Australia is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in history and with a lack of water our plants will become stressed.  Some plants will suffer low stress and easily recover while mature plants may survive for a while but a couple of seasons of inadequate water can result in severe drought stress or even death.    If trees are over stressed and hit by huge winds they have a habit of falling on houses or people

No one wants their garden to die so read on to discover ways we can keep our plants alive and conserve water at the same time.

Soil Drought proofing the garden starts with the soil.  Improve the structure by adding compost and aged manures and mulch to minimise water loss and keep soil cool.  When establishing a garden, good soil preparation, correct pH and adding organic matter can help plants cope with drought conditions.  Some people also like to add water crystals at planting.

Lawns: A compacted lawn will suffer badly during drought so aerating can help, as can the application of a pre summer wetting agent.  The best time to fertilise lawn is autumn and early spring.  Avoid summer.  If your lawn needs mowing do it taller, never take off more than 1/3 of the growth and ensure mower blades are sharp.  Deeper less frequent watering develops deeper and more dense root systems which will help the lawn survive and recover from drought stress better.  Other things you can do include using a mulching mower and leaving the lawn clippings on the lawn to help reduce evaporation and minimising traffic on the lawn.  These things will give the lawn the best chance of recovery when it rains again although some patching may be required.

Tip: Look for ways to harvest and save water, for example instead of letting cool water in the shower run down the drain while you wait for it to get hot, catch it in a bucket and use on the garden.

Watering: When you water do so thoroughly letting the water soak into the ground where the roots need it.  While you may not be able to water plants as often as you would like when you do water them give them a good drink making sure the water soaks deep down into the soil where it stays moist longer.   Giving your plants less water but more frequently is a waste of time and water as it discourages roots from growing deeply into the soil  and more water is lost to evaporation from the surface.  Shallow watering encourages roots to grow towards the surface leaving them vulnerable.  Do not water on a windy day and consider installing or planting wind breaks.  Do not over water as the soil will not be able to store the excess.  Try wetting agents to help break down the water repellent layer that can build up on soil or potting mix.  This helps makes use of any rain or irrigation by enabling water to penetrate the soil evenly and effectively.  There are also products available that can be applied to plants to reduce damage from hot dry winds.  Watering early helps hydrate and prepare plants for the heat of the day.  Group thirsty water guzzler plants together so that you only need to frequently water a small area rather than the whole garden. [/one-half]

STOP fertilising! Fertilisers encourage plant growth and the more a plant grows the more moisture it needs.  Fertiliser salts can also build up in soils because they are not naturally leaching out with rain or irrigation and they can burn plant roots.  When reducing the amount of water available then fertiliser should also be reduced.
Dealing with weeds: Pull out those pesky weeds from your garden beds because they are stealing valuable moisture from the soil.  Weeds are far more efficient at getting the water than most garden plants so you need to remove the competition to make sure your plants are getting the water they require.  Don’t waste this scarce resource on watering weeds.
Pruning: Dead head your flowers before they set seed (which requires water).  Avoid pruning – it will only further stress the plant.  Pruning may stimulate new growth which increases the requirement for water and during a drought it encourages bugs and bacteria to the pruned area further stressing the plant.  Wait until after the drought before getting out the pruning shears.

 

Plants: Choose the right plants and lawn type for your area and climate.Many of our native plants and some lawn grasses will survive on natural rainfall with very little supplemental watering once established.  Look for drought tolerant plants.  Provide shade if possible.  Bring moveable plants under shade to get them out of direct sunlight.  Monitor new plants and water deeply until established.  There are plenty of beautiful plants to choose to ensure your garden survives when water is scarce including herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano, flowering plants like lavender and many salvias, grey foliage plants, some succulents and a whole range of Australian native plants like bottlebrush and banksia.  Buy only quality plants.  That cheap plant in the bargain section at the nursery will not be a bargain in the long run.  Look for healthy plants that are able to cope and survive in the garden rather than struggling plants that need nurturing.

 

Mulch: Mulch can help keep the soil cooler and shield the soil from direct sun so moisture stays in the soil longer.  Mulch also suppresses weeds which may compete with the plant for water.  Avoid heaping mulch against the plant stem.  Consider running a soaker hose under the mulch to maximise delivery of water directly to the ground which helps to minimise evaporation and run off.  It will also keep plant foliage dry and help prevent fungal diseases.  Coarse mulch is better as it will let water flow easily into the garden and limit evaporation of water from the soil.  Avoid fine grade mulches as they can easily become hydrophobic and prevent water getting into the soil and they germinate weed seeds really well.

Come in to Gympie Landcare and chat with our friendly nursery manager and volunteers for advice on drought tolerant native plants for your garden.