How to Choose Plants for Coastal Environments

Welcome to our guide on selecting plants for coastal gardens and seaside locations! If you’re lucky enough to have a garden by the ocean, you’ll need plants that can thrive in the unique conditions found in coastal environments. From strong gusts and salty air to poor soil and sloping sites, coastal plants need to adapt and withstand these challenges. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a variety of coastal plants that are well-suited to these demanding conditions.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Coastal environments require plants that can tolerate wind, salt, and poor soil.
  • Some excellent choices for coastal gardens include lavender, sea holly, sea thrift, artemisia, Mexican feather grass, sea campion, redhot poker, santolina, Griselinia littoralis, and Euonymus japonicus.
  • Consider the specific needs and characteristics of these plants to create a beautiful and resilient coastal garden.
  • Choose drought-tolerant plants, silver-foliaged plants, low-growing plants, and colorful flowering plants to add variety and interest to your coastal garden.
  • Remember to select plants that are suitable for your specific USDA hardiness zone.

Lavender – A Drought-Tolerant Coastal Plant

Lavender is a versatile and popular plant that thrives in coastal gardens due to its ability to tolerate drought and thrive in salty soil. Its aromatic flowers and foliage make it an excellent choice for adding beauty and fragrance to your seaside landscape.

One of the key advantages of lavender is its drought tolerance. It has thick-skinned leaves that help retain moisture, making it well-suited for coastal environments where water availability may be limited. Additionally, its roots are capable of accessing water deep within the soil, further enhancing its ability to withstand dry conditions.

“Lavender is a versatile and popular plant that thrives in coastal gardens due to its ability to tolerate drought and thrive in salty soil.”

In terms of soil preference, lavender is known for its adaptability to poor, sandy soil often found near the coast. It can thrive in nutrient-poor soil, making it an ideal choice for coastal gardens where soil quality may be challenging. The plant’s ability to tolerate salty soil also makes it a great option for seaside locations.

Lavender Varieties Growth Habit Flower Color
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Compact and bushy Purple, blue, pink, white
French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) Tall and showy Purple, pink
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) Compact and rounded Purple, pink

Growing Lavender in Salty Soil

If you’re planning to grow lavender in a coastal garden with salty soil, it’s essential to take a few precautions. Start by preparing the soil by incorporating organic matter to improve its fertility and drainage. This will help create a more favorable environment for the plant to thrive.

When planting lavender, ensure that the soil is well-drained to avoid waterlogging, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. To further protect your lavender plants from salt damage, consider watering them with rainwater or distilled water, which have lower salt content compared to tap water.

Regular pruning and proper maintenance will also contribute to the overall health and longevity of your lavender plants. By trimming back spent flower stalks and removing any dead or damaged growth, you can promote new growth and ensure a more compact and aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Sea Holly – A Textural Choice for Coastal Gardens

When it comes to coastal gardens, choosing plants that can withstand the unique challenges of seaside locations is crucial. Sea holly, with its distinctive foliage and tolerance for salty conditions, is an excellent choice for adding both textural interest and resilience to coastal gardens.

Distinctive Foliage and Adaptability

Sea holly, or Eryngium, is known for its thistle-like serrated leaves and oval-shaped flower heads. These features not only create a visually striking appearance but also contribute to its ability to thrive in coastal environments. Sea holly can tolerate all types of poor soils and is easily grown in dry, sandy, and well-drained conditions.

Sea Holly

Drought and Salt Tolerance

One of the standout qualities of sea holly is its remarkable ability to withstand drought and salty air. This makes it an ideal plant for seaside gardens, where the salt-laden breeze can pose a challenge to many other species. Sea holly’s natural adaptability allows it to thrive in coastal areas, even in the face of harsh environmental conditions.

Low Maintenance and Hardy

Sea holly is a low-maintenance plant that requires minimal care once established. It is hardy in USDA zones 5-9 and can thrive without the need for excessive watering or fertilization. Once planted, it is best left undisturbed, as sea holly tends to establish deep root systems that help it withstand strong winds and coastal elements.

Plant Distinctive Features Hardiness Zones
Sea Holly (Eryngium) Thistle-like serrated leaves, oval-shaped flower heads 5-9

With its unique foliage, drought and salt tolerance, and low maintenance requirements, sea holly is a perfect addition to coastal gardens. Whether you’re looking for textural interest, adaptability, or low-maintenance beauty, sea holly delivers on all fronts. Consider adding this salt-tolerant plant to your garden for a stunning and resilient coastal landscape.

Sea Thrift – A Pink Splash in the Coastal Garden

When it comes to low-growing coastal plants that add a pop of color to rock gardens and seaside locations, sea thrift is an excellent choice. Also known as Armeria maritima, sea thrift features vibrant pink pom-pom flowers that bloom during the summer months, creating a visual delight in any coastal garden.

This hardy plant is well-suited for the challenging conditions of coastal environments. It can handle strong winds, salty air, and poor soil, making it an ideal option for seaside landscapes. Sea thrift is also drought-tolerant, requiring minimal water once established.

In addition to its aesthetic appeal, sea thrift is a practical choice for coastal gardens. Its low-growing nature makes it perfect for rock gardens, where it can cascade over stones and create a natural-looking landscape. It also acts as an erosion control plant, preventing soil from washing away in sloping areas.

Other Benefits of Sea Thrift in Coastal Gardens

  • Attracts butterflies and bees, adding biodiversity to your garden.
  • Requires minimal maintenance and is easy to grow.
  • Thrives in full sun but can tolerate some shade.
  • Its compact size makes it suitable for container gardening.

sea thrift

Sea Thrift is a vibrant and resilient coastal plant that brings a burst of pink to rock gardens and seaside landscapes. Its hardiness and low-maintenance nature make it a favorite among coastal gardeners.

Table: Comparing Sea Thrift with Other Pink-Flowering Coastal Plants

Plant Height Flower Color Light Requirements Watering Needs
Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) 6-12 inches Pink Full sun to partial shade Drought-tolerant once established
Sea Holly (Eryngium spp.) 1-3 feet Blue Full sun Low to moderate
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) 2-3 feet Pink Full sun Low to moderate

Sea thrift stands out among other pink-flowering coastal plants with its compact size, low water requirements, and ability to thrive in challenging coastal conditions. Whether you’re looking to enhance your rock garden or create a vibrant seaside display, sea thrift is a fantastic choice that will bring joy and beauty to your coastal garden.

Artemisia – A Silvery Coastal Plant

Artemisia, with its silvery, filigree-like leaves, is a popular choice among silver-foliaged plants for coastal gardens. This drought and wind tolerant plant adds a touch of sophistication and elegance to any coastal landscape. Its delicate foliage provides a stunning contrast to the vibrant blues and pinks of other coastal plants, creating a visually appealing garden.

One of the best uses of artemisia is in gravel gardens. Its silvery foliage stands out against the gravel backdrop, adding texture and visual interest to the garden. The low-maintenance nature of artemisia makes it an ideal choice for gravel gardens, as it can thrive in poor soil and requires minimal watering.

When planting artemisia in a coastal garden, it’s important to choose a variety that is suitable for your specific area. Some artemisia species can become invasive in certain regions, so it’s crucial to check with local gardening experts or resources to ensure you select a non-invasive variety. By choosing the right artemisia species and providing it with the proper care, you can enjoy the beauty of this silver-foliaged plant in your coastal garden.

Artemisia - A Silvery Coastal Plant

Benefits of Artemisia in Coastal Gardens:

  • Provides a silver-foliaged focal point in coastal landscapes
  • Thrives in drought and wind-prone areas
  • Adds texture and visual interest to gravel gardens
  • Requires minimal maintenance and watering
  • Can be non-invasive, depending on the chosen variety

“Artemisia’s silvery foliage adds a touch of elegance to coastal gardens and creates a stunning visual contrast with other coastal plants.”

Ornamental Grasses for Coastal Gardens: Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican Feather Grass in a Coastal Garden

One of the most popular choices for coastal gardens is Mexican Feather Grass. This ornamental grass is not only visually stunning but also highly resilient, making it perfect for sandy areas. Its delicate, feathery plumes sway gracefully in the breeze, adding a sense of movement and texture to any garden. Mexican Feather Grass is also drought-tolerant, making it a low-maintenance option for coastal gardeners.

Mexican Feather Grass, scientifically known as Nassella tenuissima, is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It thrives in full sun and well-draining soil, making it ideal for the sandy conditions often found in coastal areas. This grass can reach a height of about 2 feet and forms dense clumps, creating a beautiful visual impact in any garden.

Key Features of Mexican Feather Grass:

  • Drought-tolerant: Mexican Feather Grass can withstand dry conditions, making it an excellent choice for coastal gardens that receive limited rainfall.
  • Ornamental appeal: The delicate, wispy plumes of Mexican Feather Grass add a touch of elegance and movement to any garden.
  • Low-maintenance: Once established, Mexican Feather Grass requires minimal care, making it a hassle-free option for busy gardeners.

“Mexican Feather Grass is a beautiful and versatile ornamental grass that can bring a touch of grace and beauty to any coastal garden.” – Garden Design Magazine

When planting Mexican Feather Grass, it is important to consider its potential invasiveness in some regions. While this grass is non-native and can self-seed, it is not considered invasive in most coastal areas. However, it is recommended to monitor its growth and prevent it from spreading beyond its intended area.

Pros Cons
Provides visual interest with its graceful plumes Potential invasiveness in some regions
Drought-tolerant and low-maintenance May require periodic monitoring to prevent self-seeding
Thrives in sandy coastal conditions Not suitable for heavy clay or waterlogged soils

Sea Campion – A Mat-Forming Coastal Plant

When it comes to low-growing plants that thrive in gravel gardens, Sea Campion (Silene uniflora) is an excellent choice. This mat-forming perennial is well-suited for coastal landscapes, creating a beautiful carpet of grey-green leaves and delicate white flowers. Its ability to withstand the challenging conditions of coastal environments makes it a popular option for gardeners looking to add a touch of beauty to their seaside spaces.

Sea Campion is a versatile plant that can also be used in container gardening, making it a great addition to coastal balconies or patios. Its compact growth habit and attractive flowers add interest to any container arrangement, bringing a touch of coastal charm to urban settings.

As a flowering plant, Sea Campion adds visual appeal to coastal landscapes. The pretty white flowers, which appear from late spring to early summer, create a striking contrast against the plant’s grey-green foliage. Whether used as ground cover, in containers, or as part of a larger coastal garden design, Sea Campion brings beauty, versatility, and hardiness to any coastal landscape.

Detailed Table: Sea Campion

Plant Name Sea Campion
Scientific Name Silene uniflora
Plant Type Perennial
Height 6-10 inches
Spread 12-18 inches
Foliage Color Grey-green
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 3-7
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Well-drained

“Sea Campion is a versatile and resilient plant that adds a touch of beauty to coastal gardens. Its mat-forming growth habit, grey-green foliage, and delicate white flowers make it an excellent choice for low-maintenance gravel gardens or container gardening. With its ability to tolerate the challenges of coastal environments, Sea Campion is a reliable option for creating attractive and flourishing coastal landscapes.”

Redhot Poker – A Vibrant Choice for Coastal Gardens

In coastal gardens, vibrant and colorful flowering plants can add a stunning visual impact. One such plant that thrives in coastal environments is the Redhot Poker, also known as Kniphofias. With its tall spikes of red and yellow flowers and narrow grass-like leaves, Redhot Poker is a favorite choice for adding midsummer color to coastal landscapes.

This drought-tolerant perennial herb is well-suited for coastal gardens as it can withstand the challenging conditions of wind, salt, and poor soil. It prefers full sun and well-draining soil, making it an excellent fit for coastal ranges, particularly in California.

Not only does Redhot Poker bring a burst of vibrant colors, but it also attracts hummingbirds to the garden. These nectar-loving birds are drawn to the bright flowers and can provide an added element of beauty and movement to your coastal garden.

Whether planted in borders or mixed with other coastal plants, Redhot Poker adds a touch of drama and excitement to the landscape. Its tall spikes of fiery flowers create a focal point and can be especially striking when planted in groups. For a dynamic and visually captivating coastal garden, consider adding Redhot Poker to your plant selection.

colorful flowering plants for coastal gardens

Table: Redhot Poker Plant Care

Plant Name Redhot Poker
Common Names Kniphofias
Plant Type Perennial Herb
Flower Colors Red, Yellow
Preferred Growing Conditions Full Sun, Well-Draining Soil
USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10
Attracts Hummingbirds

Santolina – A Silver-Foliaged Coastal Plant

Santolina is a versatile and visually striking silver-foliaged ground cover that adds beauty and fragrance to coastal gardens. With its woolly silver leaves and sunny yellow button flowers, Santolina is an excellent choice for edging pathways and borders, creating a defined and elegant look. Whether you have a small garden or a large coastal landscape, Santolina can be easily incorporated into your design to enhance the overall aesthetic.

One of the standout features of Santolina is its ability to thrive in coastal environments. It is well-suited to handle the challenges of salty air, wind, and poor soils typically found near the coast. As a drought-tolerant plant, Santolina can also withstand periods of limited water availability, making it a resilient choice for coastal gardens that experience dry conditions.

Aside from its attractive foliage, Santolina is also known for its fragrant flowers. The yellow button-like blooms release a delightful scent that can fill the air and create a pleasant ambiance in your garden. This not only adds sensory appeal but can also attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees, contributing to the overall biodiversity of your coastal garden.

Santolina in coastal garden

Benefits of Santolina in Coastal Gardens:

  • Provides a stunning silver-foliaged ground cover
  • Creates a defined edge for pathways and borders
  • Tolerates salty air, wind, and poor soils
  • Thrives in drought conditions
  • Produces fragrant yellow button flowers
  • Attracts beneficial pollinators

Planting and Care Tips:

  1. Choose a well-drained location in full sun for optimal growth.
  2. Prepare the soil by incorporating organic matter to improve drainage.
  3. Plant Santolina at the same level it was growing in its nursery container.
  4. Water regularly during the establishment period, then reduce watering once the plant is established.
  5. Prune Santolina in early spring to maintain its compact shape.

With its unique silver foliage, fragrant flowers, and ability to thrive in coastal conditions, Santolina is a standout choice for any coastal garden. Whether you’re looking to create a defined edge or add visual interest to low-lying areas, Santolina will provide a striking and resilient addition to your coastal landscape.

Salt-Tolerant Shrubs for Coastal Hedges: Griselinia Littoralis

When it comes to creating dense and compact screens in coastal gardens, Griselinia littoralis is an excellent choice. Also known as New Zealand broadleaf branch, this salt-tolerant shrub can withstand the harsh conditions of coastal environments, making it ideal for use as a hedge plant.

Griselinia littoralis is a versatile and hardy shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall, providing ample coverage and privacy for your coastal landscape. Its dense foliage forms a robust barrier against salt spray, wind, and other coastal elements. With its glossy, dark green leaves, Griselinia littoralis adds an elegant touch to any coastal garden.

One benefit of using Griselinia littoralis as a hedge plant in coastal areas is its ability to thrive in various soil types. Whether you have sandy, well-drained soil or heavy clay, this shrub can adapt and flourish. It prefers some shade in hotter regions, making it a versatile option for different coastal climates.

Table: Comparison of Salt-Tolerant Shrubs for Coastal Hedges

Shrub Height Tolerance to Salt Soil Type Sun Exposure
Griselinia littoralis Up to 10 feet High Adaptable Partial shade
Euonymus japonicus Up to 15 feet Medium Well-drained Full sun

As seen in the table above, Griselinia littoralis stands out for its compact size, high salt tolerance, and adaptability to different soil types. These qualities make it a reliable choice for coastal hedges, providing a dense and lush green screen that enhances the beauty and privacy of your outdoor space.

Whether you’re looking to create a windbreak, establish a boundary, or add structure to your coastal garden, Griselinia littoralis offers a versatile solution. Its ability to withstand the challenges of coastal environments and provide an attractive backdrop makes it an excellent addition to any seaside landscape.

Euonymus Japonicus – An Evergreen Choice for Coastal Hedges

When it comes to creating hedges in coastal gardens, evergreen shrubs are an excellent choice. These plants provide year-round privacy, wind protection, and a lush green backdrop for your outdoor space. One such evergreen shrub that thrives in salt-tolerant plantings is Euonymus japonicus. With its glossy green leaves and ability to withstand coastal conditions, Euonymus japonicus is an ideal option for creating a windbreak and adding beauty to your coastal garden.

Euonymus japonicus is known for its resilience and adaptability to challenging environments. It can withstand the salt spray from the ocean and is well-suited for coastal areas prone to strong winds. The glossy green leaves of this evergreen shrub provide an attractive, year-round presence in your garden. Whether used as a hedge, a standalone plant, or in mass plantings, Euonymus japonicus adds texture and depth to your coastal landscape.

This salt-tolerant plant is relatively low-maintenance, making it an excellent choice for busy gardeners. Euonymus japonicus is known for its ability to withstand drought conditions once established, further highlighting its suitability for coastal gardens. With proper care and pruning, this evergreen shrub can reach heights of up to 15 feet, creating a tall and majestic windbreak for your outdoor space.

Benefits of Euonymus Japonicus for Coastal Gardens

  • Provides year-round privacy and wind protection
  • Tolerates salt spray and strong coastal winds
  • Attractive glossy green leaves add beauty to the garden
  • Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant once established
  • Can reach heights of up to 15 feet, creating a tall windbreak

Euonymus japonicus is an excellent choice for coastal gardens, offering both aesthetic appeal and functional benefits. Its ability to withstand salt spray, strong winds, and drought makes it a resilient and reliable option for creating hedges and windbreaks. With its glossy green foliage, Euonymus japonicus adds an element of beauty to coastal landscapes. Whether you’re seeking privacy, wind protection, or simply want to enhance the overall aesthetic of your outdoor space, consider Euonymus japonicus as an evergreen choice for coastal hedges.

Table: Comparison of Evergreen Shrubs for Coastal Hedges

Shrub Tolerant of Salt Spray Tolerant of Strong Winds Drought-Tolerant Maximum Height
Euonymus japonicus Yes Yes Yes Up to 15 feet
Boxwood (Buxus) No No Yes Up to 10 feet
Photinia (Photinia x fraseri) No Yes No Up to 20 feet
Escallonia (Escallonia) Yes No Yes Up to 10 feet

Table: Comparison of evergreen shrubs for coastal hedges.


When choosing plants for coastal environments, it is essential to select ones that can tolerate the unique challenges of coastal conditions, including wind, salt, and poor soil. Fortunately, there are many options available that are well-suited for coastal gardens.

Popular choices include lavender, sea holly, sea thrift, artemisia, Mexican feather grass, sea campion, redhot poker, santolina, Griselinia littoralis, and Euonymus japonicus. These plants have proven their ability to thrive in coastal environments and can add beauty and resilience to your garden.

By considering the specific needs of these plants, such as sun exposure, soil type, and water requirements, you can create a garden that not only withstands coastal conditions but thrives in them. Whether you’re looking for colorful flowering plants, silver-foliaged foliage, ornamental grasses, or salt-tolerant shrubs, there are options available to suit your preferences and the unique demands of coastal gardening.

So go ahead and embrace the challenge of coastal gardening. With the right selection of plants and a little care, you can create a stunning coastal garden that brings joy and beauty to your outdoor space.


What are some suitable coastal plants for gardens by the ocean?

Some examples of suitable coastal plants include lavender, sea holly, sea thrift, artemisia, Mexican feather grass, sea campion, redhot poker, santolina, Griselinia littoralis, and Euonymus japonicus.

Is lavender a good choice for coastal environments?

Yes, lavender is a stalwart of drought-tolerant plantings and is well-suited for coastal environments. Its thick-skinned leaves retain moisture, and it thrives in light, nutrient-poor soil.

What are the characteristics of sea holly?

Sea holly has thistle-like serrated leaves and oval-shaped flower heads. It can tolerate all types of poor soils and is easily grown in dry, sandy, well-drained soils. Sea holly is hardy in USDA zones 5-9 and is best left undisturbed once established.

How does sea thrift cope in coastal gardens?

Sea thrift, also known as Armeria maritima, is a robust, low-growing plant that adds splashes of pink flowers to coastal gardens. It copes well in exposed locations and is ideal for growing between rocks and boulders or as a rock garden idea.

What are some features of artemisia?

Artemisia has silvery, filigree-like leaves and is another drought and wind tolerant plant suitable for coastal gardens. It makes a lovely foil for the bright blues and pinks of other coastal plants and can thrive on a sloping site.

What are the characteristics of Mexican feather grass?

Mexican feather grass is an ideal grass for planting on sandy, sloping areas in coastal gardens. It is very drought tolerant and adds texture and movement to the garden with its hair-like flowers and seeds in summer.

How does sea campion grow?

Sea campion, also known as Silene uniflora, grows in mat-forming clumps and is well-suited for gravel gardens. It has grey-green leaves and pretty white flowers, making it a great addition to coastal gardens.

What are the characteristics of redhot poker?

Redhot poker, also known as kniphofias, is a perennial herb with red and yellow flowers and tough, narrow grass-like leaves. It thrives in coastal ranges and adds a splash of hot colors to a coastal garden in midsummer.

How can santolina be used in coastal gardens?

Santolina, with its silver, woolly foliage and profusion of sunny yellow, button flowers, is excellent to grow as a ground cover or an edging for walkways and borders in coastal gardens.

What are the characteristics of Griselinia littoralis?

Griselinia littoralis, also known as New Zealand broadleaf branch, is a shrub that can cope with dry, salty, and windy conditions. It is often used as a hedge by the ocean, creating a dense, compact screen.

Is Euonymus japonicus a suitable choice for coastal hedges?

Yes, Euonymus japonicus is a strong-growing evergreen shrub that is tolerant of salt and can be used as a hedge in coastal gardens. It can grow up to 15 feet high with the right conditions, making it an excellent windbreak choice.

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