There are few things as delightful to the senses as a stroll along a beach; ocean views, sand between my toes, the smell of briny sea air, all while feeling a spray of water as its whipped up by the wind. Unfortunately, all the things that make coastal living so wonderful, make it very challenging to keep flowers, shrubs, and plants alive. Sandy or rocky soil, punishing winds, salty air, and relentless sun are less than ideal for growing most garden plants. Gardeners that have successful coastal gardens can’t rely on fussy plants, or predictable weather. Luckily, anyone gardening or landscaping in these conditions or looking for ideas to make their gardens less work and more salt and drought tolerant, can learn a lot from seaside gardening.
Tips for Growing Plants in High Wind and High Salt Conditions
Tips #2: Many varieties of plants that are ideal for xeriscape or rock gardening (like armeria or santolina) also make great plants for seaside gardening. Plants that are naturally drought tolerant hold up well against salty and drying winds and may actually prefer fast-draining, sandy soil.
Tip #3: Look for ways to create barriers against salt-spray. Recent research into salt-tolerant plants suggests that if you plant a salt-tolerant variety in front of a less salt-tolerant plant (for instance planting a dwarf maiden grass in front of a rose bush), the salt-tolerant plants will actually absorb salt-spray or splash from the street and protect your less salt-tolerant plants. A layer of mulch can also protect roots against salt-spray as well as keep in moisture and protect against fungal diseases.
Add Decorative Touches for Variety and Year-Round Interest
Since one big strategy of seaside gardening is to avoid planting tall flowering plants with thin stems, seaside gardens can end up lacking height and variety. A good way to deal with this problem is to add height by placing taller containers among your lower growing plants.
If you don’t live near the seaside, but want to create a coastal feel in your garden, add decorative touches that are also reminders of shore life; buoys, driftwood, mermaid balls, netting, and rope, can all add seaside charm to any garden.
Plant Selections for Seaside Gardening
There are very few plants that are truly salt-tolerant i.e. be able to withstand soil that is soaked in salty water. However, there are more options that are moderately salt-tolerant. These can take the occasional salty splash (from a roadside salting during the winter) or salty winds. If your garden is right on the water and gets splashed during high tide or storms, or if it borders a road that is salted during the winter, plant in raised beds that are above the splash line, mulch heavily, or avoid planting there at all!
The list below includes several common garden plants that are known to tolerate some salty conditions. It’s definitely doesn’t include everything out there (most are just my favorites!)–we recommend that you speak with a garden center in your area so you can find the right plants for your climate and soil conditions.While gardening by the sea can be challenging, it’s also an opportunity to learn about the hardiest plants and how to use them effectively in the natural landscape. Many plants that do well in seaside areas will also thrive in difficult locations like in the dreaded “hellstrip” or along a salted driveway or walkway. If you have a favorite plant or trick for making your garden thrive along the coast, let us know in the comments! We love to hear how our readers deal with their own gardening challenges (and opportunities).