The hottest month is upon us and our backyards are feeling the heat. Mark Rayner provides advice on maintaining an appealing landscape without relying too heavily on water.
Covering your soil will help to retain moisture by reducing the chances of evaporation. This can be done by using a mulch, such as bark chips or stones, or by growing dense evergreen ground-cover plants to shade the soil from the drying effects of the sun. Covering the soil in this way also helps to keep weeds at bay – a win-win situation.
Consider increasing the humidity within a specific area of the garden by installing a water feature. More moisture in the air means that surrounding plants will transpire less. The water in a large natural pond or still pool will gently and continuously evaporate on a hot day, increasing the surrounding humidity.
Avoid potted plants, if possible, as these will almost certainly require some form of watering during the warmer weather – even drought-tolerant plants may struggle in fully dehydrated potting mix. Small pots are particularly susceptible to drought and may require watering every day. If you must have potted beauties, opt for larger containers, mulch the base of the plant, and ensure the potted plant is shielded from drying wind and shaded from scorching afternoon sun.
Choose plants that will thrive in your (unwatered) garden’s conditions. Most succulents will be perfectly happy in the dry and sandy conditions of a coastal garden and many Mediterranean and South African favourites are perfectly at home in hot and dry conditions. As a rule of thumb, a plant’s foliage is a good indicator to its drought tolerance. Plants with fine foliage, grey-leafed or waxy-leafed plants, and those with furry leaves tend to transpire less than their larger, glossier-leafed counterparts – thus requiring less water.
The classic ‘gravel garden’ is a great way to go low-maintenance when it comes to watering. By planting drought-tolerant beauties within a fully gravelled area you’re combining the moisture-saving benefits of a permanent mulch with plants that will thrive in these conditions. There’s a wide variety of plants that will thrive in a gravel garden including lavenders, many ornamental grasses, daisy-like plants and drought-tolerant herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage.
Wind can also dry out the garden so consider additional permanent garden structures (such as a well-placed gazebo or summer house) or evergreen structural planting (shrubs and/or hedges) to lessen the effect of wind on the surrounding soil and plants.
When establishing individual plants (or a whole garden for that matter), encourage plants to develop deeper roots by watering for longer periods of time, but less often. Periodically saturating the ground will ensure plants develop strong and deep roots meaning they’ll require little (or no) watering further down the track.