The most important element on this planet, which supports every form of life, is water.
With the approaching seasonally rainless months of January to March before the rainy season of April and May gets under way, it is worth considering how we should adapt our gardening methods so that we have attractive gardens through the dry season.
We all need to be more water conscious and not take this vital commodity for granted. The East African climate is one that seasonally varies between drought and plenty of rain. With climate change and the ever exploding population, the finite water sources are close to their limit and water shortages will always be with us.
Be water wise in your garden. Gardeners need to re-think their gardens to minimise the need for water. Gone are the days when sprinklers can be turned on to frequently drench the lawns, flower borders and shrubs.
Conserve as much water as possible by avoiding use of overhead sprinklers at the hottest time of day, between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m., which is the period of maximum evaporation.
Drip irrigation is the most efficient way of watering the garden but is best done from just before the sun rises until 9.00 a.m. and again after 5.00 p.m. in the afternoon until after dark. Bath or shower water that is poured down the drain into the sewer is very wasteful and is better used in the vegetable garden via a gravity fed furrow or hand carried into the garden in a bucket or watering can.
Water wise tips include:
1. Use plenty of mulch in the garden to cover those areas where the soil is exposed to the sun. Moisture retention is greatly helped by adding lots and lots of compost to the soil and after planting, mulching the surface with further compost, leaf litter, stones or other suitable material.
2. If watering is necessary, give a good soaking once a week rather than a little every day, to avoid the roots coming to the surface in their search for water.
3. Water only between 5.00 to 9.00 a.m. in the morning and 5.00 to 7.00 p.m. in the afternoon.
4. Use your grey water from the bath, shower, wash hand basin and washing machine for the garden and pot plants as it is such a waste during the dry season to tip it into the sewer or septic tank.
5. Put guttering to the roof of your house and other buildings and lead the water to either plastic or concrete water tanks to store the rain water. The water can then be used during the dry season for hand watering of plants using a can or with a pump. You can also supply water to the garden through the drip system.
We need to consider more carefully the water that a plant requires before deciding what and where to plant and to avoid those that will require regular watering through the seasonal dry periods. Avoid planting annuals and thirsty plants and use those that have adapted to dry condition – the list is endless.
Those of us who appreciate succulent plants and have used them extensively in the garden will be able to relax knowing that their plants will survive drought conditions. Many succulent plants are most attractive and ornamental and these can be used either in their own separate areas or intermixed with other drought resistant plants.
Some of the names of succulent plants that can be used in the garden include Aloes, both the indigenous species and those from other countries in Africa, Agaves, Aeoniums, Bulbines, the many different Crassulas, Echeverias, Euphorbias, Kalanchoes, Plectranthus, Adeniums (Desert Rose) and Mesembryanthemums.
That last one covers a long list of plants commonly called ice plants with brightly coloured daisy-type flowers. There are many plants in all categories that will tolerate drought so that when used together, they produce a really pleasing garden.
Apart from succulents and cacti, there are many other drought-tolerant plants that can be used in the garden, like the Brunfelsia species (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), Artemesia, Gaura, Pelargonium, Ceratostigma, Barleria, Bauhinia, Buddleja, Oleander and many more.
There are many drought resistant plants and succulents available at the Plants Galore Garden Centre as well as a fine example, adjacent to the parking area, of a border with these plants that are never artificially watered.
Plants Galore Garden Centre - Email: email@example.com