Everyone has a part to play in creating a vibrant sustainable urban gardenscape across all our backyards. And now it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves and get dirty!

There are many opportunities for getting started. We’ve listed four main areas to flex your green thumbs. Don’t feel too overwhelmed! You don’t have to take on every area at once. Just start with an activity that appeals to you the most. Once the seeds have been planted and the roots established in your gardening adventure, you’ll have plenty of time and room to grow at your own pace. 

For each activity area below, we link recommended resources to dig deeper into the how-tos. You are also encouraged to post questions on social media, share your own stories and favorite resources, and of course, snap some pics of your own sustainable landscapes and native plant beds. Be sure to tag us at #lovebalboapark and #plantitforward.

1. Plant Native Species to Attract Pollinators

If you’ve watched our Plant It Forward videos [link], you already have a head start on how to plant some of the most climate-friendly plants for the region. Not only are attractive flowering plants like the narrow leaf milkweed, hot lips sage, California sage, Coulter’s Matilija poppy, and Cleveland sage easy to grow here, they attract pollinating insects. The result is a self-sustaining win-win for both plant and pollinator. 

As you get the hang of filling your yard with these native plants and caring for them, you can up your gardening game by adding bushes and trees to your landscape. There are way too many varieties to list here. Thankfully, our friends at the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society have created an extensive list of hundreds of native plants, bushes, and trees. The linked profiles for each entry provide detailed information on which California climates are best suited for that particular variety and other informant info. 

For instance, the profile page for the California bee plant tells us it flowers from March to May, grows along roadsides in Western and Baja California, and is a host species for the Chalcedon Checkerspot butterfly. 

Once you’ve gotten a few plants in the ground, it’s time to learn more about protecting, fertilizing, and watering them.

2. Identify and Remove Invasive (Nonnative) Species 

While more plants are almost always a good thing to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and provide natural habitats, not just any plant is a good thing. Many plants are not native to our environment, and once introduced, they can quickly reproduce and spread, causing harm to the environment, economy, and even our health. Ultimately, invasive plants can push out native species, along with the insects, birds, and animals that rely on them, disrupting entire local ecosystems in a chain reaction.

But don’t worry! You’re not expected to go into the canyons and other open spaces of San Diego County where nature grows wild to find and remove these pesky invaders. Let the pros handle that. However, you are encouraged to learn about the invasive plants that often find their way into home gardens and landscapes. 

According to the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC), invasive ornamentals, such as Scotch broom, pampasgrass, and eucalyptus increase fire fuel loads and can be dangerous near homes. Plants like the giant reed (Arundo donax) clog creeks throughout California, reducing their water-carrying capacity and increasing the danger of floods during winter storms. 

Cal-IPC publishes a handy checklist of plants to avoid in home landscaping. They also offer a great guide to alternatives to help ensure you don’t plant an unwelcome pest in Southern California. 

3. Nature’s DIY Recycling — Compost!

Essential ingredients in any gardening venture are fertilizer and soil amendments. But you don’t need to purchase and haul 20-pound bags from Home Depot to acquire these all-natural materials. You can simply give nature’s recycling ability a helping hand by creating your own compost, which offers the same benefits as store-bought fertilizer. 

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials, such as leaves, grass clippings, yard prunings, and fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Microorganisms and insects break down these materials into compost, a nutrient-rich soil product you can spread around your flower beds, potted plants, and landscaping. 

In addition to saving you the cost of buying fertilizer and soil amendments, compost saves money by conserving water, as it enables the soil to hold more water, reducing the amount of watering needed. Of course there are a number of other environmental benefits, as composting helps divert organic waste from landfills, while using this all-natural fertilizer reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

Depending on your space and style of composting, you can build your own compost bin or purchase one. The City of San Diego has a special voucher program to purchase compost bins at a discount. The city’s website also features many resources to learn the how-to’s of backyard composting. This handy guide is the perfect way to get started.  

4. Saving Water Saves Money and Time

We live in a coastal desert, and saving water has never been more important. Creating water-smart landscapes and gardens around our homes is the best way to ensure we conserve our precious water resources. In addition to saving water, other benefits include improving the beauty of our outdoor spaces, reducing yard maintenance, and minimizing water pollution due to runoff. 

A water-friendly garden just requires a little planning. In addition to selecting climate-friendly plants, as discussed above, it’s important to plant them in the optimal location in your yard and use water-efficient irrigation techniques. 

The San Diego County Water Authority is your go-to resource for a deep dive into saving water. Their website offers a starter’s guide on water-friendly landscaping, including a variety of tools and ideas for starting and maintaining low-water-use yards. It covers everything from plant selection and placement to budgeting for landscape retrofits. You can also determine your own water use with a Water Footprint Calculator, and see how your usage compares to your neighbors’ and get advice on how to cut back both indoors and out. The Sustainable Landscaping Guide takes you even deeper into sustainable landscaping principles, with photos, diagrams, and checklists for climate-appropriate plants and ways to improve water efficiency at home.

Yes, it can get complicated, but you are already on the right track when native plants become your default whenever you want to upgrade your home garden and flower beds.