Record breaking heat and lack of rain resulting in 100% of New South Wales and approximately 60% of Queensland in drought means farmers and horticulturalists are struggling to feed sheep, cattle, and keep crops alive. Families on the land are suffering, so property owners and gardeners are stepping up to help.
Australians are famous for Mateship - it’s an Australian code of conduct embodying equality, loyalty and friendship. The harsh environment has always meant men and women closely rely on each other for all sorts of help. In Australia, a 'mate' is more than just a friend.
Although it often sits just metres beneath our feet, groundwater can be an overlooked resource: the hidden treasure in Australia’s water landscape. Few people realise just how critical subterranean water is to life above ground.
Here’s how to conserve groundwater resources, saving money and helping protect livelihoods on the land.
Save groundwater and help drought-affected Aussies when you adopt low maintenance and low-water usage garden landscaping. Let’s save water, so it flows downstream and helps our fellow Aussies. Here’s how to be a good Australian mate, save money, have a beautiful garden, protecting your Landscape Investment against drought and unnecessary bills:
Tip 1 - Water Your Garden
It's the most obvious strategy, of course, but to stay healthy, most garden plants like about 25cm of moisture per week. In most cases, it's better to apply the water weekly or every other week. It's a bit of a waste to give your plants less water more frequently: Doing so discourages the roots from growing as deeply into the soil (where it stays moist longer) as they can, and it's also inefficient as more water is lost to evaporation.
Tip 2 - Mulch
Mulch your garden with 75 – 100mm of organic mulch. Why? Mulch reduces evaporation, helping plants retain any water you give them. Mulch reduces the soil temperature in summer, helping your plants to survive long, hot periods. Mulch limits weed growth. Mulch adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down – improving the quality of the soil. 75mm - 100mm deep layer of mulch over the soil can do wonders: It keeps the soil cooler and shields the ground from direct sun. The benefit is that moisture stays in the soil longer, where it's more available to your garden plants. Run a soaker hose underneath your mulch to maximize water savings: Water will be delivered directly to the ground (reducing evaporation) and slowly (reducing water loss to runoff). It will also keep plant foliage dry, which helps prevent many common fungal diseases such as black spot on roses.
Tip 3 - Stop Fertilising
If you apply fertilisers (organic or synthetic), it's helpful to stop at the onset of a drought. Fertilisers encourage plant growth; the more a plant grows, the more moisture it needs. If fertiliser salts build up in your soil because they're not naturally leaching out with rain or irrigation, they can build up and burn plant roots, causing further damage.
Tip 4 - Pull Weeds
It might not be fun at the best of times, but getting those weeds out of the garden is especially important during drought. The reason: weeds' roots steal valuable moisture from the soil.
Tip 5 - Deadhead Your Flowers
Removing spent blooms before they have a chance to set seed saves energy for your plants: They don't need to put extra energy (which they need water for) into producing seeds.
Tip 6 - Add Soil Wetting Agents
Soils can become water repellent due to drying out. This means the water you add to your garden won’t be penetrating well in the plant’s root zone and while you think your plants need watering every few days in summer, it’s just the soil isn’t allowing the plants to absorb the water. Wetting agents break down the waxy coating on soils and allow water to penetrate into the spaces between the soil particles. This allows the water you put onto your garden to have the best results for your plants. Soil wetting agents (water crystals) are designed to aid water retentive properties in all types of growing media. The water forms discrete gel particles in and around which roots can grow, then use the water as needed.
As a result of improved water retention, drainage losses are reduced, less watering is required and optimum plant growth is achieved. There is also a benefit to soil structure produced by the repeated swelling and shrinking of soil wetting agents. It maintains a good open structure, which improves aeration and promotes vigorous root growth.
Tip 7 – Reduce Your Lawn Cover
Lawns can use up to 90% of the water applied to a garden. Determine where and how much lawn you use and replace unused lawn with native plants, waterwise plants or trees. Where you need lawn, choose grasses which requires low water use, and is heat and drought tolerant. Warm season grasses such as Couch, Buffalo or Kikuyu can respond well to Australian hot summers. Install synthetic turf as a lawn substitute which never requires water, mowing or fertilising and looks great 365.
Tip 8 – Install A Rainwater Tank
Rainwater availability is seasonal. The Australian climate has large variations in rainfall that is high in winter when watering demand is low and low in summer when demand is high. To optimise the full potential of rainwater as a water source, ideally the rainwater system should be plumbed into the building for non-drinking purposes, such as in laundries and toilets. On average, a roof area of 100m2 (approximately half the roof area of an average house in Australia) can collect about 50 000 litres of water a year when plumbed for internal and external use. With an appropriately sized rainwater tank this could supply up to 20 percent of a typical household’s water needs.
Tip 9 – Irrigation
Micro-irrigation is suitable for most areas of the garden, especially general garden beds, shrubberies, pot plants and hanging baskets. These systems are flexible, low cost, easy to install and allow for precise delivery and placement of water to the root zones of individual plants. Various types of nozzles are available, including a full range of micro-sprays, mini sprinklers and fixed and variable drippers.
Tip 10 – Choice Of Equipment
Use a good-quality controller able to run separate programmes for different garden areas or Watering Zones.· The controller should be under cover in an easily accessible site. Gutter-mounted rain sensors can be used to disable watering after summer rain. Solenoid valves should be covered by a valve box, not buried beneath the soil. Pressure Irrigation components are designed to operate within a set pressure range. Too much pressure causes misting and high evaporative loss. Too little pressure causes uneven application. If in doubt consult a landscaping professional like Tom Robinson Living Landscapes who can conduct pressure and flow testing.
Tip 11 – Know How Much Water To Apply And Use Watering Zones
The feeder roots of plants grow in the top 15 to 20 cm of soil. That’s why soil improvement is confined to that depth and it also determines how much water needs to be applied. In improved sandy soils a depth of 10mm of water, applied to the surface, is sufficient to wet down to 15 to 20cm. The remainder of the volume is taken up by soil particles. This 10mm application is referred to as the Standard Drink.
Applying more than 10mm results in water seeping down past the feeder root zone and being wasted. Applying less than 10mm will prevent full development of the feeder root system. The Standard Drink does vary according to location and soil type. For more information regarding a Standard Drink for your soil type and garden, contact your landscaping professional. Every irrigation system or hose has a different output, so the only way to determine how long to water is to measure how long it takes to deliver 10mm. This can be done reasonably accurately using containers such as ice cream cartons.
Tip 12 - Have A Professional Property Analysis To Minimise Maintenance And Water Use
A professional property analysis by a qualified horticulturist and landscaper identifies how you can achieve minimal maintenance together with beautiful, functional outdoor areas. Specialist knowledge can mean the difference between sandy soil
which struggles to retain any moisture and always looks “poor”, compared to luxuriant planting providing shade, comfort, beauty, and even food plants, year round. “Tricks of the trade” result in rich soil and perfect appearances in the garden, enhancing property value, maximizing enjoyment at home and in commercial spaces.
Landscaping professional Tom Robinson Living Landscapes is offering free Property Analysis Visits to help property owners in the Noosa Shire, and surrounding area, plan and implement their landscaping to achieve beautiful, practical outdoor spaces incorporating low maintenance and low-water usage. More information at www.livinglandscapesnoosa.com.au.