Seaside Gardening Issues: Common Issues Affecting Coastal Gardens

Image by Lisa Jacobs

By Amy Grant

Issues affecting coastal gardens mainly stem from wind, salt spray, periodic storm waves that may ravage inland, and the ever shifting sand. These seaside garden problems, which may cause not only erosion but batter the garden landscape, can be thwarted or at least tamed. In the body of this article, we will tackle the question of how to handle problems with seaside gardening.

How to Handle Problems with Seaside Gardening

Seaside gardening issues are a direct result of constantly fluid conditions mostly resulting from wind, salt and sand assaults. The goal then of coastal landscaping is to ensure continuity of the landscape, preservation of the delicate ecosystem, habitat for wildlife and minimization of storm and other erosion damage – including flooding.

Remedies for Seaside Gardening: Windbreaks


Before picking and planting anything in the coastal garden, it may be advisable to plant or construct a windbreak. Windbreaks may be permanent or temporary and comprised of shrubbery or other foliage or constructed of man-made material. You can create wind screens with fences, sturdy shrubs, or groups of trees. This will help protect your landscape plants from high winds, and create your personal oasis.

Permeable windbreaks are the most desirable because they reduce turbulence while protecting from seaside gardening problems caused by fierce winds. Wind issues affecting coastal gardens may be thwarted with a permeable windbreak that reduces the wind velocity by 50% at a distance 10 times the height on the windbreak, and even more at 6 to 1 time the height. Keep in mind that your windbreak should be placed crosswise to the direction of the prevailing winds.

Windbreaks will also protect from sand blast issues affecting coastal gardens. Sand blast-like wind and salt will kill seedlings and bruise and blacken more mature plants. An artificial wind/sand blast screen can be achieved with a belt of shelter trees additionally protected with an open fence of two bar wooden structures interwoven with foliage of spruce or gores. Another option for smaller garden is a fence of wood, 1 inch wide, with spaces between of like size set vertically on wood framework with sturdy posts driven into the ground.

Seaside Garden Problems: Plant Choices

When attempting to work against nature by attempting to maintain lawns or ornamental gardens, the gardener will undoubtedly be plagued with seaside gardening issues, so it is best to work within the natural environment and utilize plantings that are indigenous to the ecosystem and through the process of natural selection are most adapted.

By using native plants, one will be more likely to avoid seaside garden problems and simultaneously improve wildlife habitat, stabilize dunes or cliffs that are prone to erosion and offer a low maintenance solution. Some non-native plants may also be acceptable as long as they are non-invasive species. A side note, before digging with either shovel or backhoe, one should check with the local Conservation Commission to check regarding requirements.

Remedies for Seaside Garden Problems: Grasses

Grasses are an excellent choice for the coastal garden, naturally aiding in dune or hillside stabilization and acting as a buffer from sand, salt and wind for more delicate plants. Some choices which will retard issues affecting coastal gardens and are good for dry sandy areas are:

These grasses are primary dune systems and act as glue to hole the dune together. Beyond the reach of wave action, grasses native to secondary dune systems are good choices for windswept areas. These include:

  • Beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
  • Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
  • Beach plum (Prunus maritima)
  • Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)
  • Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
  • White oak (Quercus alba)

Other grasses that do well in wet to saturated soil are black grass (Juncus gerardii) and spike grass (Distichlis spicata).

Remedies for Seaside Garden Problems: Wildlife Habitat

One of the goals of seaside gardening is to maintain the habitat of local wildlife. There are certain plants to consider encouraging this habitat. A few of these are bayberry berries (Myrica pensylvanica) and beach plum (Prunus maritime).

Cover for Terns, Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers can be provided by planting:

  • seabeach sandwort (Honckenya peploides)
  • sea rocket (Cakile edentula)
  • dune grass (Leymus mollis)
  • beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus)
  • seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

The most important thing is to choose salt-tolerant plants, especially if you live within an eighth of a mile of the coast. These include:

Be sure to water your plants until they’re established, and as needed after that. Protect native plants already growing in your landscape, as they’re naturally adapted to coastal conditions.

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