by Michele McKay

Gardening in Hawaii can be a joy and a challenge. Our perpetual growing season allows us to cultivate plants year-round, but it also puts our green thumbs to the test by allowing pests to thrive and soil to become compacted. In its Ocean Friendly Gardens program, the Surfrider Foundation points out that even if you don’t live near the ocean, your garden – and how you manage it – impacts the health of Hawaii’s marine environment.

Your property and its soil affect the ocean through the quality and the quantity of water that runs off the yard and into storm drains. In times of heavy rain or over-irrigation fertilizers, pesticides, oils, cleaning solutions, and debris wash into the street, into the drains, and ultimately, into the sea. Harmful run-off can be prevented by watering appropriately, landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, and using natural products to fertilize and augment soil.

Chemical fertilizers that find their way to the sea cause rapid growth of destructive algae. Alternative, natural fertilizers such as compost will help to build the soil and increase its permeability. As permeability improves, so does the soil’s ability to hold water and prevent run-off. How you choose to manage weeds, bugs, and animal pests will determine whether harmful pesticides are swept off your property by rain or over-irrigation. To help prevent damage to aquatic life, avoid all toxic pesticides. Be lenient with certain pests and use eco-friendly alternatives against others. Landscaping with bug- and disease-resistant plants is an excellent way to deter pests.

What you can do

  • Avoid over-watering in order to reduce run-off and pest infestations such as mold and mealy bugs. Watering properly, using correctly adjusted sprinklers, and using drip irrigation will help the soil soak up and retain water.
  • Use compost and natural fertilizers to build the soil, rather than degrade it.
  • Avoid using harmful pesticides and chemicals around your home.
  • Introduce landscaping that is drought- and pest-resistant.
  • Replace lawns with an attractive alternative. Most lawns require a lot of water and produce run-off that is loaded with fertilizers and herbicides.
  • Increase soil permeability by reducing pavement in driveways, paths, and patios.
  • Learn more from Surfrider Foundation’s web page on Ocean Friendly Gardens or contact Rick Wilson, Coastal Management Coordinator at or (949) 492-8170 Visit, and for additional issues and news from the Oahu, Maui and Kauai chapters of the Surfrider Foundation.