Best Practice Guidelines for A Water Efficient Garden - Sydney Water
November 2008Best practice guidelines for Use these guidelines with the WaterRighta water efficient garden Gardens WebTool for a water efficient gardenThese guidelines will help you create and maintain waterefficient landscapes in the Sydney region. Theysummarise the accompanying fact sheets, and provide astep by step checklist to help you incorporate thefindings of the WaterRight Gardens WebTool into yourgarden.In the Sydney region, all water efficient gardens have a number of key things in common: • Good, deep soil, with plenty of organic material. • The right plants in the right locations. • Mulch. • Efficient methods of watering, which incorporate rainfall and season into the watering schedule. • Alternatives to drinking water.SoilSoil is the most important element in a water efficient garden. It provides the necessary water and nutrients tokeep plants healthy. Tips to create a good, deep soil: • Ensure you have enough topsoil, at least 250 mm, with a good structure (regularly aerated) and texture (ideally sandy loam or loam). Raised garden beds can help create these conditions. • You can improve poorly structured soil by adding decomposed organic matter, or by aerating your soil. • If your soil is too sandy, powdered clay can be incorporated into the soil profile to increase water retention and stop it repelling water. Adding decomposed organic material will also help it hold water and nutrients. • Decomposed organic matter can also be added to clay soil, adding nutrients and improving the structure, enabling water to infiltrate and to drain more freely. • It is best to use composted or decomposed organic matter, and dig it through your topsoil before planting. Avoid adding uncomposted woody material. • Apply organic matter regularly, as it breaks down, especially in sandy soil. You need to be persistent – it may take several years to improve a poorly structured soil. • Don’t dig clay or clay loam soil when it is wet – you’ll only add to the compaction. • Hydrated water crystals can be added in the planting hole around the roots of new plantings.
MicroclimateMicroclimate provides different growing conditions for plants. Matching plants to the conditions they require isa major step towards creating a healthy and waterwise garden.Sun and shadeThe position of the sun in different seasons and the patterns of sun and shade at different times of the day willhave a major impact on plant choice and water use. • Generally the northern and western sides of your house will be sunnier, warmer and more exposed to the elements, making this the best place for low water use plants. North slopes receive more direct sunlight than south facing slopes. • Create shade through the design of your garden. Use trees, shrubs, windbreaks, climbing plants, pergolas or screens to make the garden cooler and need less water. • Large trees provide their own shady microclimate. Deciduous trees can be useful on the north side of the house to provide summer shade, but let in winter light in. • Plant high water use and/or shade or semi-shade tolerant plants on the south or south-eastern side of the house, which is often shaded and moist. You will probably need to apply less water here than in your north facing area. • Monitor the growth of trees. Prune trees to let more light into your house or onto your sun loving plants.Wind • Create windbreaks to reduce the impact of hot, dry winds, particularly from the north and west in summer. Windbreaks can include lattice, screens, shade cloth or pergolas. • Use living windbreaks such as hedges or screening plants to protect your garden, and create shade and privacy. • Windbreaks should act as a filter rather than a barrier. A solid barrier will create turbulence behind the windbreak. • If you can’t create windbreaks, choose plants that tolerate windy conditions.Slopes • The topography and slope of your block will affect drainage patterns, causing wet and dry spots. This affects planting schemes and irrigation regimes in different areas. • You can turn slopes to your advantage by placing high water use plants in garden beds at the bottom of slopes. • By contouring a garden, you can redirect run-off from paths or driveways to where it is needed - in your lawn areas or garden beds. • Terracing can help prevent water waste on sloping blocks. • Try to avoid planting lawn on slopes as this can lead to water loss from run-off.Buildings and hard surfaces • Buildings, walls, fences and other structures can radiate heat, creating hot spots that may require additional watering. Alternatively, they may block the sun, creating areas of shadow that require shade tolerant plants and less watering. • Check to see if house eaves are creating dry spots that don’t receive rain. Use very low water use plants for these areas, such as cacti. • Large areas of hard surfaces can create hot spots that require additional water. Front gardens are often affected by the road or a driveway. Choose light coloured paving (and walls) that absorb less heat to minimise this effect. • By making paved areas more permeable, rain can seep into soil for nearby plant roots. • Try to make paths from organic material such as woodchips or bark mulch rather than hard materials.SW203 11/08
PlantsBy placing plants in good, deep soil and in the best microclimate to meet their growing needs, you create atrue waterwise garden. • Wherever possible, use water efficient plants. • Always group plants with similar water requirements together in separate watering zones or green areas. • Plant trees and shrubs where they create natural shade and windbreaks to reduce evaporation of higher water use plants. • Plant moisture loving plants in low lying areas, or at the base of garden slopes. • High water use plants including most vegetables, fruit trees and flowering annuals, require a sunny position. Try to use wind breaks around them to use water more efficiently. • Remember to keep weeds under control as they compete with garden plants for water.Mulch • Many organic and inorganic materials can be used as mulch. Organic mulches are the most popular because they improve soil structure and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. • Top up organic mulches regularly, as they break down relatively quickly. • The best organic mulches are made of coarse material that enables rain or irrigation water to penetrate through to the soil. • It is best to spread mulch thickly, up to 7 cm deep for most organic mulches. • Apply mulch to wet soil that has been freshly weeded. • Check the mulch regularly for compaction, and loosen it to ensure water can get through. • Never let organic mulch sit against plant trunks and stems.How to water efficientlyAn efficient irrigation method and schedule is the key to saving water and ensuring your garden’s health. • Always use water efficiently, only applying the minimum needed to keep your plants healthy. • Try to ensure the water infiltrates the root zone without any run-off and distribute the water evenly. • Sandy soil doesn’t hold much water, so it needs frequent, small watering. • Sandy loam and loamy sand soil holds a lot of water, needing less frequent watering for longer periods. • Clay loam soil needs less frequent watering for longer periods, but ensure it doesn’t compact to allow free drainage. • Clay soil is prone to drying out and waterlogging, but it holds water for a long time when wet. Water clay soil deeply and slowly at long intervals, so the water can soak in. It may be best to apply water in stages – applying small quantities slowly and letting it soak in before applying more. • Aim to apply the same amount of water each time, but change the period between watering to suit the season and weather. This is known as irrigation scheduling or irrigation frequency. The WaterRight Gardens WebTool will provide an irrigation schedule for your garden and lawn areas. • Remember to incorporate natural rainfall into your irrigation schedule. Buy a rain gauge and place it in your garden. Defer watering if you get more rain than your soil can hold. The WaterRight Garden WebTool will help you with this. • When establishing plants, make sure you give thorough soakings that encourage deeper roots, rather than light surface waterings. • Whichever way you water your garden and lawns, ensure you follow the guidelines in the Irrigation method fact sheet. • Always check to ensure you are watering at times permitted by current water restrictions. Visit www.sydneywater.com.au for the latest information. • Where possible, try to use alternative water sources for your garden watering, such as rainwater, greywater or bore water. To know more, check the Sources of water for your garden fact sheet.SW203 11/08
LawnsLawn plays a key aesthetic and recreational role in gardens and can have a place in waterwise garden design: • The better the soil beneath your lawn, the deeper the roots and the less water needed. The most commonly planted turf in the Sydney region can survive on relatively infrequent watering. • If you refrain from watering your lawn and let it brown off during extended dry periods, you will discover it has an excellent capacity to recover after rain. • If you feel you must water your lawn, water infrequently but deeply. This encourages deep root penetration and maximum drought tolerance. • Only water your lawn if it is showing signs of stress, such as losing colour (in summer) or if the grass wilts or leaf blades roll or fold in half lengthways. Another way to tell if your lawn needs watering is to step on it. If footprints remain visible, it needs a good soak. • Don’t mow lawns too short. Mow one-third of the leaf blades each time, keeping blade length to 2 cm. Longer blades shade the root zone, reduce evaporation and assist deep rooting. • Leave clippings to sit on the lawn as mulch. • Brown patches on grass suggest a compacted or water repellent soil. Aerate your lawn regularly to ensure that rain or irrigation penetrates efficiently and evenly. Treat with a soil wetting agent if required. • Imported cool-season grasses such as fescues and Kentucky bluegrass should not be used for lawns in the Sydney region.Container plantsPotted plants, even drought tolerant ones, require regular watering as they have less soil to draw water from.The following tips will help you create water efficient container plants: • Larger pots are generally more water efficient than smaller pots. • Group pots together to help keep them cooler. Group them according to their watering needs, especially if you are watering them with an irrigation system. • Use a premium quality potting mix and add hydrated water crystals around the roots of new plantings. • Mulch the surface of the potting mix. • If the potting mix becomes water repellent, treat with a soil wetter, or soak the container in a larger container of water with some soil wetting agent added until it stops bubbling. • Allow the top 2 cm of potting mix to dry out between waterings. • Don’t over water your plants. • Unglazed terracotta pots are very porous, absorbing water readily. Line them with plastic, ensuring you cut out drainage holes, or treat the inside of the pot with a sealant. • Protect hanging baskets from drying winds.Constant changeRemember, your garden’s microclimate may change with time and as plants grow or are removed. Tolearn more, refer to the attached fact sheets and as your garden changes, log on to the WaterRight GardensWebTool to ensure you are using the correct watering schedule.SW203 11/08