small leaved varieties)
  • Nandina (avoid hot afternoon sun)

The following “fillers” are hardy but relatively short lived:

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

  • Brachyscome
  • Bidens
  • Lavendula
  • Limonium
  • Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Succulents

Indigenous Performers:

Leucodendron sp.

Leucodendron sp.

  • Aloes sp.
  • Dietes grandiflora
  • Some Protea species
  • Freylinia
  • Confetti bush
  • Agathosma
  • Acmadenia
  • Euryops
  • Succulents
  • The list goes on, but take care when selecting indigenous plants as their soil requirements may vary considerably. Ericas that grow on sloping clay strata won’t like beach sand or rich composted soil, proteas like gritty soil and won’t thrive in heavy clay.  As a general rule our fynbos species should not be planted in rich composted soil or be fed with fertilizers high in nitrogen.

dietes-grandiflora   freylinia

Dietes grandiflora                                                                                      Freylinia tropica white


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