Coastal living presents unique challenges for landscaping around beach houses. Salt spray from waves and wind is the biggest threat to many plants. Salt can prevent plants from absorbing water and cause leaf burn or complete defoliation. Ocean salt spray can harm plants as far inland as ½ mile.
Another important consideration is climate zones along coastlines. Trees, shrubs, and flowers need to be compatible with the climate zone of the beach house. Latitude will dictate the plant choices. Coastal Main: zone 3, Washington coast: zone 8, Sothern California and the Florida Keys: zone 11. Landscaping design should begin with an understanding of which plants will be happy in the temperature range of your coastal area.
1. Trees for the coast
Norway maples–zones 3 to 7, and Amur maples–zones 2 to 8, are good choices and provide dramatic fall color in full sun. Red cedars, both the Eastern red cedar–zones 2 to 9 and the Southern red cedar, will prosper along the Eastern coastline.
Evergreens like the American holly–zones 5 to 9, Japanese red pine–zones 3 to 7, Black cherry, downy serviceberry, grey birch, pitch pine, white oak, and the Southern magnolia–zones 6 to 10 are fine along the coast. Plumeria is a good choice and provides dramatic flowers and fragrance.
2. Shrubs that will survive salt air
An evergreen, like creeping juniper, grows to 6-inches in height, is a useful groundcover and is hardy in zones 6 to 9. Southern wax myrtle grows to 15-feet tall and is a rapid maturing shrub in zones 5 to 8.
Deciduous shrubs (shed their leaves in winter) include the big-leaf hydrangea–hardy in zones 6 to 9, growing to 4-feet tall, and the rose of Sharon–zones 5-8 can be expected to reach 10 feet tall. Both offer continuous blooms for cutting and indoor bouquets. Other considerations include the beach rose or rosa rugosa, sumac and stag-horn sumac, winterberry holly, oleander, hibiscus, bird of paradise, and bayberry which grows best in zones 2-8. In milder climates–zones 7 to 11, plant pomegranates with the bonus of great tasting fruit.
3. Vines, grasses and groundcovers
English ivy, lily turf, Virginia creeper vine are all vines for beach homes. Bar Harbor juniper, Confederate jasmine, flowering jasmine and bougainvillea are well suited and offer spectacular flowers.
Ornamental grasses can quickly fill in dunes and large sandy areas. They do well during the heat of the summer and they’re salt resistant and keep coming back each year. Consider pampas grass–zones 7 to 10 growing to 10 feet tall, maiden grass–zones 5 to 9 is slightly shorter at 8 feet, or fountain grass–zones 5-9 the shortest of the three at 4 feet tall. Additional varieties are briza media, calamagrostis, and festuca for cooler climate zones.
Many annuals thrive at beach temperatures. Coleus cornflower, geranium, marigold, petunia, vinca, and sweet alyssum are all good candidates for the beach home. When grown in containers they can be moved into a protected area during coastal storms.
Perennials also need consideration for permanent landscaping. Daylily–zones 3 to 10 can reach 3 feet tall, common yarrow is available in several colors and reaches about 3 feet tall, candy turf–zones 3 to 9 grows about 6 inches tall and makes a good border. Consider lavender, achillea in gold, strawberry, and pink, alstroemeria, aquilegia blue and cardinal, daylilies, digitalis, and iris. Butterfly weed is salt-tolerant and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It grows to 3 feet tall.
Many other varieties of annuals and perennials can make good candidates for beachfront gardens if salt is washed off following high winds or a storm. Adding organic matter to sandy garden soil will help, too. Mulch added regularly to the garden soil is also needed.