Trade your turf: water-wise alternatives to lawns

Published on February 27th 2021
A plant in a forest
In this article, Ernst van Jaarsveld shares his expert advice and tips on water-wise gardening in the karoo. Keep reading to find out how to trade your lawn for less-thirsty, indigenous groundcovers or other lawn alternatives.

This grass is greener

Lawns are very thirsty, but the local indigenous cultivar (Cynodon dactylon) is the best grass to plant in dry areas like the karoo. It is a fine grass, quite drought resistant and also occurs naturally in the karoo veld. Ask at your local nursery for availability.

Cover it with gravel

Another alternative to lawn is a gravel layer of inorganic coating. You are going to save a lot of water and you can, for example, use shale gravel that you often find on slopes along our roads. Colour varies from brown to purple are available. Use inspiration from natural areas by grouping our beautiful indigenous succulents together with a groundcover of shale gravel.
A hand holding a baby on a rock

Replace it with perennials

Plant native shrubs and smaller trees. I suggest gwarrie (Euclea udulata), false olive (Buddleja saligna), and the cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata var. paniculata). Shrubs include the wild pomegranate (Rhigozum obovatum), Karoo lanterns (Nymania capensis), big num-num (Carissa macrocarpa), and Melianthus (Melianthus comosus).
A close up of a green plant
Lush foliage of Melianthus comosum.
You can never go wrong with Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) whether as a shrub, grass cover or used as a fence.
The Jade plant (Crassula ovata) is a large shrub with pink to white flowers in winter is just as good a choice. Tree Crassula (Crassula arborescens) is also a beautiful shrub with pale leaves.
Karoo carnations (Dianthus caespitosus) are wonderful perennials that are covered in pink flowers. Remember also the beautiful Gazanias (Gazania krebsiana).
A close up of a yellow flower

Plant some living mulch

As for your choice of succulent ground covers (full sun), I suggest Othonna capensis, Crassula pubescens subsp. radicans, Curio crassulaefolius (previously Senecio) with beautiful grey leaves. Baboon toes (Curio radicans) is a delicate ground cover. You can also use mother-in-law's tongue (Dracaena aethiopicum, previously Sansevieria) as ground cover.
Smaller Crassulas include Crassula nudicaulis, Crassula cultrata, kebab bush (Crassula rupestris) and string of buttons (Crassula perforata).

Say hello to Aloes

Aloes that are wonderful for grouping together include the bitter aloe (Aloe ferox), snake aloe (Aloe broomii), small spotted aloe (Aloe microstigma), Aloe glauca, cannon aloe (Aloe claviflora), tiger aloe (Aloe variegata) and Aloe longistyla.
A banana tree
Euphorbias also combine beautifully with aloes. The star spurge (Euphorbia stellispina) has star-shaped thorns, forming poles with cylindrical stems. Spurge (Euphorbia ledienii) is also a great choice as it also forms groups.

Don't forget about bulbs!

Waterwise bulbs include the century plant (Boopane disticha), karoo lily (Ammocharis coranica), and the red hot poker (Kniphofia sarmentosa).
A piece of cake sitting on top of a rock

For more waterwise and indigenous planting tips follow @ernstvanjaarsveld on Candide. Check out his profile below!

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