‘Put the Brakes On Before Ripping Out the Yard!’

by on June 24, 2022 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Kathy Blavatt

All photos by Kathy

“We didn’t mean to make it a bare garden!” Similar words I had heard before. A nice new couple who recently moved to Ocean Beach, removed almost every tree and many of the plants from their new front yard and the walkway. Gone were the bright red native berries I used on my Christmas wreath decoration. Gone were the low-water plants and edibles and most of the trees.

So now I am doing what I frequently do, offering the new neighbors starter plants to fill in the plot of naked earth in front of their house.

Baby Loquat Trees are out on my front bench for neighbors and passers-by to take and plant.

The previous owners put a couple of decades of work and love into their garden. Some of the plants pulled from the yard were starter plants that I had given them.

Similar stories are happening all around O.B.

Fortunately, our block is still full of established gardens. Neighbors have swapped plants for many years.

When new arrivals move into Ocean Beach, they usually can’t wait to make their mark on their new home. Changing the yard seems easy. They plow right into taking out the plants. Sometimes, little thought is gone into what they are taking out or replacement plants they want to put in.

Each time I see the removal of many of healthy trees and plants from a yard, I feel like they are cutting off appendages that make up the body of our community.

It seems like such a waste as full dumpsters or trucks carries off green debris, which days before had been the makings of a thriving garden.

Ice plants come in various varieties and grow well in yards on the peninsula. Some owners replant, but others put in big swaths of concrete or plastic grass. Plastic grass is not environmentally sound! A much better choice is ice plant ground cover.

Also, homeowners that hear the latest trend or so-called environmental and water savings style of yards take out their gardens before assessing what they have.

Before making significant changes to your yard, take an inventory of the plants, the layout and design, and the practicality of the current yard. Look to see what your yard provides: edibles including fruit trees, flower foliage for pollinators, shade trees, low water plants, and other assets.

On top of the hill above Catalina Boulevard on a spectacularly clear day, the established trees and the mountains framed the picturesque Dixon Estate. Each tree and shrub make up this picture-perfect view. This established landscape is a big part of what makes the peninsula’s scenic landscape so lovely and diverse.

Residents should consider keeping established plants and trees, which can save them money and grow-time. If the fruit trees already bare a lot of fruit, it can save money and produce healthily food.

There are methods to improve water collection and retention to consider. Also, mulching, composting,  and natural techniques boost the soil.

Research the history of the area’s gardens. Talk with neighbors about the terrain and what grows well in the area.

Tips before taking out the plants in your yard:

  • Leave the garden as-is for an entire year, other than applying primary care.
  • Assess the existing plants and trees and how they benefit and beautify the property.
  • Study what is growing in your garden. Look at what makes the yard functional and beautiful.
  • Take a year or more to see what the garden looks like over the seasons.
  • Bulbs root, bloom, produce seeds and die within the same growing season. Look at the bloom cycles from ‘annuals’ and ‘perennials.’ Annual flower life typically spans spring through fall. Perennials regrow every spring until the lifespan of the plant is over.
  • Dormant seeds and bulbs underground may surprise you as they pop up and burst into stems of lovely flowers in the spring and summer. Self-seeding plants can save you a lot of work replanting beds.
  • What edible plants are in the garden? They save on food bills and help keep you healthy.
  • Seasonal trees can showcase changes from blossoms, greenery, and colorful fall foliage to dormant winter branches. Other trees provide green foliage year-round. Palms add a sense of the tropics and provide birds’ homes and food, as do other kinds of trees.

See what plants are working as companion plants. Nasturtiums work well with my tomatoes, but I pull them as soon as bugs, especially mites, appear. Seal them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash.

Late spring and early summer are the time to collect seeds for future planting or giving away to other gardeners.

My 2022 garden seed collection includes herbs, edibles, and flowering plants.

Many of the peninsula’s old-growth and deep-rooted trees take less watering because they have tapped into the underground water table and get some of their water from the coastal fog.

Plant cost replacement should be a consideration. Before removing trees and plants, find out how much replacement plants will cost. Medium to large trees can cost a lot, and small trees can take years to grow into full-size trees or fruit trees that produce fruit. Some of the exotic plants on the peninsula are irreplaceable.

San Diego’s early indigenous people planted many regional plants when they migrated from the mountains and deserts to the coast, planting utilitarian and edible native seeds along their migration routes to the Pacific Ocean.

I also collect seeds I plant in my yard and give to others. Gifting seeds benefits humans, animals, and the environment.

Two perturbed parrots migrated back to Ocean Beach this Spring and found their favorite large Canary Palm was gone. Its removal left little evidence their home where they dined on palm dates. Sadly, these two birds looped over-and-over the spot where the large  palm used to be. Hopefully they’ll find another tree to call home in O.B.

Animals are also a significant source of planting seeds. Birds and other animals can distribute large numbers of seeds over the landscape.

The climate draws many gardeners to the peninsula. This area has been home to many renowned horticulturists, gardeners, farmers, and the Lomaland Theosophists since the late 1800s. They planted wide varieties of plants and trees from around the world. Our local environment has proven to be well suited for countless plants, including many exotic and rare plants.

Many of these rare plants are being destroyed worldwide. We are lucky enough to have them growing here, but sadly we are losing them here too.

Ocean Beach Library has a stunning bromeliad plant  in its current front garden. This brightly colored bromeliad has proven it can take a lot of sun and little water. What better symbol of Ocean Beach’s own resilient  in getting a new library expansion! This hardy plant deserves to live and have a place of honor in the new library’s garden.

Before you make significant changes, assess your yard. What plants are edible, which plants are low water or have tapped into the water table and other things that make a vital garden? Before removing trees and plants, find out how much these plants would cost to replace. It may surprise you. Medium to large trees can be costly. Small trees can take years to grow into full-size trees, and fruit trees can take years to produce fruit.

The magic of an established garden is the surprises it brings. This year’s surprises included several Pride of Madeira that came up in the yard from long-dormant seeds after they had died off over five years ago. The bees and butterflies seem to be very happy among the blue blossoms.

A mutant or a Tangelo?

My tangelo tree provided a recent surprise, a freaky fruit!  After thinking about it, I figured a pollinator brought pollen from a Citron tree a few doors away.

A Citron from down the block from my Tangelo Tree has a family resemblance to my odd Tangelo.

After close examination of a fruit on the Citroen tree, I’d say the odds are pretty good that my mutant plant had been pollinated by the neighbor’s tree.

Having a garden is a partnership; it is important to know when to let the garden do its thing or when to lend a helping hand. When a garden is loved and healthy, it is like a good marriage, which can lead to years of happiness.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Edwards June 24, 2022 at 1:16 pm

Lots of sage advice in this wise article! Thank you.


Jerry Loomis June 27, 2022 at 8:39 am

My wife and I had an interesting experience, related to yard landscaping. Thinking that I was getting a jump-start on our backyard re-landscaping (mostly bermudagrass), I put black plastic over about a quarter of the yard. This is an effective way to kill grass, but it needs to stay in place for months (not attractive), and when the grass is dead, you need to shake the sandy dirt from the dead roots. It’s not really that hard to do, but when you’re finished, you have a sandy dirt pile. I hadn’t thought this part through very well, what to do next, but it was next to our small vegetable garden, so I decided to just make it into a larger garden. This worked out OK, except that the cats decided that it also made a great litter box, and they made their donations regularly. It became a dry, sandy mess, and I found a layer of dust on everything around the yard and house. In desperation (and with the addition of some low-flow irrigation tubing), I sprinkled a handful of wildflower seeds that I had “inherited”, just to see what happened. It took several weeks for the seeds to develop, but we were stunned. Over the next 3-4 months, the plants bloomed and flowered in such a variety of colors and shapes, with new colors emerging as older ones fade out. And the bees: the garden would literally hum during most hours of the day, with the bees concentrating on whichever flowers were at their peak. And butterflies and ladybugs and insects were everywhere, all busy doing their thing. When the flowers were mature, they were waist-high to chest-high, and since there was no planning when I spread the seeds, there were areas that were dense with stalks and vines, and the cats could disappear inside these clumps so that we couldn’t see them, napping in the shade in the afternoon. (The only problem with wildflowers is that when they mature and die, they just fall over and flop down onto the other plants that are around them, and it is difficult to cull out the old plants and leave the younger plants.) Having had this unexpected wildflower experience, we have evolved our whole concept of how we want to utilize our backyard, trying to find the right mix of veggie garden and wildflower garden, and how they can be blended together. I highly recommend that everyone experiment with wildflower seeds, maybe start with a 3’x5’ patch somewhere easy to water, there’s no wrong way to do it.


Marc Snelling July 2, 2022 at 8:45 pm

Let it be for a year is the best advice of all. And the advice I’m following right now. Just knowing what is there and looking after it is plenty to keep one busy.


Judy Swink July 4, 2022 at 5:17 pm

Excellent article, Kathy. Heartbreaking to read of the mature yards destroyed by ignorant new homeowners. It would be great if local realtors provided a copy of the article to buyers.


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