South Africa is a country of abundant diversity. Not only are her people and landscape varied, but so are the weather patterns that grace its lands, from the semi-desert of the Karoo, to the warm, humid pocket of KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa’s rainfall patterns are no different. The country experiences a high degree of sunshine and receives only half the global rainfall average.
The average annual rainfall in South Africa is 450mm, compared to the global average of 860mm.
Sporadic droughts in areas throughout South Africa are common, due to its less than average rainfall, higher than average temperatures, and the El Nino phenomenon. By way of example, George experienced a drought in 2014, and five provinces were declared disaster areas due to drought conditions in 2015. The Western Cape is currently going through an intensive drought period, with dam levels, at times, dipping below 10% of capacity.
“If a specific area in SA receives less than 75% of its normal rainfall, (they) consider that area to be experiencing a meteorological drought.” – Elsa de Jager, Weather Service Information Manager
As responsible citizenry, we need to adjust the way in which we use water in order to help relieve the burden of these sporadic droughts. This requires looking at all the places where water is consumed, including our indoor house plants.
House plants are low water consumers as they sit indoors in a controlled growing environment. Their water needs are much lower than a plant in the outdoors. Some indoor plants only need a cupful of water a week, whilst some can go even longer without a drink of water. Even though house plants are not the proverbial ‘lowest hanging fruit’ when it comes to water conservation, some mindful adjustments may still make an impact.
4 Waterwise House Plant Caring Tips
We have collected 4 easy waterwise tips from around the world for saving water, whilst caring for your indoor plants.
1. Choose a different source of water
Place a bucket or small tank beneath the downspout of your roof gutter to collect rainwater. Rainwater gets soaked up by the soil or collects in stormwater systems which end up in the ocean. Collecting rainwater results in no net loss to a city’s water system. And unlike the treated water that comes out of our taps, rainwater contains no chlorine! Chlorine isn’t bad for the plant per se, but it does kill useful soil microbes that support the health and vitality of your plants.
Plants are happier when they get to drink untreated water.
Take note however: you may not be able to reuse the rainwater if you live in an area with high airborne pollution. Consider the following instead:
Stream or spring water
Natural springs or streams are another great alternative source of non-municipal water. If you have access to one of these sources close by, simply take an empty bottle or two with as you go outdoors to collect water. Not only will you get some fresh air and exercise, your plants will appreciate the high natural mineral content of these sources as well.
2. Reuse existing water
Greywater is the generic term that refers to relatively clean waste water from showers, sinks, and washing machines. This water, once collected, can be stored for around 24 hours before developing an unpleasant odour.
Although greywater containing standard cleaning detergents can be re-used, using chemical free or biodegradable cleaning detergents is better for the environment and your plants. Try to look for products that list natural cleaning compounds in them, such as natural fragrances and oils.
Sink - collect dishwashing water, if it is not too dirty or fatty.
Reusing the rinsing water (if you have a separate sink to do dishes in) is a perfect source of grey water, as the existence of grease, food particles, and detergent is much lower than in the actual soapy dishwashing water. Reusing soapy dishwashing water is also possible if one removes it before washing greasy items, such as pots.
Simply scoop the water out of the sink and into a larger vessel, from where you can continue to water your plants. Straining the greywater through an old nylon stocking to remove any excess food particles will reduce the risk of introducing unwanted bacteria in your potted plants.
Place a bowl in the sink to catch water from rinsing fruit and vegetables or washing hands. Water used to boil eggs and vegetables can be used for watering plants – just remember to let it cool first!
Washing machine – move the outlet pipe of the machine to a large bucket or sink/bath to collect the water for re-use.
The rinse-and-wash water left over from washing clothes is re-usable. If you want to recycle the soapy water, try to use a biodegradable washing detergent. Collected rinse water can be re-used to wash the next cycle of clothing if you are washing by hand or own a top-loader. Alternatively, this water can be used for cleaning floors, bathrooms, or watering your precious indoor house plants.
Remember that on average, a washing machine can use between 90-170l of water for a single wash! Try to save water where you can by re-using it and washing clothing less often.
3. Make a Bucket a permanent feature in the Shower
While you are waiting for the shower water to warm up, place a bucket or large bowl in the shower to collect the water. This water is clean and can be used for cooking and drinking. If you feel uncomfortable about drinking ‘shower water’, use it for rinsing dishes, cleaning or watering your plants instead.
Showering with a bucket is another great way to collect water, as the shower water typically does not contain a high concentration of soap. Small quantities of oil, dead skin and hair may remain, but these can easily be filtered out with a reusable dishcloth. Bath water can also be used, but we hope that your bathing days have long past!
4. Choose Waterwise Plants
Whether you are starting an indoor garden or want to add to your existing plant family, look for waterwise plants such as succulents or cacti.
Snake plants, succulents, air plants, and other indoor plants, such as Ponytail Palms and ZZ Plants are all plants that naturally consume very little water. You can take things a step further, by mixing moisture retaining granules into the soil. This is a very effective way to keep the soil moist, thus reducing the frequency that you need to water your plants. Reusing water that collects in the drip tray after watering should also always be poured back into the plant, instead of being thrown away.
We can save water by collecting non-municipal sources of water, such as rain or spring water. We can also reuse some of the water from washing activities in the home and choose beautiful waterwise plants to decorate our living spaces. Reduce and reuse.
Here are some great waterwise resources to educate yourself further: