Tips for Maintaining a Coastal Garden

Creating and caring for a coastal garden is a lot different than maintaining a garden inland. Unique conditions near the coast require additional planning and attention. While strong winds and salty air might mean that you need to take extra care, there are ways to deal with the challenges the climate throws at you and create a thriving backyard.

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Creating and caring for a coastal garden is a lot different than maintaining a garden inland. Unique conditions near the coast require additional planning and attention. While strong winds and salty air might mean that you need to take extra care, there are ways to deal with the challenges the climate throws at you and create a thriving backyard.

Challenges of Maintaining a Coastal Garden

Maintaining a healthy coastal garden comes with several challenges, mainly due to climate change. Shifts in climate patterns can exacerbate existing conditions and introduce new complexities. 


Prevailing winds present a formidable challenge to gardeners, harming plants, causing coastal erosion, and even damaging property. The force of these winds can lead to broken branches, stunted growth, windburn, and even uprooted plants. The changing climate may result in more frequent and intense windstorms. 


Climate change contributes to rising sea levels and temperatures, more intense storm surges, and increased saltwater intrusion into coastal regions. The sea breeze carries salt particles that can accumulate on plant leaves, causing buildup that interferes with the plant’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, ultimately impacting their health and growth. 


As sea levels continue to rise, the frequency and intensity of salt exposure are likely to escalate. The Northeastern United States is particularly hard hit by the rising temperatures, as the Gulf of Maine’s sea surface temperatures have been rising quicker than 99% of the global ocean.  


Climate change can influence precipitation patterns, leading to erratic weather conditions and impacting soil moisture levels. As a result, coastal gardens often contend with sandy soil, which tends to drain quickly, making it difficult for plants to access the moisture they need. 


Lastly, changes in precipitation, sea levels, and extreme weather events contribute to soil erosion. Intense rainfall and storm surges can lead to increased runoff and soil displacement. Climate-induced soil erosion threatens the stability of coastal gardens. 

9 Tips for Maintaining a Coastal Garden

With thoughtful planning and strategic care, coastal gardens can thrive just as well as inland gardens. Whether you’re a seasoned coastal gardener or planning a garden for the first time, here are some valuable tips to ensure your garden flourishes in the face of the often harsh coastal conditions.

  • Make Sure Your Plants are Coastal-Friendly

For a successful coastal garden, you must select plants that thrive in seaside conditions. Choose species well-suited to the salty air and sandy soil prevalent in coastal areas. Sandy soil absorbs less water and nutrients and salt damage can result in leaf burn or plant death. Salt-tolerant or native plants often thrive in these conditions, providing a natural and low-maintenance option for your garden. Some of the best species for coastal living include:


  • Lavender
  • Seaside goldenrod
  • Beach grasses
  • Bougainvillea vines
  • Daylilies
  • Moss rose
  • Ivy
  • Winterberry holly 
  • Monitor and Improve Your Soil Quality

Monitor your soil quality at least once every three years or more often if you’re experiencing any issues. Coastal soils are sandy and lack essential nutrients, but you can enhance the soil’s fertility by adding organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure.


Fertilizing your soil boosts nutrient levels and improves the soil’s ability to retain moisture, which is crucial for plant growth in coastal regions. It’s best to test your soil in early spring to receive the results in time for the next crop cycle.

  • Provide Adequate Drainage

Proper drainage is essential in beachside gardens, as excess water can lead to soil erosion and root rot. Raise flowerbeds and incorporate well-draining materials like gravel or perlite into the soil to prevent waterlogging. During heavy rainfall, identify the areas where the rain pools — usually in low-lying areas — and create channels so the water can flow away. These measures help maintain optimal soil moisture levels for plant health. 

  • Use Wind-Resistant Plants

Coastal areas are notorious for strong winds, damaging plants and hindering their growth. Strategically plant wind-resistant species as a protective barrier for more delicate plants. Use structures like fences or hedges to protect against relentless winds. Pay extra attention to the direction of the wind — and sun — to ensure you plan efficient windbreaks. 


Some of the best wind-resistant plants include: 


  • Cedars
  • Aspen
  • Dogwoods
  • Elder
  • Oaks
  • Hawthorn
  • Holly
  • Rosemary
  • Catnip
  • Rinse Your Plants Regularly 

The salty air near the coast can lead to salt buildup on plant leaves, affecting their health and appearance. To combat this, regularly rinse your plants with fresh water, particularly during dry periods. Rinsing your plants removes salt deposits and ensures your plants can absorb nutrients without interference. 

  • Mulch for Water Retention

Mulching is a beneficial practice in coastal gardens, helping to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw, leaves, woodchips, grass clippings or bark, around your plants to reduce evaporation and maintain a more stable soil temperature. 

Coastal soils often have a higher pH due to the presence of salt. Regularly test and monitor the soil pH to ensure it remains within the suitable range for your chosen plants. A soil pH between 6.5 and 6.8 is usually the best for most plants. Otherwise, they may struggle to absorb nutrients from the soil. If necessary, amend the soil with materials like sulfur to lower the pH or lime to raise it, maintaining optimal growing conditions.

Nurturing young plants requires special attention to their nutritional needs, given the often unfavorable conditions of the environment. Because the soil lacks nutrients, providing adequate feeding for optimal growth is crucial. When establishing your young plants, incorporate a balanced, slow-release fertilizer into the soil during planting. This step ensures a steady nutrient supply over an extended period, promoting healthy root development. 


Additionally, periodically applying organic compost or well-rotted manure can enhance soil fertility, addressing common nutrient deficiencies. It’s best to regularly monitor the plants’ growth and appearance so you can make any necessary changes. 

  • Plant Short-Season Produce

Coastal gardens often have microclimates — the climate of a tiny area that differs from the surrounding area. These conditions mean that growing produce can be a lot trickier. If you want your vegetables to grow successfully, prioritize growing plants that mature quickly, including:


  • Radish
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Kale and spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Arugula 

Your Plants Can Still Thrive on the Coast

Developing and maintaining a seaside garden requires carefully considering the coastal environment’s specific challenges. Although the unique climate may make it a little more difficult to achieve your dream garden, it’s possible with a few extra steps.

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is a freelance writer specializing in home improvement, gardening, and caring for the outdoors. He’s the senior writer of Modded and has contributed his advice through sites like CAD Details, House 2 Home Organizing, Log Cabin Hub, and more.

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