Have a waterwise summer


By Clare Jackson and Tim Newton

Waterwise gardeners have fewer weeds, stronger plants and a more vibrant garden ecology.

Here are six of our top tips for saving time and water in the garden.

  1. Stop overwatering. Overwatering causes disease problems in the garden, since most plants are more vulnerable to fungal attack if their leaves or roots are always slightly wet. Before you water, check the soil by digging around at about 10 cm deep. If it is damp underneath, don’t water.
  2. Plant thirsty plants (such as salad greens) together and water them as a group. While you are at it, plant up the garden beds densely, rather than just dotting a few plants around. This will shade the surface, leading to cooler soil, which in turn reduces water loss.
  3. Check for leaks. Fittings and hoses generally waste a high percentage of water, with much of the water ending up in the wrong place. The damp earth from a dripping tap connection will attract tree roots to house foundations (as will overwatering your flower beds close to paths and buildings). Check the o rings and washers on fittings and replace cracked or split hoses.
  4. Put a water tank under every plant. At planting time, pre- soak each plant in a bucket of water, until the potting mix stops bubbling. While it’s soaking, dig an extra-large planting hole and throw in a scoop of compost or mulch, and thoroughly soak that. Now plant your well soaked plant on top of its own ‘mini reservoir’.
  5. Avoid bare soil. Moisture quickly evaporates from bare soil during hot dry weather. Protect the soil by maintaining a continuous cover of mulch or plants. As well as reducing water loss, mulch acts like sunscreen for your valuable soil microbes; keeping them shaded and cool during hot weather.
  6. Water the plants, not the weeds. It is both wasteful and counterproductive to plug in a sprinkler and walk away. Target your watering efforts by giving each plant a regular, set amount of water, poured slowly into the ground at the roots. A 10-litre bucketful a week is enough for a young tree, and for vege plants, a milk bottleful each per week. Spot watering means the weeds in between are left dry and dormant weed seeds in the topsoil do not get enough water to germinate.
  7. Mow high. A longer sward shades the grass roots and is key to increasing drought resistance of a lawn. Clover in the lawn will also improve its resilience.
  8. Grow healthy soil. Healthy plants and a soil rich in microbes will increase soil depth and aeration, both vital for beating drought. The aim is to build up organic matter, which leads to a soil that soaks up and retains moisture, while allowing oxygen to reach the deep roots. Focus on feeding soil organisms rather than feeding plants and you’ll be well on the way.
  9. GreenFootprint’s title Grow More and Water Less – secrets of a waterwise garden is available here in eBook and paperback.

    *Landscapers and plant scientists Clare Jackson and Tim Newton, of GreenFootprint, have 30 years experience designing and building beautiful, sustainable landscapes, and working in gully restoration and tree care.

    If you’d like help with any aspect of your gully, trees or garden, they welcome your inquiry. Contact Tim, phone 021 103 5755; email tim@greenfootprint.co.nz

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