How Can Gardening Hurt the Ocean?

Anything that enters the storm drain system, including runoff, lawn clippings and dirt from landscaped areas, flows untreated into creeks and ends up in the ocean.

Runoff from landscaped areas may contain pesticides that are harmful to aquatic life. Runoff also frequently contains fertilizers that can cause excessive plant growth in streams. The decay of all this plant matter robs the stream of oxygen necessary for the survival fish and other aquatic organisms. When allowed to wash onto streets, yard waste can clog storm drains can cause flooding.

By following the guidelines below, your business can help prevent pollution become a leader in improving the health of your community.

Download the Landscapers Best Management Practices Guide in English and Spanish.

Mowing, Trimming and Weeding

  • Whenever possible, use mechanical methods of vegetation removal rather than applying herbicides.
  • Avoid loosening the soil when conducting weed control. Use mulch or erosion-control measures when soil is exposed.
  • Do not mow if significant rain is expected.
  • Collect lawn and garden clippings and compost them or dispose of them at a landfill.
  • Cover temporarily stockpiled material and place it away from creeks.
  • Adding organic matter to soil improves infiltration, water retention, drainage. Mulch protects bare soil from erosion.
  • A free mulch pile is maintained at the South Coast Recycling and Transfer Station, located at 4430 Calle Real. The free pile is accessible at all times during the day throughout the year. Qualified trucks (no pickup trucks or trailers) may be loaded with mulch for a loading fee of $15.00. Call (805) 681-4345 for more details. The County also delivers mulch for a fee of $10.00 per ton. To schedule a delivery of mulch, call (805) 681-4981. Visit for more information.


  • Choose native vegetation, which usually requires less maintenance. For more information on native landscaping see the California Native Plant Society's brochure Gardening with California Native Plants .
  • Consider using low water use groundcovers.
  • Rain gardens make functional landscapes by infiltrating 30% more rainwater than lawn and by processing pollutants. Their purpose is to provide a storage area, away from the house, where storm water collects and filters into the soil. Rain gardens are typically landscaped with native plants and grasses, selected according to their moisture requirements and ability to tolerate pollutants. Rain gardens can be easily located in natural depressions or near downspouts.
  • For more information on Rain Gardens:

Waste Management

  • Compost or properly dispose of green waste. Dumping green waste into creeks or storm drains is illegal.
  • Reduce the use of high nitrogen fertilizers, which produce excess growth, requiring more frequent mowing or trimming.
  • Avoid leaving landscaping wastes in and around storm drain inlets by using bagging equipment or manually picking up the material.


  • Use automatic timers to minimize runoff.
  • Consider the use of mechanisms that reduce water flow to sprinkler heads if the heads are broken.
  • Ensure that there is no runoff from landscaped areas that are watered with re-claimed water.
  • Irrigate slowly or pulse irrigate to prevent runoff and then only irrigate as much as needed.
  • Apply water at rates below the infiltration rate of the soil.
  • Inspect irrigation systems regularly to ensure that the correct amount of water is being applied and that runoff is not occurring.
  • Visit  for more water conservation information, tips, rebates and programs in our community.

Fertilizer and Pesticide Management

  • Use pesticides only if there is an actual pest problem, not as a preventative measure.
  • When possible, use physical controls rather than chemical pesticides. Hand-picking, traps, barriers, or a strong jet of water can rid an area of many pests, especially in the early stages of infestation.
  • When chemical controls are necessary, ask your pesticide supplier about less toxic alternatives. Information on less toxic alternatives can be found at the Our Water - Our World website.
  • Do not use pesticides if rain is expected.
  • Do not mix or prepare pesticides for application near storm drains.
  • Prepare the minimum amount of pesticide required for a job and apply at the lowest rate that will effectively control the pest.
  • Store pesticides and application equipment in covered areas.
  • Dispose of pesticides and empty containers as hazardous waste. Call the Community Hazardous Waste Collection Center at (805) 882-3602.
  • Educate your employees about the proper handling of pesticides.
  • Work fertilizers into the soil rather than dumping them on the surface.
  • Sweep up fertilizers spilled on pavement or sidewalks before applying irrigation water.

Source: California Stormwater Quality Association

Other Resources

Green Gardener Certification Program

The Green Gardener Program for Santa Barbara County educates local gardeners in resource efficient and pollutution prevention landscape maintenance practices. The Green Gardener Program is a regional program designed to offer education, training, and promotion of participating gardeners and landscape maintenance contractors. Se habla espanol: (805) 654-5460.

Guidelines for Sustainable Landscapes

The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an effort to develop standards and guidelines for site development that will reduce the environmental impact of landscapes. Sustainable Sites standards and guidelines can apply to sites with or without buildings and can be used by those who design, construct, operate and maintain landscapes, including planners, landscape architects, engineers, developers, builders, maintenance crews, horticulturists, governments, land stewards and organizations offering building standards.

Ocean Friendly Gardens

Surfrider Foundation is partnering with water agencies and others to launch an education and outreach effort as a pilot "Ocean Friendly Gardens" program in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Get simple instructions on designing an "Ocean Friendly Garden," see photographic examples and link to partner websites.