With water often as scarce as hen’s teeth in the Eastern Cape, water wise gardens have found their rightful place in this year’s Die Burger and PE Express PE Garden of the Year competition.

According to Lara Maritz, of the Garden Emporium in Builders Warehouse, it is not always possible to limit your plant choices to water wise, but there are a few golden rules that can help you save water.

“Try to group plants with similar water requirements together,” she says. “Not only will you save water, but the plants won’t get too much or too little water.

“Place bird baths and waterfalls in shaded areas to minimise evaporation and check on a regular basis that the latter don’t leak.”

Maritz says gardeners must try to avoid the use of plastic pots in sunny areas. “It absorbs heat very quickly and dries the soil out much quicker than cement containers. Keep in mind that the bigger the container is, the less the evaporation.

“Also avoid hanging baskets in full sun, because they need to be watered twice a day.”

In general, seedlings require more water than other plants, says Maritz. Therefore, limit these plants to one or two areas in your garden.

Another useful hint is to water your garden at the coolest time of the day to limit evaporation. “Early mornings or late afternoons are ideal,” she says. “Furthermore, try not to water on windy days when the rate of evaporation is much higher.”

It is also important to use the correct method when watering. “Water less frequently, but for longer (sandy soil is the exception). This way you also help the plants to establish deeper roots. A garden that only gets a light sprinkle dries quickly.

“Set your sprinkler to operate as close to the ground as possible. Drops that fall on leaves are a waste and evaporate quickly.”

Do not water unnecessarily, warns Maritz. “Sometimes we think the garden needs water because the top layer of the soil looks dry. Scratch the top layer away to see if the soil is moist.”

Another water wise hint is to add a layer (about 5cm deep) of compost, peat moss or bark throughout your garden.

“This keeps the soil and the plant roots cool and limits evaporation. The compost, peat moss or bark also have the added benefit of providing nutrients for your garden,” she says.

“In much the same way, groundcovers form a natural top layer that keeps the soil cool.”

The PE Garden of the Year competition is held in conjunction with Sherwood Garden Centre, Re/Max Independent Walmer and Swabey Velthuysen Attorneys.

Categories include small, large, water wise and corporate gardens, with each winner receiving a R5 000 gift voucher. The overall winner will be selected from the four category winners. Small, large and water wise gardens can enter in the corporate category.

Fax the entry form that appears on this page to 041 581 1552 or drop it off at Remax House, 171 Main Road, Walmer, or Sherwood Garden Centre in Walker Drive. The deadline for entries is March 14.

An organiser will contact you to set up a meeting for preliminary judging.

For more information, contact Carmel Wolf at 041 398 4408.