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​How to be climate-smart and plant indigenous

NOV 10, 2021 | Written by Deon Potgieter, Chair of the Free State BotSoc branch. Photos by Zoë Chapman Poulsen


Above: Plectranthus species grow freely in the Free State National Botanical Garden. But many Plectranthus species are also wonderful climate-smart options for your pots. Photo: SANBI


South Africa is one of the driest countries on earth. In fact, we are the 30th poorest country in terms of available water resources per person in the world. The Free State is no exception, experiencing an average annual rainfall of between 400-800mm mostly in summer. It’s therefore up to us to use our water carefully – not least when planning and planting our garden.


Above: The succulent section in the Free State National Botanical Garden showcases just how one can group plants together according to their water needs. Photo: SANBI


Here are four steps you should consider in your own garden:

Step 1: Plant indigenous plants

In order to be climate-smart, gardeners should choose plants that are locally indigenous. These could include indigenous trees, shrubs, bulbs, annuals and succulents. It’s helpful to create shade where you’ll need it most, in particular the western and eastern sides of your home.


Step 2: Group your plants cleverly

During your planning phase, try to group plants according to their water needs. So those that require little water are planted together, and those with the highest water requirements are placed together. Use pots for the most thirsty of plant species. And carefully plan the size of your lawn and the type of grass you choose in order to manage watering your lawn.


Above:  Celtis africana (or the white stinkwood) is a wonderful species to use cleverly in your garden in the Free State, but don’t confuse this with the invasive Celtis sinensis. Photo: Dewald du Plessis/iNaturalist


Step 3: Make the most of your soil

Avoid leaving soil uncovered: Rather plant some kind of cover wherever possible. Uncovered soil will dry out and become quite problematic for the most avid of gardeners. Also opt for a no-till approach as far as possible, so that your soil becomes naturally nutrient-rich and healthy. And use compost wherever you can to improve the organic content in your soil.


Step 4: Your plant-watering policy

Introduce irrigation that uses water efficiently, such as a drip-irrigation system. Water your plants according to the needs of the soil type, and be sure to provide water at the right time of day. It’s definitely a good idea to reuse your grey water in your garden and be sure to catch and store rainwater too.


Trees offer the ideal framework when planning your garden.


In the Free State, and particularly in Bloemfontein, we suggest using these Big Five tree species in your garden:

  • Species from the hardy Searsia family such as Searsia lancea (also known as karee).
  • Celtis africana (or the white stinkwood), which grows quickly (be careful not to confuse this with the Celtis sinensis, which is an Australian invasive species).
  • Ziziphus mucronata (or the buffalo-thorn).
  • Vachellia karroo (or sweet thorn) is another hardy species.
  • Olea europaea africana (or the wild olive).

Above: Buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) is one of the Big Five species to use in your Free State garden, given its hardy nature and water-wise traits. Photo: Troos van der Merwe/iNaturalist


Consider these glorious shrubs:

  • Europsys chrysanthemoides (Geelmagriet)
  • Hypoestes aristata (Lintbos)
  • Melianthus comosus (Kruidtjie-roer-my-nie)
  • Plumbago auriculata (Syselbos)
  • Leonotis leonurus (Wild Dagga)

Left: Leonotis leonurus. Photo: LoveGreen Communications 

And for your pots, here are a couple of lovely options:

  • Veltheimia bracteata (Sandlelie)
  • Plectranthus ecklonii
  • Plectranthus fruticosus
  • Plectranthus saccatus
  • Mackaya bella

Left: Veltheimia bracteata. Photo: LoveGreen Communications

Try these creepers to reach the top floor:

  • Clematis brachiata
  • Senecio tamoides
  • Thunbergia alata
  • Tecoma capensis (this is also a good option to offer ground cover)

Right: Tecoma capensis. Photo: Johnny Wilson

Species that are completely drought-resistant:

  • Cussonia paniculata sinuata
  • Aloe family (Asphodelaceae), such as the Aloe grandidentata
  • Stapelia grandiflora
  • Kalanchoe family, such as thyrsiflora, K. sexangularis and K. luciae.

Left: Aloe grandidentata. Photo: Jan-Hendrik Keet

Above: Deon Potgieter in his garden. Photo: Free State BotSoc Branch



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