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Springing into Action with Ocean Friendly Gardens in SoCal

To have healthy oceans, waves, and beaches, we need healthy watersheds. Because much of our local environment has been paved over, flattened for development, and channelized to funnel water out as fast as possible, Los Angeles County in Southern California creates a staggering 151 billion gallons of urban stormwater runoff per year. This runoff flushes pollution to the ocean, floods our streets and communities, and if safely retained could be used to provide 30% of this area's annual water demand.

Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens program advocates for nature-based solutions throughout the watershed to support clean water, climate resilience, and biodiversity. Every frontyard, backyard, or community green space is an opportunity to restore habitat and regain the resilience of a healthy, functioning ecosystem. With support from  Accelerate Resilience L.A., a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, & the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation, the Long Beach and Los Angeles Chapters were stoked to have the opportunity to take some hands-on restoration action! 

The problem with turf grass lawns

Both of the project sites began as flat, green grass lawns that had been in place for decades. In Southern California, most of us are aware of the urgent need to conserve water, and that lawns are big water-wasters. But the problems with lawns go beyond their water consumption. Grass lawns cover over 40 million acres in the U.S., 3 times the area of any irrigated crop like corn, wheat, or soy.  Lawns offer very little habitat or shelter for wildlife, especially lacking resources for local pollinators and migratory birds with specific needs. Fossil-fuel powered lawn care tools used to 'mow and blow' contribute to air pollution, water pollution from spilled fuel, and carbon emissions. Fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides all contribute to polluting our waterways, and compacted, short-rooted non-native grass on flat terrain increases the amount of runoff sent to storm drains. 

Why native plants are the best replacement 

Native plants support local biodiversity and provide food and habitat for pollinators like hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and wild bees. Many migrating pollinators and birds rely on locally native plants to provide unique resources at predictable times of the year, and this is becoming even more crucial with the stresses of climate change. Even one plant in your yard can help create networks of nature in our urban environment and make a difference in the health of your local ecosystem. The robust root systems of native plants retain rainwater and filter runoff, creating climate-resilient habitat above and below ground while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. 

Los Angeles Chapter: Turf to Habitat Transformation in Leimert Park

The Los Angeles Chapter's project took place at a multi-unit building in the Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles. It was made possible through the collaboration of many local organizations aligned for the same goal; to transform the status quo of a grass lawn into a functional, biodiverse habitat that will conserve resources and support a climate-resilient future. The coalition was led by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance (LANCSA), the Climate Reality Project LA Chapter, Surfrider Foundation LA Chapter, and supported by TreePeople,, Urban Renewable, Empowerment Congress West Area (ECWA), Chaminade College Preparatory School, Selva EcoGardens, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

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Volunteer Kwame and Charles Miller of Climate Reality LA Chapter set up a support for the coast live oak tree, volunteers Aurora and Jeff plant blue eyed grass in the new rain garden (Photos courtesy of Marilyn Snell, Urban Renewable)

We had an incredible turnout of 111 volunteers during the two-day event who put their energy, passion, and muscle to work! Together we removed 1215 sq ft of grass lawn and planted 186 native plants, including 3 species of native trees. Volunteers learned how to sheet mulch to prevent weeds and build healthy soil, how to prepare a former lawn for planting, and how to create a bioswale and rain garden basin. For many volunteers, it was their first time doing these unique gardening activities and it was awesome to see them overcome hesitations and become confident in their ability to take action. 

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Left: Volunteers learn about sheet mulching and get hands-on practice with this sustainable weed-prevention method (Photo courtesy of Urban Renewable), Right: Volunteers shape the bioswale in the backyard and test the flow with a hose

Volunteers first removed the existing grass and learned how to sheet mulch, which is a great alternative to plastic "weed cloth". It shades out grass roots and weeds from immediately growing back while the plants get established without creating any plastic pollution! 

In the backyard we created a bioswale, or a little creek, to direct the flow of the downspout away from the building and let it soak into the ground. In the front yard we created a large basin to collect the water flowing from the porch and off the front of the roof, using the soil we removed to build a berm along the front side of the slope. These are both stormwater capture features that will prevent runoff from flowing into the street and instead direct it to hydrate the plants in the yard, supporting a healthy watershed and clean water at the coast. 

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Left: Surfrider LA Chapter volunteer coordinator Mel plants a native verbena plant (Photo courtesy of Marilyn Snell, Urban Renewable)

We finished by planting 186 native plants, including 3 species of native trees! Many volunteers planted their very first plants in the ground and were experts by the time we were done. We are excited to watch this yard grow into a colorful, vibrant, biodiverse haven for local wildlife. 

IMG_9335Photo courtesy of Urban Renewable

Read the full blog about the Leimert Park OFG project and hear from a volunteer about his experience

Long Beach Chapter: A Channel Islands Themed Rain Garden Along the Shoreline

The OFG project area at Shoreline Village in Long Beach is next to a popular bike path and a boat marina. This area is quite busy on the weekend, making it a great place for a demonstration project. The adjacent storage shed presented an opportunity to collect and redirect runoff created by the roof, which creates about 300 gallons of polluting runoff per 1in of rainfall.

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Left: Courtesy of City of Long Beach

Our hard-working volunteers removed 525 sq ft of water-wasting grass lawn, created a rain garden basin to collect stormwater runoff, learned how to install drip irrigation, and planted 104 native plants! The plants were selected with a Catalina Island theme, to highlight the biodiversity of the nearby Channel Islands and their connection with the plants and wildlife found locally in Long Beach.

IMG_9037The area is now completely transformed from a water-wasting, flat monoculture to a beautiful, biodiverse, climate-resilient Ocean Friendly Garden. We are looking forward to continuing working with the Marine Bureau, LB Utilities, and our volunteers to add nature-based solutions to the Long Beach shoreline and transform this area into enjoyable green space that supports the health of our local watershed.


Slide to view before and after

For more info about the Shoreline Village project, check out the LB Chapter's blog

A huge thank you to all of our volunteers who made these amazing projects possible, we are excited to see them grow and for the building momentum of hands-on OFG action! This work was made possible through the support of Accelerate Resilience L.A., a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, & the Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation.

Want to take action? Learn more about Surfrider's Ocean Friendly Gardens program, volunteer with your local chapter to create OFG impact in your community, or support our work by becoming a member.