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Create a water-smart garden
A garden that suits your local conditions can make a big difference to your water use and water bills. In fact, up to 60 per cent of household water is used outdoors, much of which is wasted.
- Have a beautiful garden that thrives in your local conditions
- Save water and reduce your water bills
- Provide habitat to encourage birds and insects into your garden
At a glance
- Savings 3
- Ease 1
- Impact 3
- Understand your garden and any plants that are already there. See if you can identify which types of plants grow well in which positions.
- Work out which areas are shaded as the soil here could be better at staying moist. Other areas may be in full sun for most of the day.
- If you live in a cold area, work out where the cold air pools are, as these spots are likely to be more susceptible to frost. Take a walk around your area and see what plants are flourishing.
- Do some research and get information and advice. Talk to local gardeners and plant nurseries to learn about which plants thrive in your local area. Your local radio station might have a gardening segment or you might want to enrol in a gardening class.
- Consider reducing your lawn area as most lawns need a lot of water. Investigate drought-adapted grass varieties for lawns that will need less water, including natives.
- Think about minimising paved areas or keep paving separate from plants that need moist soils. Hard surfaces, paving or concrete, can heat up and dry out nearby soils as well as cast off rather than absorb rainwater.
- If reducing lawn or hard surfaces, options include increasing the size of flowerbeds, using ground cover plants, mulch, wood chip, gravel or pebble coverings.
- Plan to group plants that have similar watering needs. This will help you to give your plants the correct amount of water at the right time.
- Plants and trees can help reduce your heating and cooling bills. Deciduous plants could help cool your home in summer with shade and let the sun through in winter. Plants can also create wind breaks to keep hot or cold winds away from your home.
- If building a new home, think about passive design to take advantage of the natural climate to maintain thermal comfort. Considering your garden in the initial design stages allows you to better control the elements and direct water run-off from your home or driveway into the garden.
- Test your soil and improve it if needed. Different soils have different abilities to hold water which can affect plant health. Your local garden centres might provide advice or free soil testing to work out what kind of soil you have and how you can improve it.
- Most soils benefit from added organic materials. You can dig manure, compost, worm castings and leaf mould into your soil. Gypsum and sand can help improve air space and drainage in heavy soils. You can also add soil wetting agents and water saving crystals to help water to get into and remain in the soil.
- You could start a worm farm or make compost to give you access to free organic material for your soil and to help reduce the amount of organic waste you're sending to landfill.
- Consider hardy plants with deep roots to help break up poor soils.
- Select plants that suit your particular soil and garden conditions. Find out what native plants occur naturally (indigenous plants) because they will already be suited to your local area.
- If you are using plants from another country, choose plants that are already adapted to limited water supplies.
- Fruit trees look lovely and can provide you with fresh fruit. Most will need a bucket of water each week for at least the first year to become established.
- If you want a grassy area, ask your nursery about grasses that do well in low water conditions for your area—native grasses could be an option. Also see if you can get a variety that doesn't need much fertilising.
- Reduce the amount of water your lawn needs by setting your mower to cut at four centimetres or higher. This encourages a deeper root system. You should water lawn deeply and infrequently instead of lightly and often.
- Check your local water restrictions about watering lawns—in many areas of Australia it is banned.
- Consider a greywater system or a rainwater tank if you need to water your lawn.
- Mulch your garden to slow evaporation and to help water sink into the soil instead of running off. Mulching will also reduce weed growth.
- Before mulching, pull out weeds, break up the soil crust if needed and give the garden a good deep watering.
- If you are using commercial mulch, read the instructions to check if you should wear a mask and gloves.
- Spread mulch to a depth of 7-10 centimetres. Top up mulch when it gets low.
- Do not allow organic mulch to touch woody plant stems and trunks or it may cause collar rot and kill the plant.
- Before watering, check if there are water restrictions in your area and what watering activities are allowed.
- Only water when you have to and only water the plants that need it.
- Water early in the morning or late in the day to reduce water lost to evaporation. Focus the water onto the roots of the plants, not the leaves. It's generally better to give plants a deep watering less often than to give them a little water often.
- Install a drip irrigation system and check the hoses and pipes regularly for leaks, splits and blockages.
- Use water-saving products such as soil wetting agents and water-storing crystals if needed. Soil wetting agents allow water to penetrate deeply into soil if it becomes water-repellent (if water runs straight through them when you water). Water-storing crystals when mixed with water form a soft gel which retains water and provides a supply of moisture for plants in dry weather.
- If pot plants become water-repellent, submerge them completely in a large bucket for several minutes to release trapped air. Remove when air bubbles stop rising to the surface of the water.
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