Salt Tolerant Plants for Beach Landscaping

List of Plants That Tolerate Sea and Road Salt

Ivy geranium (image) can be used as a hanging plant. It is salt-tolerant.
Ivy geranium is suitable for use in hanging baskets along the seashore. David Beaulieu

Large quantities of salt in the soil just don't mix well with the specimens that you'd like to grow in that soil. An excess of salt prevents them from absorbing water properly. A salty spray carried on the winds only exacerbates the problem for would-be gardeners in seaside communities. What's the answer? You should select salt-tolerant plants for beach landscaping.

The sandy soils found near beach areas retain less water and nutrients than do less porous soils, so plants growing in the former are especially susceptible to salt damage.

If you're lucky, salt damage may manifest itself only in leaf-burn; but the worst cases progress from leaf-drop to death! Thus the need for information on salt-tolerant plants, especially in Florida, a state nearly enveloped by the ocean.

Salt-Tolerant Plants: Flowers and Foliage

  • Bee balm
  • Ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum), commonly used in hanging baskets.
  • Portulaca: Drought-tolerant annual.
  • Lantana plants: Treated as an annual in cooler climes, where they are often used in hanging baskets, lantanas are perennials in Florida.
  • Coleus blumei: Traditionally used as an annual to provide foliage in the landscape.
  • Kalanchoe: Perennial in Florida.
  • Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.): Moderately salt-tolerant plants.
  • Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.): Can take a pounding in the sun; also a deer-resistant plant
  • Lupine

Salt-Tolerant Plants: Groundcovers and Vines

  • Bar Harbor juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Bar Harbor')

Three salt-tolerant plants grown in Florida are the following vines:

  • Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

Salt-Tolerant Plants: Shrubs

Bayberry shrubs, famous for the candles made from their berries, are best grown in zones 2-8. But the "waxy" equivalent for a salt-tolerant plant in Florida is wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). Three other salt-tolerant plants grown in Florida are the following shrubs:

  • Florida privet (Forestiera segregata)
  • Sandankwa viburnum (Viburnum suspensum)
  • Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)

Salt-Tolerant Plants: Trees

  • Southern red cedar (Juniperus silicicola): salt-tolerant plant grown in Southern Florida
  • Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens): One of the types of palm trees that tolerate salt very well. Saw palmetto reaches a height of 10-20 feet.
  • Date palm trees (Phoenix dactylifera) are taller palm trees (50 feet) that are cold-hardy to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The University of Florida Extension lists date palm trees as moderately salt-tolerant.

In addition to consulting lists such as the above, don't forget to use your powers of observation while driving through your seaside community. Take notice of what is flourishing in your neighbors' yards. For example, in Bar Harbor, Maine I've noticed many lovely golden chain trees. And if you've ever driven around Long Island, New York in spring, you can't help but notice the pink blooms of Kwanzan cherry trees everywhere! True, such anecdotal additions to my list may not make it onto official listings of salt-tolerant plants. But remember that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And if your landscaping taste buds are anything like your neighbors', don't be afraid to take a cue from their plantings judiciously, here and there.

More: Decorations for a beach-themed landscape.