When I decided to move to Auckland from Sydney a couple of years ago, everyone told me that I should expect plenty of rain! While this might put most people off, I was quietly excited. After gardening in Sydney all my life and dealing with drought periods that lasted 6, 9, and even 12 months, it was time for a break. Two summers and two drought years later and I am wondering what happened to what I thought was my ideal gardening paradise... Water restrictions have arrived in Auckland and it looks like they are here to stay for a least a few months. Dam levels are reaching record lows and although we have had some rain this past week, it is barely matching our weekly demand. This means we are not seeing any growth on storage levels and its highly likely that we will move to 2 restrictions within weeks. We are still allowed to water our gardens under Level 1 and 2 water restrictions, however, we must do so with either a watering can or a timed irrigation system. The use of outdoor hoses is banned. Even still, as a community we need to be conscious of water-saving to avoid moving into Level 3 restrictions, which will prohibit ALL garden watering, regardless of the delivery. So what can you do in the garden now to save water and how can you plan for future drought years? Here are my tips to help your garden pull through.
1. MULCH, MULCH & MULCH!
There is no better way to conserve soil moisture than by applying a thick layer of mulch to the garden. Mulch works by trapping moisture in by slowing down the rate of evaporation Organic mulches such as bark and pea straw have the added benefit of breaking down over time and adding organic matter, which in turn also provides nutrients to your soil which feeds your plants.
If your garden is an exposed balcony that is subject to windy conditions, organic mulches are more likely to blow away and cause a mess, so I suggest replacing this with small-medium sized stones or pebbles. Smaller pebbles look more pleasing in pots than large stones, but can be more cumbersome to remove when adding fertilisers, compost, or when it is time to re-pot. Add at least a 5cm layer of mulch, preferably 7.5cm for organic mulches, and keep it away from touching the bark of stems and trunks of trees and shrubs, otherwise, the mulch may cause rot.
Compost contains a high level of organic material and organic material aids soil in retaining moisture for much longer periods. If you get in the habit of applying a 3cm layer of good quality compost twice a year, your garden will love you for it! Lay the compost under your mulch, for both pots and garden plants. Plus, compost contains billions of beneficial microbes that work wonders on improving your soil quality, but that's a blog post for another day...
3. SEAWEED TONICS
Add a good quality seaweed tonic (either powdered or liquid) to your watering can every 2-4 weeks to improve your plant's resistance to disease as well as drought. The seaweed helps strengthen a plant's immune system and is a wonderful product to include in your maintenance program year-round.
4. INSTALL AN IRRIGATION SYSTEM
Not only is this is a great way to save time in the garden, but irrigation systems use much less water when set to the correct times. Drip systems also deliver water straight to the root zone, where it is needed, further reducing water wastage. Most plants can be well maintained with 3 minutes of drip irrigation 1-2 times a day in summer and every 2-3 days in winter when rain is not present.
5. INSTALL A RAINWATER TANK
For the most part, we don't have a water shortage problem, we have a water storage problem which is politically driving and always short-sighted. Rather than wait for storage infrastructure to be built, why not consider capturing your own water with a rainwater tank? While this may not provide instant solutions to our current drought problems, it is an investment in the future and will protect your garden when future drought periods return, which with the increasing risk that climate changes, is an inevitable expectation we should all be planning for.
6. CAPTURE HOUSEHOLD WATER WASTAGE
When water restrictions are introduced, it's important to remember that every drop counts. You can save water around the house and direct otherwise wasted water directly to your garden. Use a bucket to capture cold water in the shower and the kitchen sink, like when you are waiting for the water temperature to heat up. You can then transfer this water to a watering can and use it on your pots plants and in your garden. You'll be amazed at how much you can save each week!
7. DESIGN A DROUGHT PROOF GARDEN
There are plenty of plants that do well in dry situations and can handle periods of extended drought, and the list is far greater than just succulents! A garden designer has the skills to design a water-friendly garden and can recommend plenty of plants to meet your style and aesthetic goals.
Most of these changes are easy to implement and as responsible gardeners, we must do all we can to protect such a precious resource that all life relies on.