From the Desk of Ed Hume: Plants for the Seaside

June 30, 2010 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

If you have a home or Summer place along the shores of the Puget Sound or the ocean beaches, you should be a little more selective about the trees and shrubs you use in the landscape.  However, there are many colorful plants that do well in these areas.

Winter winds and salt spray are troublesome conditions for some plants.  However, in some of the sheltered areas the range of plants one can use is even greater than in the average garden.  After a severe storm, the spray of salt can be washed off with a garden hose before it burns the leaves of exposed plants.

Generally, the soil near the ocean or the Sound tends to be quite sandy and fairly well drained.  The goal is to provide soil moisture year-round without letting the plants sit in over-wet soil, especially during the Winter.  Take the time to properly prepare the soil before any trees or shrubs are planted.  Of course, this is especially true in cases where the plants will get very limited care.

You can mix generous quantities of peat moss with your existing soil or often you can substitute leaf mold from the nearby woods (providing the owner of the property is agreeable).  Mix well-rotted or processed manure into the planting hole along with some bone meal.  Also, it is a good practice to add an all-purpose, non-burning transplanting or planting fertilizer.  Thoroughly mix all these materials with the existing soil, then you are ready to plant.

Here are a few suggestions on some of the sturdier plants to use near salt water:


Cypress – Many different types in various growing heights are suitable as wind-break or privacy screens.

Ceanothus – The attractive blue flowers of this evergreen are really attractive near the water.  It likes a rather dry soil to really grow at its best.  It can be grown as a hedge or screen, or it can be used as a specimen plant for landscaping purposes. The low-growing variety of gloriosus is a good ground cover.

Pines – The Scotch and coast pines are good evergreen trees to use for privacy screens or as wind-breaks.  They can be left to grow natural or can be trimmed and trained.

Firethorn – Pyracantha – The white Spring flower clusters and red berries in the Fall and Winter make this a showy plant for individual use or as a free-standing screen.


Escallonia – A versatile plant, available in many different flowering varieties.  Summer flowers cover the plants for a couple of months.   The varieties of Rosea, Rubra, Alice and Apple Blossom are good ones to use.

Mugho Pines – Well adapted to areas close to salt water.   Their texture blends well with the other evergreens.

Azalea Mollis – Give it just a little protection from direct salt spray and this deciduous azalea really does well.  The brilliant blooms in white, pastel pinks, salmon, and rose-to-red are really colorful in springtime.

Arbutus Unedo – The “strawberry tree” has flowers followed by decorative fruit that looks like strawberries.  Broad evergreen leaves make an attractive texture in the garden.

Broom – Cytisus – Many varieties are available.  The Moonlight broom that is so often used along our freeways is especially attractive in the seaside garden.  Soft yellow flowers appear in April and May.


Senecio Greyi – A fine gray foliage plant that can easily be kept bushy and attractive by simple pinching or pruning.  Yellow flowers detract from the leaf color and should be removed.

Rosemary – Attractive gray-green leaves and colorful blue flowers in springtime.  Good for bedding or container plantings; also makes a fine ground cover.

Dusty Miller – Cut-leaf, gray leaves are showy.  Needs to be pinched and pruned to keep it compact. Remove yellow flowers as they appear.

Needless to say, the list could be much longer.  The degree of exposure to wind and water will actually determine how selective you must be. For example, in many areas rhododendrons and camellias will do very well if they have limited protection; likewise, evergreen azaleas can often be used.

Enjoy your garden near the saltwater.  Local, established landscapes will undoubtedly give you many additional ideas as to plants you can use.

See Also:  Coastal Gardening


Entry filed under: Articles. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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