Summer’s here, it is hot outside and gardens will become very thirsty if it doesn’t rain. But there are ways to reduce your garden’s dependence on expensive mains water.
– Do simple redesigning for more efficient water use by zoning your planting into small high-water and larger low-water areas.
– Employ water-efficient gardening techniques by dramatically increasing the organic content of the soil – composting and mulching for Africa means better water retention.
– ‘Recycle’ water by harvesting rainwater and reusing household water – it can be as easy as just connecting your gutter pipe to a water tank, or showering with a bucket or two next to your feet.
Opt for low-growing hardy groundcovers that grow in gaps and have low water requirements. For shaded areas there are many different ivy varieties that can be used, or try the slower-growing dwarf mondo grass (also available in several different colours and heights). For full sun areas, soften with silver carpet, convolvulus or erigeron varieties.
In the veggie garden, stick to crops that need less watering in a low irrigation zone, like carrots, beetroots, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb.
Hot tip: Plant the seeds of squashes near sunflowers or sweet corn and allow them to trail up and over their stems to save space.
Dig compost and Super Phosphate (or bonemeal, if you would like to use an organic alternative) into the bare patches and sow seeds of quick-maturing summer flowers, such as marigolds, cosmos, ageratums, petunias and portulacas.
Hot tip: For a water-saving and heat-tolerant flower bed, look no further than red salvias and vincas – you will find their seedlings at your local nursery.
Remove any briar growth and shorten water shoots on roses. Also deadhead spent blooms when the first flush is over.
Fynbos, including leucospermums, buchus, ericas and proteas, can be pruned for neatness after flowering this month.
In the veggie garden, watch out for red spider mites as they attack fruit trees such as peach, plums, apples, and also fruit and veggies such as cucumbers, beans, tomatoes and strawberries. Continue sowing small, regular crops of beans, sweetcorn, baby marrows and patty pans. Sow one or two rows of carrots and beetroots and plant out seedlings of warm-season lettuce varieties as well as parsley.
Wilting plants can be an indication of too little water or an inefficient irrigation system with sprinklers missing. Check out the whole system for dry spots (and leaks!).
Hot tip: Watering at ground level cuts out evaporation and also prevents disease in hot and humid weather. You can make your own seep hose by drilling holes in a length of hosepipe.
Add some kick to your veggie garden:
Combine the silvery foliage of sculptural artichokes with bright yellow sunflowers. Create some tall tepees for runner beans and ornamental calabashes and plant colourful spinach ‘Bright Light’ at their bases. Allow your dill, bronze fennel and leeks to set seed heads – they are very ornamental. Plant a few pretty standard roses like ‘My Granny’ as focal points in the veggie garden and add lots of herbs like parsley around their feet.
Bromeliads need to be frequently fertilised with liquid fertiliser. To combat mosquito larvae, regularly flush out the stale water in their crowns with the hosepipe.
Tidy up old palm fronds, feed with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser and water deeply and regularly to keep them healthy and lush.
Hot idea: Thyme is a good choice for lush covering in a medium-to-low water zone. You can cook with thyme, bath with thyme and walk over thyme. What more can one ask of a plant? If you have a sunny spot in the veg patch or just need to add some more groundcovers to a well-drained area in the other parts of the garden, consider some of the low-growing thymes like Thymus ‘Coccineus’, ‘Doon Vally’ thyme, Bressingham thyme (Thymus doerfleri) and green thyme (Thymus serpyllum).
Kitchen Gardening – if you have planted brinjals in the veggie patch or in pots, add the following companion plants, which will complement their taste when your harvest is ready and you start cooking with them: oregano, marjoram, thyme, sweet basil and rosemary.
Allow the foliage of spring bulbs to go yellow and die back naturally, continue to feed bulbs so they can store food for next season’s floral show. Deadhead spring-flowering bulbs as they start to look untidy. Keep newly planted summer bulbs moist. Start a feeding programme once they have sprouted foliage.
Sow seeds of zinnias, verbenas, cosmos, celosias, marigolds and salvias. Support tall-growing perennials so that they don’t collapse in the wind. Feed your garden at least once a month. Feed containers and hanging baskets every two weeks with a liquid fertiliser. Keep lawns looking good with a regular feeding programme, which will also help to suppress weeds.
Agapanthus are at their best in November, so visit your nursery to get new varieties to add to your collection. It is a great a time to plant scented star jasmine, flowering hibiscus, Inca lilies, lavenders, carnations, aquilegias, rudbeckias, dahlias, gaura, grevilleas, echinaceas, gardenias and bougainvilleas.
Plant all pumpkin-type family crops now, and sow fruit-producing vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggfruit. Plant salad plants like basil, lettuce, spinach, rocket and celery. Use organic fertiliser and sprays for your edible crops. Spray in the late afternoon when bees are less active.
Cut back poinsettias and prune hibiscuses and tibouchinas to encourage flowering in late summer and autumn. Tie new canes of climbing roses to their supports and make sure that other vulnerable plants like standard roses and young trees are also securely supported to prevent damage during summer storms. Keep planting summer-flowering bulbs like dahlias, eucomis, gladiolus, amaryllis and the beautiful coloured arum hybrids.
Hot tip: Plants with deep roots have a much better chance at surviving periods of drought. To encourage deep anchorage when planting new trees or large shrubs, insert 60 cm lengths of plastic gutter, or thick water pipes, upright into their planting holes before backfilling them. Short lengths of these pipes must stick out above the soil level. When watering by hand, you can simply insert the hose into these openings to water deeply. Another way to keep the water where it is most needed is to create a soil basin around each plant. After watering deeply at ground level, apply a thick layer of mulch around the plant. Do not allow it to bulk up against any stems or trunks as this can cause rotting.
Waterwise lawn care:
Long grass sends down deeper roots and provides more shade for itself, so can cope far better with drought. Raise the cutting height in summer. The lawn might have a wilder look, but it will stay green. When watering, do it early morning or late afternoon and never on a windy day.
Start planting red and white flowers for some festive season colour. Try red salvias and white alyssum as a pretty border, or red and white begonias for a shady areas.
Hot tip: Plant up an indigenous bed using bird- and butterfly-attracting shrubs like tecomas, September bush, buddlejas and pentas. You will have endless wildlife in the garden and can also call this your low-to-medium watering zone.
In the veggie garden, keep on sowing beetroot, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. Re-sow herbs that are fading or getting too old, like basil, parsley and chives. Keep an eye out for white fly, especially in the heat.
Sound water-saving advice: Use water-retention granules in flower beds when planting young seedlings. Water-retentive products break the water-resistant layer of certain soils, draw the water deeper into plants’ root zones, and keep the soil moist for longer. Also treat all your container plants with water-retention crystals – simply dig it in lightly around the existing plants, water well and finish off with a decorative mulch like bark nuggets. You will be amazed at how helpful these products can be to keep plants alive!