Tips For Reducing Water Usage In Your Garden

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How can we minimise the amount of water we use in the garden and what’s the best way to get the most efficient use out of your irrigation dollar? Penny Coia is an Assistant Development Manager at Lendlease and has spent much of her career overseeing the planning of residential landscapes. Here are her gardening tips for how to use less water and still have a flourishing garden. 

Be mindful of where and how you are watering
Garden plants need plenty of watering to get established and to ensure the root systems develop well. A soaking will encourage the roots to get down deep. You’ll need to do this once a week in the hottest part of summer but very few times during the rest of the year.

A short spray that wets the surface soil will encourage roots to stay near the surface, which is the first soil to dry out when the weather heats up, stressing plants more quickly. That is why it’s important to add a mulch layer on top of the soil to reduce that evaporation. Also mix organic matter (like compost) into the soil before you start planting and this will help provide more gaps for the soil to store water. This also puts important nutrients into the soil to support plant growth. 

Drip irrigation systems are very efficient
Drip irrigation systems are a good idea. Put them on a timer for an hour and leave them to it! 

Some plants require less water than others
There are some (very few) plants that are “drought proof” but they’re really ugly. [Instead, look out for] drought tolerant or low water use plants. 

Drought tolerant plants will reduce the water bill and save you all that time watering by hand. 

The most obvious area of difference is in the leaves. Narrow or needle like leaves have a low surface area to reduce evaporation. Plump succulent leaves are storing moisture. Silver foliage stays cooler in the hot sun. But many drought tolerant plants also look like normal garden plants, so you don’t need to compromise on the style of your garden.

My favourite drought tolerant small tree is any of the many Crepe Myrtle varieties (Lagerstroemia Indica). This deciduous tree has very elegant bark and (if it gets a bit of additional watering in spring) will reward with huge sprays of colourful flowers.  

For shady spots I like Arthropodium Cirratum (Renga Renga Lily) for its broad, lush, green foliage and long flowering season. It doesn’t look like your typical drought tolerant plant. 

I also like Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum Parvifolium) which is a spreading native groundcover with bright, green foliage dense enough to suppress weeds. It can be trimmed in a neat line next to your paving.

Don’t mix drought tolerant plants with non drought tolerant plants
[Mixing your garden with drought tolerant and normal plants is n]ot a great idea as the different water requirement levels mean that you could end up stressing a drought tolerant plant with over watering. 

I suggest you cluster plants with similar water needs together. For example, in your west or north facing garden you might focus on drought-tolerant plants and (if there are some favourite higher water use plants) concentrate these in the cooler east or south facing gardens.

Opt for drought tolerant grass for your lawn
Warm season grasses are usually the most drought tolerant. They come from tropical climates and need warmth and lots of water to get established, but once they’ve got roots in the ground they’re pretty tough. 

We use Kikuyu in the Lendlease parks but this is quite a fast growing species and might give you too much mowing in a backyard! There are slower growing species like “low-mow” buffalo. And a new variety that sounds interesting is Empire Zoysia.

Not all indigenous plants are good for a low water garden
Indigenous plants that are from the immediate area [will be] well suited to the Aurora soil and rainfall frequency. 

[You could also consider using] Australian native plants from other areas of Australia. 

Confusingly, some native plants from tropical Australia are not very drought tolerant [so be aware of those]. 

There are also plenty of low water use plants from around the world, like the Mediterranean and South Africa. 

[Whether you use native plants in your garden or not] is a personal choice and should be driven by what style of garden you’d like. Certainly there is no reason not to use all three at once!