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If you have a home near the coast it can be challenging to find the best coastal plants as 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 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.
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 but can be controlled with some basic pruning. This evergreen shrub does very well if it is planted under 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 all manner of sight 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 each year. This species is particularly beneficial for coastal gardens in so far as 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 harsh winters found 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 which ripen to form fruits upwards of 2cm long and 1cm wide. 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 but there is a protective coat that is rather fibrous which you can peel off prior to eating.
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 but this fruit is potentially poisonous and should not be consumed. It thrives most effectively along slopes in thickets that are located near the ocean. It will do well with partial sunlight or full sunlight. It grows up to 4 meters tall with a spread of around 2 meters.
The upright green leaves appear all year round with the flowers appearing between May and June. The species is a hermaphrodite which makes it naturally pollinated by insects and you don’t need 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 to 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 partial shade or full sun. It is so tolerant of maritime exposure that it can be grown right on the seashore.
Olearia haastii (Daisy Bush)
This evergreen shrub, also known as a daisy bush takes 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 a white shade 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 soil including chalky, sandy, and loamy soil. Moreover, it tolerates a range of pH levels from highly acidic through neutral all the way to highly alkaline which makes it a very low-maintenance plant for screens or 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 meters 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 so as to maintain a particular size or shape. If there are any disease or damaged branches, these can be removed at any time.
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 at 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 which makes it ideal for coastal settings. 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 also lends itself to the need for regular pruning if you don’t have the space to accommodate. 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 high windy areas 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 plant it in the background of your garden where it will attract birds and butterflies to the beautiful flowers and produce delightful fruits later on.
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 it to hug a wall or grow on its own. It effectively serves as a hedge because it does have a great deal 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, also something to be aware of if you are training the plant or trying to trim 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. There are different varieties each of which produces variations in the shade of berries you 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 upwards of 3 metres in height and spread but dwarf varieties available for containers or low hedges that reach 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 ground cover for your coastal garden.
This shrub is an evergreen that brings with it grey-green leaves that have white margins and an underside of silver offering a range of colour. It is a compact and dense shrub which will typically reach about 1 meter in height and spread.
In the summertime, it produces beautiful blooms of yellow that take on a daily appearance. They will grow quickly and cover the evergreen effectively. This plant requires full sun with well-draining soil. It is a hybrid that grows effectively in coastal regions requiring very low water and sustaining itself during cold winters.
Buddleia Davidii (butterfly bush)
This butterfly bush is truly a delight for coastal regions because it produces large, fragrant flowers, from purple to red and even white that are grown in an abundance up a large conical stem. 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 add it near a window, close to your patio, or plant it along a pathway you have to add fragrance during the summer. These plants are very tolerant of pollution so you don’t have to worry about planting them too close to a road.
If you plant them in containers you will have to water 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 are a bit weak 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 springtime 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 have to water regularly especially if you are located near an area where the coast brings with it sea air.
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 but you can also get red varieties such as ‘Red Star’. At its full maturity, this tree can grow up to 10 meters height and 3 meters in width.
In addition to the green foliage come springtime you will enjoy white flowers with 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 water needs. It will respond well in a coastal garden especially a dryer region that wants to take on a tropical appearance. As long as it is protected from the direct sea wind it will tolerate all manner of coastal conditions very effectively. It has been known to be slightly tender in the harshest winters so it’s been grown further south where the winters are much milder.
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 does back every winter and regrows in spring. It has green foliage that is marbled with white throughout the centre. It grows in a compact design and as it gets older the stems branch out. In the branching, heads are white flowers 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, or acidic soil.
Beyond that maintenance and care is quite easy with very little feeding, watering, or pruning requirements. At its full maturity, it will reach a height between 30 and 40cm and a spread between 25 and 30cm.
Armeria Maritima (thrift/sea pink)
This plant is a perennial commonly referred to as the sea thrift and is often used 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. 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 sailing conditions of a coastal region where other plants might not fare as well. It produces low-growing, compact plants the tufts for which spread about 30cm wide.
ERIGERON ‘Sea Breeze’
Perfect for edging along your pathway, filling in the gaps of a rock garden, or encouraging ground cover in a coastal region, this plant is a free blooming, verdant plant which produces tight, uniform sections of growth replete with flowers the tips of which start out bright pink and soften toward the centre where the golden stamen awaits.
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 water needs from the sea air. They need partial to full sun and on average will reach approximately 30cm tall and 60cm wide. Beyond that, there was very little care or maintenance required for them.
The final option for your coastal garden is a type of ornamental grass which spreads approximately 30cm and reaches heights of only 40cm. It grows very easily in dry or medium soil that is well-drained. It prefers full sunlight which will produce the best foliage but is tolerant of shade.
Once it gets established it’s quite tolerant of poor soil and drought so there’s very little you have to do to care for it. The foliage is dents and clumps together rather than spreading outward so the only real concern is that if you place the clumps too far apart it can produce space adequate 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 radiates outward 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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