Growing a coastal garden seems relatively easy until you consider the challenging environment the plants have to survive. Coastal plants are some of the hardiest available and generally withstand most salt and wind conditions.
Common salt and wind tolerant plants include Gazania Daisy, Rosemary, Oleander, Sea Oxeye Daisy, Beach or Dune Sunflower, Crown-of-Thorns, Confederate Jasmine, Sweet Potato Vine, Bromeliads, Purslane, Crotons, Geiger Tree, Beach Verbena, Blanket Flower, Railroad Vine, Scarlet Sage, Firebush, Frogfruit, and Bougainvillea.
Other plant varieties also do well in these arid conditions. Below, we’ll look at how salt and wind affect plants, how to create the perfect growing environment for many salt and wind intolerant plants, and which other plants thrive in coastal conditions.
Salt is a common enemy in coastal homes — from rusted metal to rotting wood. Unfortunately, salt negatively affects plants if they are not adapted to the environment.
Salty soils occur when sodium builds up in the ground — this generally only occurs in areas where the average rainfall for the year is below 20 inches (51 cm).
Salt build-up occurs due to the lack of rain that essentially rinses the salt out of the soil.
There are two ways in which salt adversely affects plants:
- Salt deposited into the soil through salty rainwater and exposure to saltwater spray reduces the effectiveness of water uptake.
- The salt content in the soil burns the roots.
Saline soil will usually reflect in brown or burnt margins on the plant’s leaves. It can also look like drought damage.
Salt spray is another common problem, as the spray causes characteristic scorched leaves. The leaves, if left untreated, will fall off the plant.
Wind and salt spray damage look alike and can be challenging to tell apart. Let’s see how you can distinguish by looking at how a coastal wind affects plants.
You can quickly tell wind damage apart from salt damage by looking at the plant itself.
If the plant is blown over, showing exposed roots or snapped branches, it’s an obvious sign of wind damage.
The tricky part of identifying wind damage is when you have strong or cold winds.
While shredded leaves are an obvious sign of wind damage, wind scorch (or leaf scorch) may look similar to salt damage as the leaves can wither, showing brown or black coloring signs.
Similar to salt-damaged leaves, the leaf will also fall off, but not before turning brittle.
The wind essentially acts as a vacuum, sucking water from the leaves faster than the roots can replenish it.
If you have both salt and wind at play in your garden, you may find that plants die off faster than you can afford to replace them.
Generally, you’ll find that older plants aren’t as susceptible to wind damage as younger ones — this is because they have more established root systems and are adapted to the environment.
The same applies to old and young leaves — young leaves are more susceptible to wind scorch than older leaves.
So, how exactly do you create a salt and wind-tolerant garden?
Creating a salt and wind-tolerant garden might be easier than you expect — and won’t always cost a fortune to implement.
Here are some easy ways you can set up your garden to be salt and wind tolerant:
If you have a garden where salt is the main problem, an easy way to prevent damage to your plants is by planting salt-tolerant shrubs as a guard.
These shrubs won’t only guard your plants against salt spray, but they’ll also act as a wind barrier.
You also want to plant trees that tolerate salty soil close to one another to protect the ground beneath.
Another easy way to prevent salt accumulation is by mulching your garden and thoroughly spraying down your plants after a storm.
Most coastal homes have sandy soil, which contains little nutrients for plants. When watered, the soil will quickly dry and won’t retain moisture.
This dry, moisture-lacking soil won’t do your plants any good if they aren’t adapted to live in those conditions.
An easy way to combat nutrient-lacking soil is to improve the soil quality by working in compost, loam soil, and water-retaining granules (like perlite or sphagnum moss).
By adding these components to your sandy soil, you won’t only create nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining soil, but you’ll also create soil that will help the roots of plants anchor down and resist rough winds.
A more costly but effective way to prevent salt and wind damage is screening.
Here are ways to screen your plants and prevent salt and wind damage:
- Install permanent screens such as fencing, palisade walls, or a trellis
- Install temporary screens such as shade netting or a mobile frame.
Temporarily screening your plants will allow younger plants to establish a healthy root system before being exposed to extreme wind and salt damage.
When you want to work against nature, you’ll undoubtedly face some issues when gardening.
It’s best to work with plants adapted to a salty and windy environment. An easy way to identify which plants do well in these conditions is by looking around your neighborhood.
You can also visit your local gardening center and see which indigenous plants are available. Using native plants will likely help you avoid coastal garden problems while improving your local footprint.
Choosing non-native plants for your garden can also work, as long as they are non-invasive.
Choosing the right plant for your garden shouldn’t be difficult.
If you want to prepare for your visit to your local gardening center or simply want to find out which plants will do better in salty conditions, here’s the list of plants you want to consider:
These plants will likely do well in your garden. Salty conditions, as well as salt spray, won’t be a problem if they are well protected:
- Sea Thrift
- Hardy Ice Plant
- Cheddar Pinks (Dianthus)
- Mexican Heather
- Nippon Daisy
- Crinum Lily
- Hens and Chicks
- Hummingbird plant
These plants are diverse and can spruce up any space that needs an injection of green.
Be sure to check the local availability of these species and only plant them if they’re non-invasive to your community.
Trees are a lovely way to protect against salt damage from reaching low-growing plants.
Here are some trees you can consider planting in salty soil:
- Thornless Honey Locust
- Eastern Red Cedar
- Southern Magnolia
- Willow Oak
- Chinese Podocarpus
- Sand Live Oak
- Japanese Black Pine
Remember to check which tree sizes your nursery stocks, as well as the size at maturity and sun requirements.
These shrubs are ideal for gardening under saltwater conditions and guard against salt spray.
- Century Plant
- Dwarf Yaupon Holly
- New Zealand Flax
- Rugosa Rose
- Butcher’s Broom
- Sandwich Viburnum
There are also a few other shrubs that are moderately resistant to salt damage — the best option would be to check for local availability.
There are only a few small garden plants that can tolerate salty environments. Here are some that won’t mind the salty conditions:
- Blanket Flower
- Prickly Pear Cactus
- Lavender Cotton
- Seaside Goldenrod
You can make salty soil conditions more habitable by adding mulch and compost to your existing soil.
Grasses are a great option in coastal gardens as they naturally stabilize sandy soil and act as a buffer against strong winds and salt spray.
Here are some grasses you can add to your garden:
- American beachgrass
- Dusty miller
- Beach pea
- Saltmeadow Cordgrass
- Sea rocket
- Seaside goldenrod
- Beach heather
- Virginia creeper
- Lowbush blueberry
- Northern bayberry
- Beach plum
- Pitch pine
- Eastern red cedar
- White oak
- Spike grass
These grasses act as glue to hold sandy soil together and cover large, open areas where other plants won’t usually thrive.
If you already have salt-damaged plants, here are a few ways you can treat the damage.
An easy way to treat a salt-damaged lawn is to use pelletized gypsum, or calcium sulfate, to replace the salt with calcium and sulfur.
To treat salt damage on your lawn, rinse your grass over the course of a few days to prevent salt build-up in your soil. Then, apply the pelletized gypsum to the grass and ensure that you water the lawn when the soil is dry.
The calcium and sulfur will help heal the grass while encouraging new growth.
The gypsum also helps the soil to retain water which will be helpful to aid the lawn in its rehabilitation process.
Saving your plants from salt damage is an easier task than expected.
Much like your lawn, you want to treat salty soil by applying pelletized gypsum. Fortunately, it won’t change the pH of your soil, and it has the benefit of retaining moisture.
Pinch away leaves that are highly damaged by the salt, and ensure that you rinse your plants thoroughly after heavy rain.
Another way to minimize damage is to ensure that any walks and driveways drain away from your plants.
Strong winds can damage, uproot, and even kill plants.
Dealing with the damage as soon as possible can help the plant’s chance of survival, and usually, if quickly treated, the plant can fully recover.
Garden plants exposed to windy conditions often have torn leaves and broken stems.
If this sounds like the plant you have in front of you, it’s best to prune the damaged parts away. This way, you’ll prevent future diseases from having a place to harbor while encouraging new growth.
Doing this right away will help the plant to recover quickly and more completely.
In the case of trees and shrubs that sustained wind damage, you want to remove any torn leaves, followed by cutting back broken twigs or branches to the main stem.
While the shortened branches won’t ever grow longer, new growth will start close to the cut.
While an immediate repair isn’t possible, this technique will help your tree and shrub push out new, fuller growth, resulting in a hardier plant.
A wind-damaged plant isn’t something you can repair. Instead, you want to take preventative measures to ensure your plants won’t sustain damage.
An easy remedy is to add more wind-tolerant plants to the area of the non-tolerant ones. This way, the resistant plants will act as guards for the non-resistant plants.
Here are some ways you can prevent wind damage to your plants:
- Plant hedges or plants around your garden to provide natural windbreaks.
- Put up windbreaks made from woven materials — this way, the wind will be filtered rather than deflected.
- Cover non-tolerant plants with horticultural fleece whenever strong winds are forecasted.
- Move plants in containers to sheltered positions rather than leaving them in open alleyways.
- Apply foliar feed to any new plant growth.
- Fertilize plants with slow-release fertilizer to encourage new growth throughout the season.
- Add mulching to your garden beds to insulate and prevent soil from blowing away.
When it comes to trees, you can easily prevent damage by pruning them.
Here are some pruning techniques you can use to reduce wind-related damage:
- Thin out the tree’s canopy — this way, the wind will pass through the branches rather than push against the tree.
- Raise the crown by removing lower branches.
- Lower the crown by shortening upright branches.
Other than pruning, you also want to be mindful of natural joints the tree makes — the narrower the crotch angle, the weaker the joint.
Generally, an angle of 17 degrees or less is a weak joint and will likely snap with rough winds. You ideally want a crotch angle of between 45 and 60 degrees.
A way to prevent the branch from snapping is by bracing the tree or adding support structures to the tree.
Doing so will help you prevent potential property damage while also saving the tree from harsh winds.
Growing plants and flowers near the beach times a lot of time and consideration.
These coastal landscapes are subject to rough winds and high salt content, making it difficult for unadapted plants to thrive. Other than external damage done by salt-spray and leaf-shredding winds, you also have arid soil conditions.
The best option for gardens like this is to choose plants adapted to the environment and the accompanying conditions.
Additionally, an easy way to protect plants that aren’t adapted to the salt and wind is by adding screening mechanisms around the plants, rinsing them with fresh water after storms, and pruning away damaged parts as soon as possible.
Following these tips and choosing the right plants to grow will help you to sustain your lush coastal garden!