Advice: Preparing for El Nino

As you would have heard, it has been confirmed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology that we are in the state of El Nino, which is now intensifying and could possibly rival the strongest in recorded history. But what does this actually mean?

Most of us relate El Nino to the devastating drought we experienced in 2010. To the average household it meant buckets in showers, turning the sprinklers off and watering the garden by hand, in our pyjamas at 6am on our allocated ‘odd’ or ‘even’ day.

Most people lost a portion of their gardens as a result of this, particularly their lawns. I unwillingly viewed many gardens that had turned into an unsightly bed of inappropriate rocks, fake grass, or had gone to the extreme of replacing the lawn with green tan bark. (Please, please don’t do that again…) Sales of the Yucca also skyrocketed with triple facings in every retail nursery.

Since the drought broke in the South East, we have again been thoroughly enjoying water-loving plants, doing away with our drought tolerant friends and replacing them with mass plantings of the likes of the Hydrangea and Gardenia.

But the for landscape industry it signals flashing lights. As designers working through years of drought, the plant selection varies greatly from that when water is plentiful. Tougher sun and drought tolerant plants are prescribed, which does change the overall aesthetics of a garden.


Our gardens not only add to the personalities of our homes but are a huge investment, physically, financially and if you’re like me, emotionally. So, we must prepare now to ensure we have the resources to keep our gardens alive during the uncertain times ahead. To gain further insight into El Nino, I spoke with Gary Andrews from the Smart Water Shop who is also on the board of Irrigation Australia, and this is what he had to say.

“First we need to understand ‘normal’ conditions and the impact on our gardens of normal seasonal weather conditions.

In Melbourne, our year can be divided up into three watering regimes directly related to the varying amounts of evapotranspiration and rainfall we experience.

1. Three months of no watering (as rainfall normally exceeds evaporation).

2. Three months of limited watering as required (as rainfall and evaporation are typically similar).

3. Six months where watering is necessary to sustain and grow healthy gardens (as a considerable deficit between evaporation and rainfall exists).

In El Nino conditions, we know that will have to contend with considerably hotter and drier conditions often over an extended period.

Therefore, it is likely that we will have more months that require supplementary irrigation and that the amounts of water we will need to apply will be substantially greater.”

north coast gardening landscape

So how do we prepare our gardens for an El Nino event?

  • Engage a competent irrigation specialist to design your Irrigation system so that will efficiently and effectively apply water to your garden when and where it is needed.
  • Choose well made, long-lasting, and water efficient irrigation equipment from specialist manufacturers.
  • Install the system carefully according to instructions or contract a Licensed Irrigation Installer do it for you.
  • Adjust your watering cycles to match the conditions.
  • Regularly check the performance of your irrigation system and maintain it in tip-top condition.
  • Consider alternative water sources such as rain water, bore water, or recycled water.
  • Improve your soils so that you achieve the correct balance of water retention and drainage.
  • Choose water tolerant varieties of turf, plants and trees.
  • Apply a wetting agent to improve the water penetration and holding capacity of the soil.
  • Review the garden and your plants performance to see if they are holding up in the conditions.

By implementing these points, we can combat El Nino and still have a great garden without using huge amounts of precious water.”

Gary will be covering more ‘water’ topics over the coming weeks in preparation for Spring and the warmer months ahead.

The short of it…

Smart Water Shop
Irrigation Specialists
Melbourne and surrounds, and online.

Image credits: 1. 2. Supplied 3. North Coast Gardening