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Ready to get your hands dirty? Here are sustainable gardening tips to get you through drought conditions

The Water Conservation Garden is a great place to get inspired and learn tips through classes.

SAN DIEGO — The dry season is in full swing. The lack of rainfall so far this water year and worsening drought conditions across the state has water conservation on the minds of many San Diegans. What if I told you your landscape did not have to suffer in these drought conditions? Would you be ready to get your hands dirty? Here are sustainable gardening tips you can this summer that will also keep your green thumb flourishing all year around.

The Water Conservation Garden is a great place to get inspired and learn tips through classes, learning about different plants you can use around your home and one-on-one tips from professional landscapers. 

I strolled around the garden with Chelsea McGimpsey, the Program Coordinator for the County of San Diego Watershed Protection Program. She is also a representative for Project Clean Water helping to get out the message to San Diegans on how to keep our waterways clean and ecosystem healthy. Sustainable gardening promotes water conservation by using catch systems and rain barrels to utilize rainwater. The goal is to capture it before the water leaves our property.

"This is what a lot of the lawns in California look like right now. These tuff grasses. It's uneven and it looks really dry. Great fire fuel," said McGimpsey as she pointed out a display of a "typical" lawn seen around California. She explains that most people water, and sometimes over water, their lawns and the water just spills onto the street. 

Chelsea explains the benefit of a more sustainable approach to gardening. 

"Your making sure that the water we do get here in San Diego, we all know how precious it is, is being used in a way that is giving back to the environment and making it a lush living place for you to spend your time in," said McGimpsey.

Other tips include the use of native, low-water plants and grass, or non-invasive low-water plants, for in our gardens and landscapes.

Maybe you don't have space for a garden? Chelsea recommends a wall of plants with similar low water needs that can be watered by a piping system that feeds rainwater into a box. And here's another perk:

"It keeps things cool too. The sun can't hit the walls of your house, if you have something like this. So, you don't spend as much on cooling costs. Everyone wants to hear that right now," said McGimpsey.

While we continue to wait on those rainy days, here's something to think about with peak fire weather months ahead:

"You can choose low water use plants that also do not burn well and that can save you during really high heat events, those Santa Ana events when there's high fire potential. You can make sure that if there is a spark that happens, as we know that they do, that your home might be protected with a buffer of fire-resistant plants," explained McGimpsey.

And let's not forget the use of mulch to absorb water and hold onto it in the soil, along with using compost material as a natural living fertilizer to cut out harmful chemicals. These eco-friendly tips also help with the main goal of this green approach.

"Sustainable gardening helps make sure that the pollution coming off of your property is kept at a very, very minimum. And it helps you make a personal contribution to the health of our waters that we fish in, that we swim in, that we surf in," said McGimpsey.

Naturally, less pollution in our county's rivers, streams and ocean leads to better watershed health for San Diego, and us.

For information regarding how to get started, including rebates and financial incentives for maintaining your own sustainable garden, go to www.projectcleanwater.org.

An additional source is www.watersmartsd.com for a free guidebook on how to get started.

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