How to Create an Ocean-Friendly Garden

By Todd Michaels

Not sure how our ocean and our lives are connected? The sea is our lifeline, producing more than half the world’s oxygen and absorbing 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. It provides renewable energy as well as food security. We need to do everything in our power to protect this resource. A step in the right direction is the Ocean Friendly Garden program, initiated by the Surfrider Foundation.

Prevent Runoff

Stormwater runoff in large cities is the leading source of ocean pollution. It picks up pesticides, gasoline, chemicals, and anything else it passes over on its way to the sea. An ocean-friendly garden is made up of native and drought-tolerant plants and grasses. Plants such as monkey flower and California aster don’t need fertilizer to thrive. They’re also able to soak up, filter, and use that runoff, preventing contaminated water from reaching the waterways and ocean.

Additional Steps

You don’t have to dig up your yard or garden and start from scratch. Simple steps can get you going in the right direction.

– Determine the high and low points on your property. Redirect spouts, so the water stays in your garden, rather than flowing into storm sewers.

– Shape your garden to slow down and soak up rainwater. Leave a raised border around the edge of your yard to keep water from leaving your property.

– Aerate your soil. The denser it is, the less water it will absorb, so it needs to be loosened. A 2-3 inch layer of organic compost and mulch will gradually sink into the ground, improving its water-holding capacity.

– Reduce or replace your lawn. Turfgrass is the highest water-consuming feature in a landscape. If you’re reluctant to get rid of the lawn entirely, reduce its size by surrounding it with perennials, clusters of annuals, and native plants and grasses. California poppies and other local blooms tolerate dry conditions. Less watering means reduced runoff and reduced potential for water pollution.

Photo by Alex Plesovskich on Unsplash

– Plant native plants and grasses that don’t need extra irrigation when fully grown.

– Plant succulents. These plants have parts that are thick and fleshy and are able to store water.

– No chemical fertilizers and weed killers. Pull weeds by hand and use organic fertilizers such as bone meal, seaweed, and greensand.

– Control pests by using natural pesticides.

– Pitch your driveway and sidewalks so they drain into the yard or make small cuts in them to make them permeable.

Practice ‘CPR’ 

The ocean-friendly approach to your yard and garden revolves around conservation, permeability, and retention, or CPR. If you must water, use drip irrigation. This method delivers water at a very slow rate, ensuring no runoff and prevents overwatering. Create porous walkways and loose soil, allowing water to infiltrate or permeate the ground. This retention of water will also recharge groundwater.

Ocean-friendly gardens aren’t limited to lawns, ornamental grasses, and flowers. They can also be a source of food. Plant a vegetable garden using the same water-retention concepts. Keep runoff out of the streets and save yourself trips to the grocery store.

You don’t need to live by the ocean to have or understand the importance of an ocean-friendly garden. All our waterways are connected, so it’s just as important for inland communities to keep contaminated water out of the system.

Todd Michaels is a conservationist with a degree in marine biology. He writes about eco-friendly landscaping and recycling efforts around the country.

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