Nature has provided plants with a number of adaptations to save water. Choose succulents and plants with the following traits and you’ve found your water warrior winners.
In plant terms, a succulent is a plant with fleshy leaves or stems that it uses to store water in. Each leaf is a little JoJo tank that adds up to enough water to get the plant through from one rainfall to the next. Since we live in an arid country, there are hundreds of succulent species that spring to mind, but here are three succulents to look out for:
Aloe: From the tiny guineafowl aloe (Aristaloe aristata) to the massive tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae), there is an aloe for just about every role in the garden, although most gardeners would prefer something in between these two. The spectacular hybrids are very popular, like Aloe ‘Porcupine’ and Aloe ‘African Sunset’.
Crassula: There are over 200 Crassula species, but the most popular garden crassulas in South Africa are the jade plant (C. ovata) and the fairy crassula (C. multicava). The former is an attractive shrub while the latter is a beautiful, petite groundcover.
Portulacaria: The spekboom (Portulacaria afra) is a hugely popular shrub to small tree, offering delicate pale green leaves perched on red stems that mature to grey. The leaves are edible too! It comes in a few forms, from upright to sprawling, and some varieties have pale, almost golden leaves.
Grey or silver foliage
Grey or silver foliage is often seen in drought-tolerant plants, as the lighter colour operates as a natural sunblock, helping to reflect sunlight, thereby reducing leaf temperatures and lowering water loss. This is often paired with other water-saving characteristics such as succulent leaves. Here are three grey/silver plants that won’t let you down during a hot summer:
Coleus neochilus: Blue coleus, formerly known as Plectranthus neochilus, has to be one of the toughest plants out there. It’s also beautiful, forming a lovely groundcover in semi-shade or full sun.
Dymondia margaretae: The silver carpet is, yes, silver and, yes, forms an attractive carpet. The foliage is particularly attractive, but bright yellow daisies pop up in spring and summer too.
Salvia aurea: This indigenous salvia is commonly known as golden sage, and also has the scientific pseudonym of Salvia africana-lutea. It grows quickly into a shrub of about 2m high, with lovely bronze-orange flowers.
Other water-saving traits
If you were to stick to just succulents and silver/ grey plants, you would still have enough options to fill countless gardens, but there are also other interesting water-saving traits to keep an eye out for:
Waxy leaves: Waxy leaves reduce water loss in sun and wind. Kalanchoes are one group of plants that do this, and it’s also the reason why the incredibly popular plant, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, survives such inattention.
Hairs on leaves: Hairs on the leaf surface are another characteristic that has evolved to reduce water loss – they do this by slowing down air movement over the leaf’s surface. An example of such a plant is the silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum).
Tubers or bulbs: This one might not be as easy to spot, but plants often store their water below the earth’s surface, away from the heat of the sun. The ever-popular Agapanthus is one plant that does this, while the Dietes is another that is used extensively in modern landscaping.
Whenever you use water, try to make sure you don’t just use it once. Here are some ways you can reuse it to stretch every drop of precious H2O.
There’s a finite amount of water on earth, meaning that every drop we use has been used countless times before and will be used countless times again. That’s why it’s important to keep it unpolluted, and to use it as wisely as possible. Here are our top 3 water recycling tips:
Kitchen water is not recommended for use in gardens – except for the water you use to steam or boil veg with. That is brilliant for the garden, because it will actually contain nutrients that have leached out of the veggies.
So, the next time you treat the kids to boiled broccoli, save the water, let it cool down and then reuse it to water your plants.
‘Grey water’ refers to the relatively clean wastewater that comes from basins, showers and washing machines. It’s not water that comes from toilets and dishwashers, or kitchen water that contains things like oils and fats – that’s called black water.
Grey water is perfect for use in the garden, but the first step is to harvest it. The most basic way to do this is to scoop it out of the bath or catch your shower water in a tub, or you can divert the waste water from baths, basins, washing machines etc into a tank or straight out into the garden via a hosepipe.
Grey water tips
Choose appropriate cleaning products: Use environmentally friendly and biodegradable soaps, shampoos and detergents.
Direct grey water to plant roots: Grey water should be directed to the soil around the root zone of plants rather than the leaves.
Use grey water on non-edible plants: It’s generally recommended to use grey water on ornamental plants, trees, and shrubs rather than on edible crops.
Rotate watering areas: To prevent potential salt build-up in the soil, alternate between using fresh water and grey water for irrigation.
Avoid overwatering: Ensure that the grey water doesn’t only go to one spot every time.
Keep It Contained
The best way to save water is to make sure it goes where it is needed, and the easiest way to do that is with container gardens. Container gardens generally have excellent soil and are densely planted with plants with similar water requirements, so they’re water-wise.
Some containers have clever reservoirs at the bottom that collect water for the plant’s roots to use when they need it. Other containers have lids that reduce evaporation, creating a greenhouse effect where the water is constantly ‘recycled’ in the closed environment.
Remember, when preparing the soil for a container, use a quality potting soil mix and consider adding products like water-absorbing crystals, vermiculite and good old compost.
It’s time to embrace your inner floral artist and bring beautiful blooms from your own garden indoors.
The best flowers to use as cut flowers are flowering perennials, shrubs and even trees that have flowers and foliage as they last long in water and provide all year-round greenery. This is what you need to get started:
A vase that has been cleaned with hot water and a little bleach
Lukewarm water – this helps the flowers to drink more quickly
Cut flower food
A clean, sharp pair of secateurs
A bucket of clean water
Your flowers and greenery
Floral tape, optional
Let’s get creative
Fill your vase three-quarters full with lukewarm water. Add some cut flower food and give it a good stir.
You can use floral tape to make a grid on the vase that will keep the flowers in place, or put your flowers in so that their stems criss-cross and support each other.
Remove any leaves or thorns from the stems that would be submerged to avoid the water becoming slimy.
Start with the foliage and cut the stems at a 45° angle to maximise water absorption. You can work out how much to cut off by measuring the height of the stem next to the vase.
Start with arranging some flowers around the outer edge of the vase, almost like creating a nest.
Play around with the height and use an odd number of focal flowers to create a more natural look.
Fill gaps but make sure you don’t overcrowd the flowers in the vase.
Find the perfect spot for your flower arrangement away from draughts and direct sunlight.
Check water levels daily, topping up when needed and replacing the water and flower food every 2-3 days.
Keep your arrangement looking classy and fresh by recutting stems of any limp flowers and discarding any wilted blooms.
From the garden to the vase
Growing flowers that are a cut above the rest is easy to do – it just needs a little planning and know-how.
First give your plants good soil. To do this, prepare your soil by mixing in good quality compost, bonemeal and a slow-release fertiliser before planting.
Next, figure out each flower’s ideal conditions and team them up based on their demands. Consider how much light they need, water requirements and their height and width.
Add a layer of bark chips, grass clippings or leaf mould to protect their roots from the summer heat, scare off pesky weeds and minimise evaporation.
Feed plants regularly – at least every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
Water your plants two to three times a week during hotter months.
Cut fresh flowers in the mornings while they are still cool from the night and morning dew, with their stems full of water and carbohydrates. Don’t be scared to cut. For many plants, the more you cut, the more they flower.
Always use clean and sharp cutting tools so as not to damage the stems.
Different flowers should be cut at different times. Roses are best cut when their outer petals are starting to open, and plants like hydrangeas when they are in full bloom.
Cut your flowers about 3cm from the bottom of the main stem, at a 45° angle as this provides a larger exposed area in the stem for uptake of water. Once cut, pop your flowers immediately into a bucket of water so they don’t dehydrate.
If at all possible, the new agapanthus varieties on the market this year are bigger, better, more intense in colour and destined to become garden favourites in no time.
In previous issues of The Gardener we’ve talked about the fantastic Agapanthus ‘Blackjack’ that won the prestigious Plant of the Year 2023, which must surely go on the list of good buys this year. But, don’t forget to add two more from plant breeders Andy De Wet and Quinton Bean from De Wet Breeders (Hartbeespoort) – Agapanthus ‘Great White’ and Agapanthus ‘Everpanthus Midnight Sky’.
With super large flower heads, this agapanthus is as a great white shark is in the sea – impressive, majestic and powerful. It has compact foliage and grows to around 50cm x 50cm in ideal conditions. They can be planted in full sun or semi-shade and are cold-hardy, but just need to be protected from frost.
Part of the ‘Everpanthus’ range of agapanthus bred by De Wet Breeders is this stunning intense dark blue ‘Midnight Sky’. They grow to around 80cm tall and 70cm wide with dense flowers that have a long blooming period. They are perfect for patio pots, in mixed containers, and in flower beds with contrasting foliage and flowers to bring out their incredible blue-purple colour. They have excellent disease-resistance and are heat- and drought-tolerant once established. Plant in full sun in well-draining soil.
Keep your aggies glamorous!
Even the most glamorous stars need a bit of TLC.
Plant in good, well-draining soil.
Whip up a VIP soil mix with quality compost and bonemeal to pamper their roots.
They can be planted in semi-shade, but the more they bask in the sun, the better they’ll flower.
Even though they are drought-resistant, they do need a bit of watering, especially young and potted plants.
Feeding potted aggies regularly with a liquid plant food will keep them lush, while garden aggies will love a feed in spring with a slow-release fertiliser.
Deadhead any sad flowers regularly at the base of the plant.
Divide every second or third year in autumn, after their flowering season, to give their roots time to settle during winter.
You don’t have to use litres of water to make your garden beautiful. Here are some smart techniques for responsible water usage.
In The Hydrozone
Hydrozones are a game-changer when it comes to efficient gardening. By grouping plants based on their water requirements, we can tailor our watering practices to meet their specific needs. Whether in garden beds or containers, arranging plants with similar water needs together allows us to provide adequate hydration without wasting resources. For instance, high-water-usage plants can be placed in one hydrozone, while those with low water requirements can form another group.
This arrangement offers numerous benefits:
Optimises water usage.
Promotes healthy growth.
Minimises water stress on plants.
Improve Your Soil
Plant health starts with soil health, and good soil also helps to save water. Prep your soil well before planting by adding organic matter in the form of compost or rotted manure, as well as bone meal or superphosphate for strong roots, and a slow-release organic fertiliser. Vermiculite is also a good option if you need to increase soil’s water-holding capacity.
By doing this you will:
Create strong roots for more efficient water absorption.
Reduce water runoff.
Increase water-holding capacity.
Grow healthier plants.
Water At The Right Time
We all know that we need to water our gardens, but many of us choose to water at the wrong times. By understanding the best times to water, we can ensure our plants’ wellbeing while minimising water wastage.
It is generally recommended to water gardens in the early morning to allow plants to absorb moisture before the heat of the day sets in. However, it’s essential to monitor soil moisture regularly and adjust watering frequency based on specific plant needs. During hot summer months, additional watering in the evening might be necessary to help your plants recover overnight.
Watering at the right time offers several advantages:
Minimises water evaporation.
Helps prevent fungal diseases.
Helps plants efficiently absorb water.
Much More Mulching
Mulching is an effective technique that not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of our gardens but also plays a vital role in water conservation. By applying a layer of organic or inorganic material, such as bark chips, straw, compost, stones, gravel, nut shells or leaves, on the soil’s surface (and leaving no bare soil visible), we create a protective covering with multiple benefits:
Regulates soil temperature.
Improves soil fertility.
Suppresses weed growth.
Reduces water runoff.
Use Polymer Crystals
Innovative polymer crystals, also known as water-absorbing crystals or hydrogels, have made it much easier to garden without wasting water. These small granules have a remarkable ability to absorb and retain large amounts of water and then release it to plants’ roots, offering several advantages:
Reduced watering frequency.
Healthier, more resilient plant growth.
Thriving plants even in challenging conditions.
More water-wise container gardens and hanging baskets.
Salvias may be tough and low-maintenance, but we’ve got some tips that will help you to unleash their superpowers in the garden.
Imagine a group of plants that are so attractive and useful that their awesomeness couldn’t be contained in a whole library. These plants embrace almost any climate with a sassy attitude and have secret water-saving superpowers. Yes, we’re talking about the ultimate superheroes of the plant world – salvias. These are our 7 tips for the best results.
1. Choose the right salvia for your climate
Salvias come in various shapes and sizes, and their adaptability to different climates is like that of chameleons. Some can brave low winter temperatures, sweltering summer heat and strong coastal winds, while others are more delicate. Be a savvy sage parent and choose the right type of salvia for your specific climate, allowing them to feel at home.
2. Provide plenty of sunshine
Salvias thrive in the sunshine, so find them a prime spot where they can bask in at least 6 hours of sun each day. More sun means more sizzling blooms to enjoy
3. Prepare well-draining soil
For salvia’s ideal match, opt for sandy loam soil that is well-draining. Before planting, give your salvias a head-start by preparing the soil with a generous dose of compost and bonemeal. This will provide them with the nutrients they need for healthy growth.
4. Feeding and mulching
Salvias aren’t particularly demanding when it comes to feeding, but smaller, more compact plants can benefit from a slowrelease fertiliser (like an organic 3:1:5) after their spring flower show. In autumn, add a layer of shredded leaves or wood chips as mulch around the base of the plants. This acts as a warm blanket, ensuring their survival during the winter months.
5. Watering Salvias
Salvias are drought-tolerant champions and can endure long periods without water. However, during scorching summers when the soil has completely dried out, they will appreciate a deep watering once or twice a week. Remember to allow the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent overwatering.
6. Regular deadheading and pruning
Deadhead spent flowers regularly to give your salvias a mini makeover, keeping them looking fresh. After their flowering season is over, whether it’s in late autumn or spring, give them a full makeover with a good prune. This will help maintain their shape, prevent them from growing too big and leggy, and promote healthier growth. A little trim before the winter slumber works wonders.
7. Resilient and attractive to wildlife
Salvias are resilient against most pests and diseases, acting as real sun-sizzling heroes in your garden. They also attract beneficial insects like bees, butterflies and birds, turning your garden into a haven for wildlife.
By following these simple tips, you can keep your salvias sizzling and continue to enjoy their vibrant beauty in the garden. Watch them thrive, dazzle and bring never-ending joy to your gardening experience.
These three plants never disappoint in the perennial quest for effortless garden beauty.
We’ve all had those moments when we yearn for a low-maintenance garden that can still captivate with its vibrant colours and textures. But choosing the right plants can be a challenge. Fear not! We’ve got a fabulous foursome that will bring life and allure to gardens across different climates, from Muizenberg to Musina. From the dramatic Carex ‘Everillo’ to the enchanting Hebe ‘Sunset Boulevard’, and the compact yet mighty ‘HibisQs’ series, let’s explore these three plants that will work their magic while you sit back and relax.
Our first favourite of the three chommies is actually a whole genus – Carex. There are many varieties to choose from, but let’s shake up those sunny or shady garden spots with the showstopper Carex ‘Everillo’ or the majestic Carex ‘Feather Falls’.
‘Everillo’ is a trendsetter with cascading foliage that starts lime-green and changes to golden-yellow. ‘Feather Falls’ has clean, variegated green and white foliage and gets beautiful feathery flower plumes in spring. Both have similar growing characteristics:
They are evergreen.
They can be planted in the garden or in containers. Low-maintenance plants that are tough and resistant to cold and frost.
Create a dramatic visual impact.
Reliable choices for any garden.
Require well-draining soil enriched with compost and bonemeal.
Should be pruned regularly and heavily to keep them neat.
Reach 50 x 50cm.
Hebe ‘Sunset Boulevard’
Hold on to your gardening hats for famous hebes and let Hebe ‘Sunset Boulevard’ steal the spotlight.
This trendy shrub reaches a height of 1m.
It has dark pink flowers that bloom abundantly in summer and autumn.
It has glossy dark leaves and sassy red mid-ribs, adding glamour to the garden.
It thrives in well-drained soil.
Protection from frost is necessary.
It can be enjoyed in pots, rock gardens or mass plantings.
Looking for vibrant flowers to brighten your garden and create the perfect selfie backdrop? Look no further than the compact hybrid ‘HibisQs’, bred from the hibiscus but with longer lasting flowers.
These small but mighty plants reach a height of up to 2m and width of 1.5m.
They showcase lush foliage and have a never-ending blooming season.
Each vibrant bloom features a contrasting eye zone or throat, adding visual appeal.
Planting one can instantly transform your patio, balcony or garden into a tropical paradise.
Plant in well-draining soil.
Protection from cold and frost is necessary.
Regular watering and appropriate fertilisation are essential for best results.
The magic mathematics of a good-looking pot, starts with a thriller, a filler and a spiller. Potted magic This ratio of plants is the beginning of potted success. Our contrasting colour combination here will brighten up any spot in need of a makeover.
You will need:
A pot with drainage holes
Pebbles for drainage (you can even use smaller broken up pieces of an old clay pot).
Fresh potting soil
Slow- release fertiliser
Decorative bark or wood mulch
Plants to use:
A thriller – we chose Agapanthus ‘Bucanneer’ for this task for its ability to grow tall impressive stems of purple flowers that last up to 8 months of the year
A filler – with its stunning dark foliage, Loropetalum ‘Plum Gorgeous’ covers colour needs even when there are no flowers in the pot.
Two spillers – amazing yellow lime afro-like foliage, makes Carex‘Everillo’ an ideal spiller to contrast with the other two.
First prepare the soil with half potting soil and half compost and add in 2 handfuls of fertiliser. Add in some bonemeal to provide extra calcium for the plants. Give this a good mix.
Add your drainage pebbles to the bottom of the pot.
Fill the pot halfway with your soil mix.
Carefully remove the plants from their bags without disturbing the roots. Gently tease any compacted roots with the tips of your fingers to encourage the roots to grow laterally once planted.
In goes the agapanthus. It’s important to make sure that the top of the plant sits about 2cm below the pot rim so there is no water spillage when watering. Next the loropetalum and finally the carex.
Add some more soil under a plant, if you want to play with the height.
To finish off, fill the pot with the remaining soil mix, firming down with your trowel handle so that the plants are snug and secure.
Add a layer of decorative bark or wood mulch and give your newly potted garden a good drink of water. Continue to water at least twice a week to get the plants well settled.
Follow the Thanks Plants campaign on www.thanksplantssa.co.za and enter the competition in the August, September and October issues of The Gardener and Die Tuinier.
In South Africa, if your lavender has been in your garden for more than two years, well, you’re a botanical boss! If not, we have some suggestions.
Lavenders love warm and dry conditions, plus they are relatively hardy against the cold and can withstand light frost. Plant them in a sunny spot where they can soak up the sunbeams all day long. Don’t plant them too close to each other, to give them some room to breathe.
Common Lavender problems
Lavenders need a good drink to quench their thirst, but be careful not to drown their delicate roots as they don’t like having wet feet. Water regularly until their roots are strong, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between watering sessions.
Overwatering and too much humidity can cause fungal diseases. Use a contact fungicide as a foliar spray to treat your lavender and keep them happy and thriving – just make sure to read the instructions and dilution rate.
Lavenders need slightly alkaline, sandy to loamy soil that is well-draining. If your garden soil feels sticky, like a heavy clay soil, work in generous quantities of river sand and compost to improve drainage. Or plant in raised beds or pots filled with good quality compost and potting soil.
Lavenders do need a haircut after they have finished blooming, to keep them looking gorgeous. We don’t want our lavender to grow tall and leggy with bare stems and foliage only at the top. Look at where your lavender is starting to push new leaves, and avoid cutting into a stem that has no foliage.
Steps for pruning lavender
1. Divide the plant into 3 equal parts.
2. Cut off the top two thirds from half the plant only.
3. Wait until the pruned section starts to grow and then cut the other half of the plant.
4. Remember to feed and water your lavender after their trim.
Follow the Thanks Plants campaign on www.thanksplantssa.co.za and enter the competition in the August, September and October issues of The Gardener and Die Tuinier.
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