Tips for Growing Plants in a Coastal Climate

By: Julie Day
House and plants on coast

Wedge shaped windbreaks help direct strong wind upward.

If you live near the coast, growing plants and gardening can be quite a challenge. Temperatures are usually warmer; but the salt spray, strong wind, and poor soil can be damaging to plants.

Here are some tips on how to grow plants and garden in a coastal climate.

Wind in a Coastal Climate

Sea breezes feel wonderful on the skin, but the constant whipping can easily uproot or break plants and dry out the soil. Here are some tips for minimizing wind damage to plants in coastal climates:

    Permeable wood fence

    Permeable wood fence

  • Plant a Windbreak: A windbreak around the perimeter of your yard can help create a calm oasis for a garden. The best windbreaks have an outer layer of lower growing shrubs and grasses, followed by an inner layer or taller shrubs or small trees. The idea is for the wind to be directed gently upward – like a ramp – and over the garden. Choose plants for the windbreak that are salt and drought-tolerant and not so dense they block all the wind, just reduce it.
  • Wind Screens: You can also reduce wind damage with structures such as privacy fencing or latticework covered with flowering vines. Solid barriers can create turbulence, so opt instead for permeable screens. Fences should have gaps between the slats to allow the air to filter through.
  • Wind stressed curly willow tree next to house

    Wind stressed curly willow tree.

  • Plant Low and Strong: Low growing plants will be less susceptible to wind damage than taller plants. Rather than trying to stake tall plants, choose plants that develop deep root systems and have firm trunks.
  • Secure Pots: Keep potted plants pruned and compact. Anchor potting containers firmly to porches or decks so they aren’t blown over in a strong wind.
  • Plant in Groups: Cluster your plantings in groups, so the plants can shelter each other from the wind.
Trees and shrubs growing in coastal climate

If you have space, strategic plantings can reduce wind and salt damage.

Salt in a Coastal Climate

Coastal winds can carry salt long distances, especially during storms. The salt then collects on the leaves of plants, causing them to dry out or burn. If your windows are filmed with salt, it’s likely your plants are, too. Here are some tips for dealing with salt on plants in coastal climates:

  • Choose Salt-Tolerant Plants: Pick plant species that are less susceptible to salt damage. Beachfront plants need to be extremely salt-tolerant while plants in sheltered areas need to be at least moderately tolerant.
  • Hose Off Plants: Periodically rinse off the leaves of your plants to remove salt deposits. While drip irrigation and soaker hoses save water, near the coast you might want to occasionally run an overhead sprinkler to rinse the foliage.
Mulch around palm planting

Mulch helps coastal soil retain moisture.

Soil in a Coastal Climate

Coastal soil can be sandy, rocky, or clay based – and the soil is often eroded and infertile. When planting in coastal soil:

  • Go Native: Landscape primarily with native plants that are naturally well suited to coastal areas. Not only will you be preserving the local ecosystem, but you’ll save yourself a ton of work trying to keep unsuitable plants alive. There are many choices for native coastal plants, including succulents, bulbs, grasses, shrubs, and trees.
  • Sandy coastal soil next to plant

    Sandy coastal soil

  • Amend Carefully: Improve sandy soil by incorporating organic matter, such as compost or manure, to help retain water and add nutrients. Avoid trying to truck in too much soil to create an artificial environment. Instead, amend what you have, and choose plants wisely.
  • Fertilizer: Choose slow release, organic fertilizer that will neither burn your plants nor be washed away too quickly in fast draining soil.
  • Mulch: A thick layer of mulch in planting beds helps hold in water, prevent soil erosion, and breaks down over time to improve the soil.
Wax myrtle (left) and pittosporum (right) are both salt tolerant plants

Wax myrtle (left) and pittosporum (right) are both salt-tolerant plants.

Water in a Coastal Climate

Between the wind and the fast draining soil, coastal gardens dry out quickly. And despite the ocean of water nearby, droughts are common during dry seasons. Here are some tips for how to water plants in a coastal climate:

  • Minimize Lawns: Coastal lawns almost always require a great deal of irrigation, and it’s difficult to grow many types of grasses. Reduce your lawn space – and water needs – by naturalizing the land with native plants.
  • Sprinkler

    Coastal lawns need irrigation

  • Irrigation System: Even native plants are likely to require some supplemental water. Install rain barrels to collect water and an irrigation system. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses target plant roots and evaporate less in the wind, while a periodic overhead sprinkling will wash away salt deposits.
  • Plant Seasonally: Install new plantings during rainy fall or spring seasons, rather than during the heat and drought of summer.
  • Water Deeply: Deep watering is even more important at the coast, since it promotes deep root growth, which help keep plants anchored during storms.

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