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Water-wise Gardening: Best Plants to Add to Your Garden Right Now

Updated: May 11

In Zambia, as we gear up for the dry season ahead, it's the perfect time to revamp our gardens with water-wise plants. These resilient beauties not only thrive in our climate but also help conserve water – a win-win for any garden enthusiast.

As you're mapping out your drought-resistant garden, it's essential to consider plants that thrive even in drier conditions, especially since they tend to fare better when planted during the rainy season. This allows their roots to establish fully before the dry spell hits.

Many of the plants we have selected below can be classified as succulents because they do hold moisture in their stems or roots to use during dry spells.

Opting for plants that bloom year-round under the right conditions is a smart move. It's wise to plant them in speckled shade to shield them from the scorching heat that hits us in Zambia in October and November.

Top of the list is crown of thorns, a euphorbia. The euphorbia family is quite expansive and includes gems like the poinsettia, known for its milky sap. A variety of this plant, the Crown of Thorns, has been common in Zambia for decades. It has small red flowers and thorny stems, which make it ideal as a addition to a security hedge. However, modern cultivars come in a range of colours, with larger flowers.

Consider beauties like geraniums, also known as pelargoniums and crown of thorns for continuous blooms. Depending on the variety they may flower once or twice a year for a prolonged period. However, their signature leave maintain colour throughout the year, hiding the fact that the plant may be receiving no water.

The list is incomplete without the vivid colour of bouganvilleas. This thorny climber is native to South America and can survive in a variety of climates including hot and dry weather.

Aloes: These are like the poster child for drought-tolerant plants, often found even in the indigenous bush areas around Zambia. These tend to have a sticky gel-like substance within the leaves which traditionally many people would use to treat burns and rashes.

Agaves: These are often confused with aloes but there are some significant differences. Agaves are also known as sisal, and rather than gel, their leaves comprise of fibrous strands which are commonly used for making string. Because of this, their leaves are impossible to break by hand.

Echeveria: Loved for their rosette-like leaves, these stunners add a touch of elegance to any garden. Because the leave structure mimics flowers, they are popular as bedding plants in gardens where you want colour, without the stress of having to replant or water annuals.

Sansevieria: Another extensive family of plants that can thrive with minimal watering. The varieties pictured below are sansevieria trifasciata, also known as snake plant, because of the colouring or mother-in-laws tongue.

Herbs: Many herbs we adore have evolved to thrive in Mediterranean climates, making them ideal for sandy or dry soils, and very resilient through our dry season. Think rosemary, lavender, thyme, and society garlic for a low-water fragrant and flavourful addition to your garden.

Colorful Leaves: Plants with vibrant foliage or striking patterns are real showstoppers. They offer visual interest throughout the year, even when greenery dominates during the rainy season. Check out options like:

  • Tradescantia: Known for its characteristic three-petal flowers, this plant, often referred to as the "wandering dude," adds a whimsical touch. Although these plants are ridiculously common, we say go with what works. Not only do they need very little water, they grow in both sun and in shade, and spread really easily. They are the ideal solution for shady areas of the garden where you need colour, and nothing else will grow.

Evergreens: Some plants maintain their green foliage all through the year and you would be surprised how little water they need. All the plants pictured below, dracena, yukka, monstera deliciosa, and cycads get absolutely no water except for rain. However, they maintain their shape and colour with no issues.

These are just a handful of the plants that can survive with minimal watering. Our disclaimer once again, is these tips will work if the plants are planted in the ground, during the rainy season, so they can get established. Once mature most of these plants will need little or no watering during the six months of the dry season.

These waterwise plants are not only practical but also stunning additions to any garden. So, why not give them a try and create a lush oasis that thrives even in the driest of seasons?

As we begin the process of adapting to climate change through water wise gardening, we need to realise that more than anything, it is our own personal attitudes and preferences that may need to be challenged before we can change our gardens.

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