In the garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

logo In The Garden 1The hot dry season approaches once again… and once again many Lusaka gardeners wish they had more water.  Anyone with a borehole with a good yield can use sprinklers all day long and keep their gardens looking green.  The rest of us sigh as we gaze at the brown grass and wilting plants.


One hazard that can easily be avoided is not to leave the coiled hosepipe in full sun.  When it is time to use the hosepipe, the first minute or so of water flow will be so hot that it will scorch your plants.  Last year I noticed strange brown patches on various leaves and worked out that this must be the cause.  So check that scalding hot water is not being poured onto your garden!


This is also the time of falling leaves.  I suggest that if you are short of water, the leaves are not raked up (consuming hours of your gardener’s time) but left to lie on the grass, forming a natural mulch layer that will shield your lawn from the burning sun and help to prevent evaporation.  Dew often forms during the night and this is much more effective in providing water for the lawn if it is protected by a layer of leaves.  Once the rains arrive, the leaves can all be raked up.  You can add a limited amount to the compost heap.  But it is better to keep them in their own heap in a hidden corner or even put into woven sacks (so that there is some ventilation) and left to decompose for a year.  It sounds a long time – it is a long time – but you will eventually be rewarded with a type of compost called leaf mould that is excellent for pot plants and general soil enrichment.


Compost and mulch together will halve your water problems.  Compost containing, as it does, plenty of humus will hold water in the soil much longer.  It is the main reason why gardeners constantly add compost to their garden soil.  A thick layer of mulch is immensely beneficial as it protects the soil from extreme heat in October and then from heavy downpours or rain in November.


It is eminently sensible to re-cycle the wastewater from the bath, shower, handbasins and kitchen sink.  Find the waste pipes where they exit from the house and attach a piece of flexible hose (perhaps from swimming pool accessories) long enough to reach a nearby flowerbed.  The water can also be directed into a narrow channel to carry it farther from the house.  Or a bucket or any container can be left in a hole at a lower level to collect the waste water (but be careful that your pets can’t fall in and drown). It can then be carried to another part of the garden.  Water from laundry has too much detergent in it and should not be used in this way.  Even the water used in a plastic bowl for washing dishes can be left to cool and then carried to the kitchen door and thrown onto the lawn.  Every little helps!


It is important to water deeply especially for larger plants.  Leave the hosepipe or sprinkler in one place for at least 30 minutes.  Little and often is no use at all.  Better to let the water penetrate to a good depth – where the roots are searching for water.


As a long term strategy, think about creating beds where only drought resistant plants grow:  aloes, jatropha  podagrica, kalanchoe, cacti and succulents of many types.  Even the rocks on a rockery help to conserve water by keeping the soil cool.  Create a pergola covered with creepers so that the ground is shaded and plant large trees to provide shade.

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