What to Grow on the Coast

For most plants, the sandy soil of the coast lacks essential nutrients. Pack your garden with these hardy, coastal picks that can survive and thrive in a seaside environment.

Seaside Gardens That Thrive

Photo: Lynn Karlin

Seaside Gardens That Thrive

For most plants, the hardest spot is on the beach, washed by waves and open to the elements. Here, your best bets are salt-tolerant natives from your area that feature adaptations like fuzzy, gray, or shiny foliage, which can shed or trap the ocean spray. Farther inshore, where tides don't reach and winds are gentler, your choices widen to include coastal natives from other locales.

What works for you will depend on where you live, so shop for plants at a local coastal nursery, where you can get growing tips specific to your climate. In any region, shore up your garden by planting hedges to block ocean breezes, and amend sandy soil with organic compost.

Raised beds (left), filled with lady's-mantle, Russian sage, chives, and anise hyssop, help control soil quality.

Ornamental Grasses: American Beach Grass

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Ornamental Grasses: American Beach Grass

Ornamental grasses help prevent erosion and have high salt tolerance.

A full-sun East Coast native, it takes wind and salt, reaching 2 to 3 feet. Zones 5--10

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Ornamental Grasses: Blue Lyme Grass

Photo: Sten Porse

Blue Lyme Grass

In dry, saline ground, this Eurasian grass grows 2 to 4 feet high in sun to light shade. Zones 4--10

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Ornamental Grasses: Little Bluestem

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Little Bluestem

Weathering cold, salty conditions, it's a sun-lover that gets 1 to 3 feet tall. Zones 3--9

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Ornamental Grasses: Karl Foerster Reed Grass

Photo: Laura Berman

Karl Foerster Reed Grass

A hybrid with roots in Europe and Asia, the tough grass reaches 3 to 6 feet in sun-to-part shade. Zones 3--9

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Ornamental Grasses: Tufted Hair Grass

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Tufted Hair Grass

Salt tides, fluctuating temperatures, and shade don't faze its 2- to 3-foot blades. Zones 4--10

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Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Artemisia

Photo: Gerald D. Tang

Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Artemisia

They structure garden beds, providing color early summer to fall.

Native species are suited to most U.S. coastal zones. Their silver leaves ward off salt spray. Zones 3--10

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Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Wax Myrtle

Photo: Treeland Nursery

Wax Myrtle

Enduring drought, wind, and salt, regional native types can top 15 feet. Zones 4--10

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Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Sea Lavender

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Sea Lavender

Sun-loving American and European versions reach 2 to 5 feet and have purple blooms. Zones 3--10

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Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Yarrow

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Yarrow

This 3-foot, full-sun butterfly magnet can handle breezy, cold conditions. Zones 3--9

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Flowering Perennials & Shrubs: Beach Pea

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Beach Pea

It grows right beside the sea, 1 to 2 feet high along the East and West coasts. Zones 3--7

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Annuals: Fuchsia

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Annuals: Fuchsia

Annuals flourish during the warm season, making gardens and pots bright across gardening zones.

Ideal for hanging baskets on seaside patios, the mostly South American natives bloom in shade.

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Annuals: Marigold

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Marigold

Selections of this sun-worshipper grow up to 40 inches and bloom all summer in sun and shade.

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Annuals: Calendula

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Calendula

Long-blooming Mediterranean natives, these 1- to 2-foot plants need part-to-full sun to flower yellow and orange.

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Annuals: Coleus

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Coleus

Shade or sun, you can tuck this tropical plant in deck pots and enjoy its vividly colored leaves.

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Annuals: Pincushions

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Pincushions

Plant the 2- to 3-foot Mediterranean natives in a sunny border for "pincushion" blooms that draw butterflies.

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Roses: Rugosa Rose

Photo: Joern Sackerman

Roses: Rugosa Rose

Nothing adds more romance to a beach cottage, if you choose seaside-friendly varieties like these.

Fragrant, long-flowering natives can be 8-foot hedges, best on East and Northwest coasts. Zones 2--8

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Roses: Cornelia Rose

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Cornelia Rose

Great for mild Southern California, the hybrid musks climb 12 feet supported, even in shade. Zones 4--10

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Roses: Cecile Brunner Climbing Rose

Photo: Moosey Country Garden

Cecile Brunner Climbing Rose

These climbers have scented blooms perfect for a seaside arbor. Zones 6--9

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Roses: Knock Out Rose

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Knock Out Rose

A 3-foot re-blooming shrub with cherry red flowers, it's very coast-friendly and fog- and drought-tolerant. Zones 5--11

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Roses: Mediterranean Rock Rose

Photo: IML Image Group

Mediterranean Rock Rose

Ranging from ground-covers to billowing, 4-foot hedges, these rose-like shrubs prosper amid wind, salt, and poor soil. Zones 8--10

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