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Not a drop to drink

June 01, 2014


Bougainvilleas under training
Bougainvilleas under training

The heat is well and truly on and gardens, as always at this time of year, are crying out for water but — so are people — so what does one do?

If you have planned ahead and planted with water conservation in mind, then you are one step ahead of the ‘game’ but, the sad fact is that the majority of gardeners still fail to factor water conservation into their gardening plans and landscape designs. In a country where potable water is, like electricity, only available and affordable for the rich, it is of major importance that the precious resource of water is given the respect it must have.

Those who have not planned their gardens and what is grown in them with shortages of water in mind, stand to lose many of their very expensive, water gobbling, imported exotics — especially those from humid countries to the east of Pakistan such as Malaysia. These species inevitably require not just water to drink but to be sprayed on them too, in an effort to replicate the humid, tropical growing conditions which are their natural need. Those who purchase tanker water, at an increasingly exorbitant cost, are often given brackish water which these exotics do not like at all. In all honesty, such plants should not be allowed into the country in the first place and, if they are, or are ‘smuggled’ in, in private luggage, gardeners should have the sense to avoid them like the plague. Growing a species that your neighbour doesn’t have is not the be all and end all of creating beautiful gardens as this can be done — and done exceedingly well — with far more climatically favourable, preferably indigenous, species.

Cutting back water consumption in an already established garden or, for that matter, in pots and other assorted containers, is not a difficult or expensive prospect and can, as long as no corners are cut, reduce water wastage, along with time and labour, to a surprising degree.

In summer plants’ need for water increases; Zahrah Nasir has tips on how best to conserve water in your garden

Here are some water saving tips:

• If your garden is small, use a watering can instead of a hosepipe. A hosepipe may be easier but, especially if the water pressure is high, lots of water is wasted and plants are generally given far more than they need. More plants die from over-watering than from anything else!

• Mulch, mulch and even more mulch helps to retain soil moisture by both protecting the soil from direct sunlight and by, in the rotting down process, creating moisture. To be fully effective, mulch should be at least two to three inches deep and can be used in plant pots and containers as well as in the garden itself. Items to mulch with include the following: Grass clippings, weeds before they have formed seed heads, fallen leaves which are disease free, straw, shredded newspaper, cardboard and compost, old, well rotted, organic manure or a mix of all the aforementioned. Mulch only with organic materials and do not allow the mulch to come in direct contact with the stems of growing plants /shrubs/trees as it may damage then as it heats up before rotting down. If you use organic compost and/or manure, these should be completely rotted down first. As an added bonus, mulch also suppresses weeds.

• Move pots and containers full of tender plants/seedlings into a partially shaded location. Direct sunshine will dry their soil out rapidly.

• Many species of plants do not need watering as often as people tend to think. Check for soil moisture by inserting a finger, to the depth of the first knuckle, and if this is damp watering is not needed as yet. Tender plant roots are mainly in the top two inches of soil, deeper tap roots draw moisture from below this to sustain plant life and growth. As long as the tap root has sufficient water, the plant will survive. Do not judge watering requirements from dry surface soil only as this can be deceptive.

Bottlebrush delight
Bottlebrush delight

This month, pre-monsoon, is also a good time to prepare planting holes for a wide variety of trees, shrubs and climbers which can be planted out, providing that they are container/pot grown ones and not to be transplanted directly from the soil — the latter is more usually done and more successful during the cool winter months. Take a stroll around your local nurseries, check what they have to offer, decide what you have space for — keeping in mind the species width and height once it reaches maturity — and take it from there.

Many indigenous tree varieties will, after their earlier flowering, be full of fresh seeds right now and these can be harvested and sown as you wish. If you germinate far more than needed for your own personal space then you can always give seedlings to neighbours and friends or try your hand at ‘Guerilla Gardening’ by planting them in suitable spots wherever you can find them. If you do this then remember to water them regularly until they are settled in and can manage on their own. Greening up the environment is a wonderful thing to do and not only humans will benefit but the entire localised ecosystem too.

Continue sowing late summer flower seeds such as marigolds, zinnias, balsam, cosmos, tithonia, amaranthus, cockscomb, gaillardia and keep your eyes open for potted rudbekia plants which make a sensational, long lasting show.

In the all important vegetable garden, be this directly in the ground or in an assortment of clay pots and other suitable containers, continue sowing lots of aubergines, capsicums, chillies, summer and autumn varieties of cabbages and cauliflowers, lettuce in the shade, tomatoes, cucumbers, bhindi (lady finger), spinach, Swiss chard/leaf beet, water melons and even more of those ever so useful spring onions which, all year round, the garden should never be without.

Herbs to go in this month include the following: coriander, borage, basil, chives, garlic chives and many more. Check out what you local seed store has available and indulge yourself — the rewards are well worth it!

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly be e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 1st, 2014