Affordable Retirement

Reducing the cost of gardens and external water

The shortage of water in the Cape, coupled with recent droughts throughout South Africa, has provided us all with a wake-up call. But as we enter the second half of our lives, we may find that water is not the only thing in short supply. Increasing longevity often results in our outliving our finances, and this article suggests ways in which we might be able to reduce costs.

I have heard of a think-tank – but never a drink-tank?

Practicing wise water consumption may assist in making our funds last a little longer. For example we can make a difference by not leaving the tap running while rinsing crockery or cutlery; and by closing it, when brushing our teeth etc. The rule should be that a tap should never be left open. Starting with the garden, some tactics we should consider are as follows:

Watering gardens

Garden sprinklers

The use of sprinklers can consume as much as 540 litres of water per hour – that’s more than a family of four can use in a whole day. Using your sprinkler early in the morning or late in the evening will mean that less water will evaporate from your lawn, flower beds and vegetables and more will get to the roots where it is actually required and can do the most good. Do not leave a normal sprinkler unattended and forgotten about. On a few occasions, my wife and I have left a sprinkler running overnight, wreaking havoc with our water bill! Here you could resort to an alarm timer, your cell phone timer or even a computerised regulator that is fitted on the tap and automatically switches the water off at preset times.


This irrigation practice (including micro-jets, misters, tricklers and drippers), is by far the most economical means of controlled irrigation, especially for small gardens such as those in retirement villages. It is also worth remembering that plants are killed as easily by loving overwatering as they are by cruel neglect!


Soaking is often a cost effective means of watering, especially for plants such as roses, other shrubs and fruit trees. Giving plant roots a good soaking once or twice a week in dry weather is far better than lightly watering them every day. The water penetrates to the roots and does not just evaporate away from the surface layer. Remember however that new plants need frequent watering until they are well established.

Mulching your garden

Mulching is one of the greatest things you can do for your garden – and it saves water losses to the atmosphere. Mulch materials can include pine needles, pebbles, gravel, cocoa shell, chipped bark, grass clippings and other natural materials. The mulch should be applied to the bed in a 5 to 8 cm deep layer. Do not mulch too close to plant stems as this can lead to rotting. In addition to reducing evaporation and water losses, mulching will suppress weeds, keep the soil cool and reduce soil compaction.

Use a watering can

Your hosepipe can spew out as much as 9 litres of water a minute. By using a watering can, you can significantly reduce the amount of water wasted. Ideally, your watering can should be filled from a rainwater tank. You could also consider fitting your hosepipe with a trigger gun to control the flow.

Rainwater tanks

You could invest in a rainwater tank to augment garden watering. An average roof collects 20 000 to 40 000 litres of rain each year which then just runs to waste. This amount could fill water tanks with free water many times over, watering your garden and houseplants and washing your car for free!
Rainwater has the dual benefit not only of being totally free but also of being pure (i.e. free of chlorine and other chemicals).

Washing your car

Rather than washing your car with a running hosepipe, try instead using a bucket and sponge. 30 minutes with a hosepipe will use more water than the average family uses in a day. And using a bucket will give your car a much more precise wash.