Sunday, April 27, 2014

X Is For Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is a water-wise/water-efficient gardening technique. As we are in a semi-arid area and recently went through a severe drought, this technique has become a very important factor in my gardening plans.

 Here are some of the lessons I've learnt so far:

The xeriscaping process begins right at the planning stages of the garden.

31/12/13/mid-summer back garden I created wild

I didn't take water-efficiency into consideration when planning my first garden in Phokeng and I paid the price through dying plants and heavily reduced harvests.

My challenge was that I had a big patch of land that had been neglected for over 10 years and the weeds were displacing us out of the yard. So I needed to do something and since I was already planning to grow our food, I decided to grow as much as I could.

I do have a designated garden which has structure. But there were also areas I needed to cover with something until I could properly plan for them time and resources allowing. The above patch is one of them.

After some of the vegetables I planted became crispy critters mid-season, I had two options: give up and do a lot of hard landcaping or try to work with the land and climate to get the results I want. I opted for the latter. Hopefully xeriscaping can help me do it.

Select a site that allows the efficient use of water 

Grave vine. Planning to build arbour here
My main garden site was allocated and fenced by generations before me. 

So for me it was not so much about selecting a suitable site, as it was about making the availabe site suitable for water-efficient gardening. It's a work in progress, with many issues I've yet to resolve.

Planting fruit trees allows me to meet several objectives at once: access to a consistent supply of free fruit and providing shade in my garden.  

I am keeping in mind that many vegetable plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight. However, it doesn't have to be direct sunlight all the time, so while we already had a number of trees in that garden, they are not enough to offset the problem of extreme heat.

My challenge is making sure I don't plant too many trees and create too much shade. Then there is also the fact that fruit trees need water AND they will compete with the vegetables and herbs for water.  

It's a conundrum. But I figure, if this solution doesn't work as advertised, the fenced vegetable garden will be designated as an orchard and I'll make the backyard space as my vegetable new vegetable  garden (the space is bigger than the current garden and what you see in pic 1 around an 8th of the space, so I'd be OK with that)

In addition to the main fences, our whole yard is surrounded by trees which create a natural privacy wall. So the protection from strong winds is already in place.

Ensure that the soil has plenty of organic matter, such as manure, compost and mulch and that it is very well-drained.

The marrows did very well despite the heat. Surplus frozen for winter soups

That's just smart gardening, even when you don't have to deal with drought. But as I'm learning from gardening friends, mulching heavily and regularly is the key to retaining moisture in your garden.

Choose plants that are drought-resistant/can live for very long without water
See watermelon thrive midsummer. Photo date 31/12/2013
I've found that sweet potatoes, pepper, peas, watermelon, spinach, onion and beetroot are very drought-resistant.

This past summer, during which we went through a scorching summer with temperatures averaging late 30 degree Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), the vegetables I mention above did well enough.

The watermelon and butternut leaves were drooped a lot, and some leaves were even burnt to a crisp, but they survived well enough.

Look at my little basil fight to live
Herbs like coriander (cilantro), rosemary, marjoram, thyme, bee balm, oregano and sage  also didnt show much distress, even in the midst of summer.

By the time the summer heat came, the greens were hardy
We didn't expect the cauliflower and broccoli to fruit. However, it did though the heads bolted, as it does better in cool weather.

As you can see, the plants themselves lived through the heat and they were a great source of greens, which we cooked in a similar style as we would cabbage leaves. They are now green afresh and ready to start fruiting again.
Position your plants strategically so that plants with the same watering needs are together. 

I'm still learning on this one and have killed a number of plants in the process. But that's fine... I will keep trying.

Water your plants for maximum impact
Check out my post on W is for Water for some watering tips.

For me, xeriscaping is a work in progress. So please share your water-efficient gardening tips so we can all benefit from your knowledge and experience.


  1. Good to know another word with X-Xeriscaping and efficient watering techniques. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. eXcellent post- very important these days!

  3. Living in the midwest this is not something I have to worry about. But I'll check it out all the same. Maybe I can learn something new to help out my wife's garden.

    Timothy S. Brannan
    The Other Side, April Blog Challenge: The A to Z of Witches

    1. Lucky you! I used to live in Johannesburg, where it rained often enough drought conditions were not an issue. It made gardening very easy for me.

      Enjoy your wife's garden:)

  4. Wow - amazing! Will have to check this technique out in my garden this year.

    1. Hey Miss G
      I think some of these things we know... we just didn't have a name for it or were not systematic about it. Good luck with your garden

  5. I have missed some of your previous posts...slow net connection. Hope to catch up with them soon over the next few weeks. But just now managed to read this and your W post on Water. You are of course dealing with a very large garden, but even in the tiny little garden that I have (and I don't grow my food) this is such a big issue - how to save water and yet keep the garden getting what it needs. I too have been doing mulching but I feel I need to put more thought into making my garden more water-efficient. These are such helpful posts, Damaria. Thank you :)

    1. My pleasure. And I'm very happy to share my passion.

  6. Hi Damaria .. I almost used Xeriscaping too .. but it didn't really fit and my X-facts were easier! However I can see what you're going to do ... and good luck .. the mulching and building up the goodness in that lovely red soil - I miss it!! I'll enjoy watching your garden be sorted out during your winter and then spring forth in September ... cheers Hilary