So how can we keep our growing things alive with a hosepipe ban in place?

We’ve learned from the experts in Cape Town during their countdown to Day Zero. You may enjoy the little film we made in 3 Cape Town schools of how they managed with such ingenuity.

We had a bit of a tree nursery going in Cape Town prior to delivering our trees to the schools. They had to be watered, the summer temperatures can be over 30 degrees and the Cape can have very drying winds. We are experiencing near-drought conditions this year again in Ireland, only very soon after our last very dry spell. Here are some tricks you may like to try to keep your own trees and plants happy! And if you have some to spare, please donate a drink to our street and park trees, the young ones get especially stressed in a drought! Label some old 2L milk bottles or similar with a sticker or marker “GREY WATER” and take them with you on your next visit to a park. It can be weights training, (1L water weighs 1 KG), then empty them as you leave to go home!

  1. Install a rain barrel if you can. Make sure the lid is secure against children or pets climbing in, such barrels are a drowning hazard. This water is really hand for tasks such as rinsing plant pots, washing tools or garden furniture. Save the dirty water for the plants after these chores by having a basin under the spout. You can attach a hose to a rain barrel – useful. If your home downpipe is not suitable you may have a gutter on an outbuilding you can use for your rainbarrel; you might even be able to put in more than one. This water is generally a better temperature for watering plants than tap water which can be quite cold from the tap and it does not have chlorine etc. either which means it is handy for say topping up a fish pond.
  2. Put a basin in the kitchen sink and this water is great for your trees and plants; a little suds is not a problem.
  3. A bucket in the shower. These were standard everywhere in South Africa, even at the swimming pool and gym. Now water is heavy so if it is a bother carrying it a distance, you can use it to flush the toilet. Turn off the shower once you are wet to lather up rather than leaving the shower run. When we had very limited hot water once on holidays, our children put a kitchen timer in the bathroom and they imposed a time limit as before they did this, the last ones in only had a cold shower. It worked. A timer is a great discipline, our favourite are from www.flylady.net.
  4. Ditto if you have a bath of water. This would flush a toilet very many times. It works best if you can pour the water into the cistern.
  5. Handbasins; yes, you’ve got it – more basins. Running out of basins? Any kind of receptacle will do. The small buckets inside wastepaper baskets can suit. My friend Vikki used 2 champagne buckets! Her house guests were asked to donate their grey water to their favourite plants in the garden. A bit of toothpaste won’t matter to your plants; fill a glass with water when you are brushing your teeth and use that to rinse your brush and your mouth, of course leaving the tap running while tooth brushing does not make sense.
  6. If you have leftover tea or coffee in a pot, lots of plants really thrive with a cup of tea. So if you are not using it for iced coffee or tea or to make Kombucha, consider a little tree-tree-t to make your watering more exciting! If your tree is in say a terracotta pot, it will stay more moist if you have a plastic layer too; a saucer or old plate underneath your plant can catch rain water and be a handy way of keeping your beloved plants hydrated. Placing your plants or trees together creates a little microclimate which they usually like. You may wish to place them in a shady place rather than out in the glare of the sun if you can. Adding a product which retains water is well worthwhile such as vermiculite, a volcanic stone which retains water which can also be purchased in powder form which turns to a gel when mixed with water. This product has been used to great effect in drought-prone areas such as along the Breda river in South Africa where it helped new trees get a start in dry weather with minimum water!
  7. Mulching means the plants stay moist so consider a layer of paper or cardboard when you have pulled up any weeds around your tree-trunk or stems, then cover this layer with any mulch such as home made compost or coffee grounds; just make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the stem in case it causes rot.
  8. If you have liquid left in say a water bottle you have been going about with and it’s been sitting awhile you may like to donate this!
  9. When reservoir levels are low, consider all the ways you can minimise your water use. Everyone in our household has their own coloured towel and it’s their own business to launder it; by having such colour coding, a lot of laundry is avoided! For gym and swim towels, ask can you just hang it up to dry without washing it each time, usually you will be using such towels after a shower so they stay fairly clean.
  10. I read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth of England spot-cleans her clothes; everything does not get washed after every wear. If it’s good enough for someone always in the limelight I reckon we can all usefully minimise laundry in this way.