Last updated on March 7th, 2022
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If you have a home near the coast it can be challenging to find the best coastal plants because many plants do not like the salt from the sea. Coastlines are subject to sun, regular winds, and salt-filled air. Some gardens even have to contend with heavily sandy or clay soils that not every plant will thrive in.
That being said, there are an array of plants for seaside gardens that will thrive in the conditions aforementioned. Below are 12 of our favourite plants for coastal gardens.
1. Elaeagnus x ebbingei
This plant is a hybrid that is typically grown for ornamental purposes and brings with it a large size of approximately 5m by 5m, however, it can be controlled with some basic pruning. This evergreen shrub does very well if it is planted underneath a tree, in which case, it will adopt a somewhat climbing structure and make its way up to the bottom branches of the tree. Even though it is a larger shrub it doesn’t have to stay that way. It’s quite tolerant of pruning (as already mentioned) so you can shape it to a much smaller compact hedge, something as little as 1.5m tall and only 45cm wide.
This particular plant is quite tolerant of a manner of conditions, as long as it doesn’t become waterlogged. It takes a bit of time to establish itself during the first year of planting but after that, it will grow up to 60cm a year. This species is particularly beneficial for coastal gardens because it is very resistant to the salt-heavy wind and regular maritime exposure. In fact, you can plant it right next to the ocean and it will still thrive. These plants are very sturdy and tolerant of different temperatures, and while they can handle the harsh winters found in the upwards of Scotland, they will bear fruit more effectively if they are in a warmer region down south.
These plants are very easy to grow and do not fall victim to things like honey fungus. It will produce scented flowers in the autumn that ripen to form fruits. Once they reach full maturity the fruit can be enjoyed with a pleasant flavour, but it does contain a large seed in the centre. The seed is edible as well, however, there is a protective coat that is rather fibrous and you can peel this off prior to eating.
2. Euonymus japonicus – Evergreen Spindle
This plant also falls under the category of the Japanese Spindle Tree. It produces tiny clusters of white flowers followed by fruit, however, this fruit is potentially poisonous and should not be consumed. It thrives most effectively along slopes and in thickets that are located near the sea. It will do well with partial sunlight or full sunlight. It grows up to 4 metres tall with a spread of around 2 metres.
The upright green leaves appear all year round with the flowers appearing between May and June. This species is a hermaphrodite which makes it naturally pollinated by insects and you don’t need to plant more than one. It will thrive in sandy soil, loamy soil, even clay soil so long as it’s well-drained. Moreover, it is suitable for alkaline, acidic or neutral soils. It is incredibly tolerant of almost all characteristics and of course regular maritime exposure to salty winds.
You can use it as a border plant or create a hedge, it can also be grown in a container or put on display as a specimen plant. It is quite tolerant of heavy shade but if placed in the shade it will not fruit as effectively as it would if it was in a partially shaded location or in full sun. It is so tolerant of maritime exposure that it can be grown right on the seashore.
3. Olearia haastii – Daisy Bush
This evergreen shrub (also known as a daisy bush) takes on the form of a small tree that has simple leaves with a leathery texture offset by tiny corymbs of flower heads. These star-shaped flowers start out green and open to white in the middle of summer. Throughout the year you can enjoy green foliage and white foliage offset by the beautiful white flowers in summer. It grows best in full sun with well-drained soil and is very tolerant of all manner of soils including chalky, sandy and loamy. Moreover, it tolerates a range of pH levels from highly acidic to neutral and all the way to highly alkaline which makes it a very low-maintenance plant for screens and hedges in coastal regions.
It will take up to 10 years to reach full maturity at which point the height will span between 1.5 and 2.5 metres with a spread reaching between 2.5 and 4 metres. Once it is established there is very little pruning required let alone maintenance. However, given its size, you can choose to prune in the middle or late spring in a moderate fashion to maintain a particular size or shape. If there are any disease or damaged branches, these can be removed at any time.
4. Sambucus nigra – Elder
Otherwise known as the Black Elderberry, this deciduous shrub will reach heights upwards of 6 metres and spreads upwards of 6 metres if left to its own devices, however, it can also be pruned back hard and kept to a much smaller size. It will grow in medium to wet soil and is quite tolerant of partial shade or full sun but of course, the flowers will be most prominent if it is allowed full sun.
It is very tolerant of a wide range of soils as well, making it ideal for coastal locations. It does require a bit more pruning compared to the other options on this list but with that higher level of maintenance comes showy fragrant flowers that are white, spanning from May through June. These flowers attract birds and butterflies to the garden and make way for edible elderberries that can be enjoyed the rest of the year.
It is a sprawling tree that has multiple stems which is what lends itself to the large height and spread, but this is also what lends itself to the need for regular pruning if you don’t have the space to accommodate its full size. The glossy black fruits are edible at the end of summer and are typically used to make Elderberry wine, jams, jellies and fillings for desserts.
There are some problems that you might face growing this plant, namely the fact that it will spread very aggressively if given the right conditions. The branches are susceptible to damage if exposed to areas with high winds and if there isn’t enough airflow in the plants it can cultivate powdery mildew or leaf spot. As long as you tend to it regularly it is perfect for informal areas or planting in the background of your garden where it will attract birds and butterflies to the beautiful flowers and produce delightful fruits later on.
5. Pyracantha – Firethorn
Commonly referred to as the Firethorn, this evergreen shrub is incredibly easy to grow and it will thrive in multiple settings, whether planted as a specimen shrub, trained onto a trellis, used as a hedge or grown in a container. When it is first planted the younger branches are very pliable so you can teach them to hug a wall or grow on their own. It effectively serves as a hedge because it does have plenty of thorns with which to contend. This is something you will want to be aware of if you are growing it in a garden where there are curious pets or children, and also something to be aware of if you are training the plant or trying to prune the plant.
What makes it so popular and lends the name Firethorn is the clustered orange and red berries that will appear in the autumn and remain present throughout the winter, which will give a great deal of colour to your garden when not much else is happening. There are different varieties, each of which produces variations in the shade of berries you can enjoy.
No matter the variety it will attract birds to your garden. Some get slightly larger than others, with the most popular varieties growing quickly and upwards of 3 metres in height and spread, however, dwarf varieties are available for containers or to use as low hedging that reaches no more than 75cm. They work excellently as screens or windbreaks, provide great privacy for you while offering nearby birds a spot to nest. There are very disease resistant varieties you can choose and low spreaders that are better suited as groundcover for your coastal garden.
6. Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’
This shrub is evergreen and brings with it grey-green leaves that have white margins and an underside of silver, offering a range of colours. It is a compact and dense shrub that will typically reach about 1 metre in height and spread.
In the summer, it produces beautiful blooms of yellow that take on a daisy-like appearance, these will grow quickly and cover the evergreen shrub effectively. This plant requires full sun with well-draining soil. It is a hybrid that grows effectively in coastal regions requiring very little watering and sustaining itself during cold winters.
7. Buddleia davidii – Butterfly Bush
This butterfly bush is truly a delight for coastal regions because it produces large, fragrant flowers. These range in colour, from purple to red and even white, and are grown in an abundance up a large conical flower spike. The flowers attract butterflies and are incredibly simple to grow and can handle hard pruning.
This hardy shrub needs to be planted in full sun if you want to achieve the largest number of flowers. At its maturity, the plant will be quite tall which makes it perfect as edging or something you place along the border. Of course, you can place it near a window, close to your patio or plant it along a pathway you have so you can enjoy its fragrance during the summer. These plants are very tolerant of pollution so you don’t need to worry about planting them too close to a road.
If you plant them in containers you will need to water them a bit more regularly than butterfly bushes planted in the ground. Whether in the ground or in a container, they will need pruning annually because the stems become weaker as they age and they’ll start to split, at which point you can prune them to prevent them from being blown over during a heavy wind.
Most of the varieties flower on new wood so you can prune them in the late winter if you want to stimulate additional flowering. Otherwise, you can wait until spring to prune. Moreover, they are very tolerant of alkaline soils as long as it is well-draining. Once they have established themselves they are quite drought tolerant and you won’t need to water them regularly, especially if you are located near an area where the coast brings with it the sea air.
8. Cordyline australis – Cabbage Palm
This palm type tree is an evergreen tree but takes on a palm-like tropical appearance. The tree grows in an upright fashion slowly with leaves long and sharp (as swords) that take on a dark green tone, however, you can also get red varieties such as ‘Red Star’. At its full maturity, this tree can grow up to 10 metres in height and 3 metres in width.
In addition to the green foliage, come spring, you will enjoy white flowers that have a deep fragrance that is quite sweet. The panicles of flowers will grow prolifically if the tree is planted in full sun, although the tree will survive just as effectively in a shaded area. It is very tolerant of dry summers and has limited watering needs. It will respond well in a coastal garden, especially a drier region. As long as it is protected from the direct sea wind it will tolerate all manner of coastal conditions very happily. It has been known to be slightly tender in the harshest winters so it’s best to be grown further south where the winters are much milder.
9. Eryngium variifolium – Sea Holly
Commonly referred to as a Sea Holly, this unusual species of plant takes on a very distinct shape and is actually a perennial, meaning it dies back every winter and regrows in spring. It has green foliage that is marbled with white throughout the centre and it grows in a compact design, as it gets older the stems branch out. In the branching, heads of white flowers are produced that have blue bracts. This type of flower blooms in the middle of summer and offsets the deep green colour of the foliage.
The optimal growing conditions for this plant include full sun exposure with dry soil. In terms of the quality, it’s quite tolerant of normal or sandy soil, making it ideal for coastal settings. It also handles neutral, alkaline and acidic soil.
Beyond that maintenance and care is quite easy with very few feeding, watering or pruning requirements. At its full maturity, it will reach a height between 30-40cm and a spread between 25-30cm.
10. Armeria maritima – Thrift/Sea Pink
This plant is a perennial commonly referred to as the Sea Thrift and is often planted in rockeries. It grows best in dry, well-drained soil with optimum sunlight.
The foliage creates mounds that need dry soil with good drainage. These mounds take on a dense, grass-like appearance and from the foliage will arise green stalks followed by pink and white clusters of flowers. These flowers stand atop the naked stalks in clusters. You can deadhead the spent flowers in order to encourage sporadic flowering throughout the course of the summer.
It is called the Sea Thrift because it is not prone to serious insect or disease problems and is one of the few plants that grow in the conditions of a coastal region where the other plants might not fare as well. It produces low-growing, compact plants the tufts for which spread about 30cm wide.
11. Erigeron ‘Sea Breeze’
Perfect for edging along your pathway, filling in the gaps of a rock garden or encouraging groundcover in a coastal region, this plant is a free blooming, verdant plant that produces tight uniformed sections of growth replete with flowers, the tips of which start out bright pink and soften toward the centre where the golden stamen await.
The blooms contrast the grey-green foliage quite well and will offer colour from spring through autumn. Once these plants are established they rarely need water and are able to get the majority of their watering requirements from the sea air. They need partial to full sun and on average and will reach approximately 30cm tall and 60cm wide. Beyond that, there is very little care or maintenance required for them.
12. Festuca Glauca
The final option for your coastal garden is a type of ornamental grass that spreads approximately 30cm and reaches heights of only 40cm. It grows very easily in dry or medium soil that is well-drained. It prefers being planted in full sunlight and this will produce the best foliage, however, it is tolerant of shade.
Once it gets established it’s quite tolerant of poor soil and drought so there’s very little you need to do to care for it. The foliage is dense and clumps together rather than spreading outwards, so the only real concern is that if you place the clumps too far apart it can produce adequate space for weeds to grow. Between June and July, you will get green blooms with a purple tinge. The blue-grey foliage produces arching needle-type blades that radiate outwards from the centre of the mound.
The flowers appear in a very modest fashion and give way to seed heads. These plants are short-lived though and you will have to divide them frequently. After a few years, they will typically die out in the middle and need to be divided and then replaced or replanted.
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