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Gardening Australia's Costa Georgiadis offers advice on how to drought-proof your garden

By Harriet Tatham, Monday September 24, 2018 - 06:55 EST
ABC licensed image
With gardens across Australia drying out, how can you drought-proof your green space? - ABC licensed

While the drought continues to hurt farmers across large swathes of eastern Australia, the big dry is also taking its toll on our gardens.

With all of New South Wales and almost 60 per cent of Queensland drought-declared, and , the lack of water is widespread.

And while gardens may not be atop the priority list for some, there's a strong argument that cultivating a green space can help to nurture mental health.

When seeking to drought-proof your garden, Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis said we must look at the big picture.

"We're in a water crisis, and it's not just about drought," he told ABC Radio Sydney's Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck.

"You only need to look at what's going on around [Sydney] when you're caught in traffic and there's development everywhere.

"We've got a finite amount of water and an infinite amount of growth, and the reality around our use of water really needs to be brought into our conscious — you only need to ."

So, what's the first step?

Costa said the best drought-proofing agent was not necessarily water.

"The most important thing you need to do is grow the organic content, because that's the sponge under the ground that's away from the evaporation and it gives the water the chance to stay there and keep a nice temperature."

He said cultivating organic matter could be as easy as installing a compost bin or small worm farm and introducing a bucket into the kitchen to collect food scraps.

"What you need to think about is making sure you have a kitchen bench tidy and you separate your food scraps and you start to get worm castings.

"When you get that under the mulch, that will hold the moisture."

When it comes to watering, the self-described horticulture geek said a gardener should be careful about when and where the water should go.

"Don't water in the middle of the day; water before eight in the morning or after six at night," he said.

"Go out of your way not to water all of the leaves, as they [can] hold moisture which could breed fungus and other problems.

"Water the ground rather than hosing the whole garden."

Costa said an automatic watering system could be a smart choice.

"An automated digital system is good because it can deliver the moisture right to the plants according to set times.

"You may spend some money, but what it means is that when you go away you can program it to give a little bit of water so the garden stays static, because we don't want the garden drying out and then getting a big rain because that increases the stress on the plants and it requires more effort to wet it again because you then get a hydrophobic soil," he said.

He said hydrophobic soil caused water to pool on the surface rather than pushing it down into the ground — a common problem in dry climates.

"You'll get a big storm and then you go and scratch the ground five minutes later and 95 per cent of that water has headed off to the drain."

To avoid this, Costa said gardeners should introduce organic matter to the soil which helped with water retention.

Drought-proof plants

While succulents might be the first plant group to spring to mind when one thought of dry gardens, Costa said we should look at what was thriving naturally.

"The more I travel the country, the more I look at our incredible natives, the more you realise that these are plants that have eked out a living in local soils in local conditions.

"When we start to look at natives in a new light and look at what grows in your local area and find endemic natives, then you can start to shift."

Costa said if you're after something more exotic, it's best to look at similar climates and see what worked in those gardens.

"If you want to go for a bit of funk, you can start to look at other equivalent climates like the Mediterranean, Mexican, South African — there's plants that you can get that will fit these similar conditions."

You can watch on ABC at 7:30pm each Friday.


© ABC 2018

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