Get water-wise with a fynbos garden

Get water-wise with a fynbos garden

With Level 3 water restrictions enforced by the City of Cape Town on Tuesday, water saving should be top of mind for all Capetonians. Following unsatisfactory rains this winter, officials estimated that, should the city’s current water usage trend continue, the dams that provide the City’s drinking water are at risk of falling to 15% by the end of summer (1).

This calls for urgent intervention. As nearly 3/4 of all water used in the City is consumed ‘at home’ (2), it is our collective responsibility to conserve water in our personal capacities – and one of the best places to start is with our gardens.

Plant water-wise

It’s difficult to turn a thirsty garden into a water-wise one overnight, but with the possibility of drought extending into the next winter rainfall period, planning and investing in a water-wise garden will go a long way to to future-proofing your garden in a country that is, and will continue to be, water-scarce.

One of the best ways to get started is to slowly start replacing your thirsty, exotic plants with indigenous, water-wise varieties. And this is where we look to the rich biodiversity of the Western Cape for inspiration.

Most fynbos plants are known for being hardy and water-wise, particularly once they are well established. They naturally grow in sandy, nutrient-poor soils, and, being indigenous to the Cape, are adapted to our local climate and environmental conditions. The other good news is that there’s no shortage of fynbos plants – in volume, or variety. There are about 8500 species of fynbos and Renosterveld plants that are commercially available from our nurseries (3), and many new cultivars and hybrids being created every day.

How to make it work   

  • Soil is one of the most important factors in the success of your fynbos garden. Fynbos thrives in slightly acidic, sandy soil that drains well (4). Fynbos plants don’t like ‘wet feet’, and their roots will rot if left in water-logged, clay soil.
  • Feeding your fynbos plants is unlikely to be a regular occurrence, as they tend to prefer poorer soils with few minerals. That said, if your plants are needing some TLC, try organic fertilisers and mulching material such as leaves, wood chips, or pine needles (5)
  • Roots are the only things that fynbos plants are a little bit precious about. Avoid digging around the roots of your plants as they are very sensitive to root disturbance, and plan carefully to avoid having to transplant.
  • Water requirements differ for each fynbos variety, but fynbos plants generally require minimal water once they are settled in your garden. In the beginning, they can be watered twice a week (6), but once established, they can manage with a once-a-week watering (use grey water from your shower or bath for this).
  • Varieties of fynbos are in no short supply. There are three main plant families: Proteaceae (including Proteas, leucadadendron, and pincushions); Ericaceae; and Restionaceae (7). When sifting through the myriad of beautiful varieties, an interesting and helpful way of deciding what to plant is to look at the leaf shades. Most fynbos plants only flower for a short period of the year, but have incredible leaves that take on striking shades of green, brown, yellow and red. Be sure to make the most of these.

For a great list of fynbos that works well in the garden, click here.

Go wild

Having a fynbos garden not only means less dependence on water, it also increases your chances of attracting wonderful indigenous birds and wildlife to your garden. Sunbirds and sugarbirds love to feed on Proteas. And you’ll be hot property for insects, lizards, Leopard Toads and chameleons too.

For all you need to know about the 2016 Cape Town water restrictions, please visit




1. Tougher water restrictions loom [Internet]. News24. 2016 [cited 31 October 2016]. Available from:

2. 2016 residential water restrictions explained [Internet]. 2016 [cited 1 November 2016]. Available from:

3, 4, 5. Designing with Fynbos – Cape Contours [Internet]. Cape Contours. 2016 [cited 1 November 2016]. Available from:

6, 7. Fynbos: A Treasure in your Garden [Internet]. 2016 [cited 1 November 2016]. Available from:




Kate Black

As the daughter of a wildlife filmmaker, Kate spent her early childhood in the Okavango Delta. Over the years, she has been fortunate to explore many of Southern Africa’s other wild places, contributing to her keen interest in African wildlife conservation. With a career grounded in digital marketing, Kate recently made the decision to work as a freelance communications specialist, with a particular focus on environmental NGOs. An avid trail runner and hiker, she loves the outdoors and the incredible natural diversity that the Western Cape has to offer.

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