With most Americans under some form of Shelter-in-Place or Stay-at-Home order because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are turning to gardening as a way to connect with nature and be outside while still maintaining physical distancing recommendations. Some people are taking a close look at their yards for the first time and really contemplating the opportunities for creating a space that is relaxing, inspiring and rejuvenating for their families. With many grocery stores still not fully restocked after the initial rush of panic shopping, families are also looking to grow their own food in their own yards, especially fresh, organic greens and vegetables.
With this renewed interest in gardening, the Surfrider Foundation encourages everyone to think about how you can also take care of your yards and gardens to prevent pollution from reaching the beaches and local waterways you and your family enjoy recreating in. By adopting Ocean Friendly Garden (OFG) practices at home, you can nurture a healthy sanctuary without the use of harmful landscaping chemicals for the benefit of your family's health and to support native habitat and local pollinators.
Ocean Friendly Gardens are a healthier alternative to conventional landscaping practices.
By planting native, climate-appropriate plants, building healthy soils naturally, and carefully shaping landscapes to slow down and retain rainwater, Ocean Friendly Gardens transform our yards and public spaces to reduce urban runoff, filter out pollutants, conserve water and create wildlife habitat. Ocean Friendly Gardens are also energy efficient landscapes that absorb carbon from the air and store it in the soil to help reduce impacts of climate change. To make a full transformation of your yard into an Ocean Friendly Garden there are many helpful resources on Surfrider’s website including this Watershed Approach Handbook and OFG criteria.
But you can also take a slower, incremental approach and commit to making small changes today that will reap big benefits for years to come. Here’s how you can get started:
- Go organic. Stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Landscaping chemicals do not stay in the ground where they are applied but reach local waterways through groundwater and runoff. Fertilizers lead to toxic algae blooms and their production has a huge carbon footprint. While they can give your plants a short term boost, they kill important biology in the soil that is needed for long term soil and plant health. Your plants don't need these chemicals, and you don't want to expose your family or pets to them either.
- Compost. Create your own soil amendments, or plant food, with kitchen scraps and green waste from your yard. Composting reduces food waste and prevents the release of the powerful, climate-changing gas methane from our landfills, helping to reduce local impacts of climate change. Here are some easy-to-follow instructions for getting started.
- Mulch. Mulch. Mulch. Cover your soil with mulch and compost to build healthy, biologically-active soil that will act like a sponge to absorb and retain rain.
- Go Native. Incorporate more native plants into your garden. Native plants and grasses are well suited to your local climate and don’t need supplemental irrigation when they are fully-grown. You’ll also be providing food and habitat for butterflies, birds and bees. Give your local nursery a call or look them up online. Many are currently arranging for curbside pick-up or delivery. Or google search your state's Native Plant Society for plant lists and local native growers and suppliers.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Grow your own food and make less trips to the grocery store. It's still not too late to start your seeds in many growing zones.
- Say no to invasives! Invasive plant species spread quickly and can displace native plants, reducing biodiversity and availability of critical wildlife habitat. Look up any plants you are uncertain about here.
- Shape your yard. Create contours in your landscape to capture, slow down and soak up rain. Or install a rain barrel.
- Turn your yard into an energy efficient landscape. Most lawns are carbon sources but by using Ocean Friendly and sustainable landscaping practices your yard can be a carbon sink that offers solutions for climate change. While lawns are not sustainable in dry climates and should be swapped out for climate appropriate plants and mulch (Learn how here). Where rainfall can sustain grass lawns, consider making these changes:
- Reduce the size of your lawn. Maintain grass only where you really need and use it.
- Seed in or allow clover, dandelions and other flowering plants to mix in with your grass. They add nitrogen to the soil and provide food for pollinators.
- Swap out your gas-guzzling mowers with electric tools and machines, or better yet human-powered. Americans burn over 800 million gallons of gas mowing their lawns every year and spill 17 million gallons more refueling.
- Mow your grass less frequently and cut it higher. Longer grass blades have more leaf area for photosynthesis and carbon capture and provide more shade to protect the soil.
- More recommendations for turning your yards into toxin-free, energy efficient landscapes can be found in these great resources:
Need some inspiration? Check out Jack Johnson and Lucas Nelson at Surfrider's One Ocean event as they encourage poeple to "Turn Off the News and Plant a Garden." Enjoy!