Ocean friendly gardens

Is Your Garden Ocean Friendly? Ten Gardens to Save the World


Urban areas produce enormous amounts of polluted stormwater runoff each year, with damages raking up to billions of dollars each year. The stormwater flowing through agricultural and urban areas creates a cocktail of chemicals and nutrients that can alter surrounding environments in drastic ways. 

Excess stormwater can create unsightly and toxic water ecosystem conditions. The resulting eutrophication (imagine a pond taken over with thick green biomass), can lead to “dead zones” void of life. 

Runoff is destroying habitats and 1000s of species worldwide, but luckily, we can help.

Ocean-friendly gardens (OFGs) are green spaces designed to capture and slow down stormwater, creating a landscaped filter for water as it heads to the sea. Here are ten excellent ocean-friendly garden ideas.

Top Ten Ocean Friendly Gardens

Ocean-friendly gardens are catching on in cities and urban areas around the world. Did you know that the average suburban lawn receives ten times more pesticide per acre than farmland? For years, we’ve permitted chemicals like pesticides and manures to flow out of yards and into the natural habitat. The result is not only unsightly but toxic for wildlife and our children. 

Properly landscaped gardens provide a place for us to beautify our surroundings and even produce some food and herbs. They can also drastically reduce the footprint of urban rainwater runoff. 

With permeable surfaces, ocean-friendly gardens can lower the risk of flooding and produce a wildlife habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. 

1. Rain Gardens

One of the best ways to make your property ocean-friendly is by installing rain gardens. A simple rain garden can soak up excess rainwater and act as a natural filter for the water as it flows toward the sea. 

Observe your yard or garden the next time there’s heavy rain, and take note of where the water seems to be the wettest. Your prime location for a rain garden will be in that spot, and you can plant anything in it that grows well with lots of water in your area. Ensure that you slope your soil so that rainwater flows into pools and keeps the ground loose enough for the water to drain over a couple of days.

It’s also helpful to see where water flows from your gutters, as you’ll want to improve water permeation near that area. Choose plants with a high tolerance for standing water near the center of your garden.

One excellent addition to your rain garden, or any ocean-friendly garden, are mushrooms, an incredibly efficient habitat detoxifier

2. Eco-Friendly Fertilizer

Whether you live right next to the sea or dozens of miles away from the coast, the landscape around you impacts water quality. Ultimately, the water flows into the ocean, so what you do on your property can benefit everyone downstream.

Using synthetic compost, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides defeats the purpose of having an ocean-friendly garden. Good soil allows for your water-filtering plants to grow and sustain. Aim for a healthy mix of organic compost and natural fertilizer to build healthy, vibrant soil. 

A few effective fertilizers include Milorganite (a slow-releasing nitrogen enhancer) and fertilizers made with natural ingredients like alfalfa and cornmeal. It may also help to add nitrogen-fixers like clover to your garden. Natural compost retains about 30% more water than average dirt, meaning it can significantly lower topsoil loss. 

One final tip is to avoid leaving fertilizer on paved surfaces, as it will run into water streams eventually. Always sweep off permeable surfaces after spreading your fertilizer.

3. Native and Drought-Tolerant Plants

Choosing the right plants for your environment and climate is crucial. Plant native species whenever possible, and consider adding drought-resistant plants to the mix. 

Non-invasive plants that work well in both flooded and dry climates will work best since the weather can change through the seasons. Parts of your garden will remain wet for longer, while other areas will typically be drier. 

Plants that do well in the center of a rain garden include Lady Fern. The middlemost rings may consist of plants that enjoy occasional standing water, such as Snowberries. The outermost ring is the best place for plants that prefer drier climates, like the Western Bleeding Heart.

While each plant is suitable for a particular climate, what may be native in one area can be invasive in your locale. For more info, ask your local Cooperative Extension about the best plants to grow year-round in your rain garden. 

4. Plant Trees in Your Ocean-Friendly Garden

Trees can provide a handy buffer from soil runoff into streams, raising the water level, and keeping soil in place. The roots benefit your garden’s ecosystem in many ways, assisting with transporting nutrients where they’re needed most. 

Trees can also prevent raindrops from hitting the ground as hard, providing some protection for the plants and soil below. When planted appropriately, trees can provide shade to your home, lowering your water and power bill over time. You’ll also benefit local and migratory birds and wildlife by planting trees for them to call home.

Depending on your location, consider planting fruit or nut trees, as these are typically water-absorbing powerhouses, with the added benefit of producing something you can eat.

5. Permeable Pavement

A city block can produce five times more runoff than a wooded area of the same size, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With that in mind, new technologies like permeable (porous) pavement offer a cost-effective way to improve our urban environments without jeopardizing the natural world.

Porous pavement captures urban precipitation and surface runoff, storing it in a reservoir that slowly filters water into the soil underneath. If you’re building a new driveway, an outdoor pool area, or any kind of walkway, consider using permeable pavement to lower your water footprint.

6. Greywater Filtration Systems

Greywater (water from a washing machine, kitchen sink, or toilet) is not something to stream to a garden near your home. It’s also not the right choice for gardens that utilize standing pools of water. However, adequately filtered greywater is excellent for watering specific trees (especially fruit or nut trees), bushes, shrubs, and berry patches. Direct your greywater farther afield, rather than towards flower gardens or collections of small plants.

Choose trees from disease-resistant rootstocks, and avoid watering salt-sensitive trees with greywater containing powdered detergents. Greywater systems require a lifestyle redesign, as you’ll want to use plant and ocean-friendly products in the home to avoid negatively affecting the environment in your backyard and beyond.

7. Mulch Ground Cover

Up to three inches of mulch will keep the weeds out of your soil so that the plants you intend to grow can thrive. Mulch cuts down on time spent weeding the garden, and it keeps the dirt moist, which lowers the need to water the garden while slowing soil erosion.

8. Water Collection and Efficiency

Your garden will need different levels of water and attention at certain times of the year, especially when you’re initially building the garden. Consider installing a rain barrel to capture water from the roofs of buildings on your property.

9. Natural Weeding and Pruning

Rain gardens can still serve their purpose if overrun with weeds, but the plants you place in your garden may not grow or be as efficient, as they will need to compete with the invasive weeds. If your chosen plants are native species and carefully picked for making your garden more ocean-friendly, weeds can become a detriment. 

The best time to remove weeds is in the spring when the soil is moist, and the weeds are not well-established. Remove all the roots to ensure that the weed cannot grow back. After removing the weeds in one area, fluff the mulch to cover any bare spots and keep the soil drainage in check. Skip the weed whacker, as it’s too easy to damage your rain garden plants. 

10. Gardening by the Calendar

An annual gardening calendar can help you keep track of the various tasks required to keep your ocean-friendly garden vibrant. A useful gardening calendar will include watering, mulching, pruning, and weeding schedules based on the seasons, weeks, and time of day. Keeping track of these chores will help you reduce costs while also helping your garden plants establish into the soil. 

A proper schedule that incorporates nature’s cycles will keep your plants growing and doing good for the environment for years to come. Instead of fighting against your plants, you can work with them — and the weather — to help everything green flourish.

(You might also be interested in reading the similar article at Ocean Friendly Restaurant)


As we continue to expand our cities, suburbs, and lawns, we’ll have an ever-increasing need to strike a balance with nature. As ocean-friendly gardens continue to grow in popularity, so will how we build them. We think the above list will help you get started, but feel free to experiment!

Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office for any questions about soil, native and invasive species, gardening, or farming tips and regulations for your area. Even better, visit eco-friendly gardens at universities, botanical gardens, and other spots for inspiration. 

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