When you live by the beach, there can be some inherent challenges that make it more difficult to grow the garden of your dreams. Oceanside gardeners face strong winds, sandy soils and a salty environment. There are however several steps that can be taken to help your garden be more hospitable to plants.
Here at the little garden house we live by the coast, we contend with sandy soils, unpredictable coastal weather, High winds and warm dry summers.
Our combination of soil amendment and putting the ‘right plant right place’ methodology into practice has allowed us to grow multiple types of landscapes within our small plot.
Growing a garden by the beach is completely possible, you don’t have to be limited to a sandy desert look. By following our guide to soil amendment for sandy soil and choosing the right plants you can have a lush tropical garden, an English style wildflower garden, or a warm weather sandy soil native garden. There are many options.
1. Improving the soil
The first step to growing a beautiful garden no matter where you live, is to test your soil. The key for an Oceanside garden is to understand how sandy your soil is, and how many nutrients are available.
If you live directly on the cliffs of the beach and you truly have a sand dune patch as your plot for a garden, you will most likely want to do containers in addition to planting native plants. Containers will allow you to choose any soil you wish and as long as you choose plants that can handle the windy conditions of the beach you will have success.
If like us however you are a couple of blocks from the beach you may have a sandy soil that isn’t 100% pure a sand and can be amended a little. Wherever you are on the scale you have options.
Sand can be problematic in multiple ways, it can of-course drain water straight through it. But water can also run right off its surface, and so organic matter is crucial to allow water to penetrate the soil.
You want to then add something to help the soil hold onto this moisture. Home made compost, clay or even a good amount of corn starch can help. Check out our post on how to stop containers drying out, which is all about how to use corn starch to increase water retention In soil.
Be sure to add a good amount of mulch to the top of your soil after planting. This will have multiple benefits for your soil, first of all it will provide a surface to help the water drain into the soil rather than rolling off the top of the sand and it will also overtime rot into your sandy soil adding more nutrients and organic matter.
2. Choose Salt and Wind Tolerant plants
Once you have amended your sandy soil, or set up containers, you can now look for plants that will tolerate or even appreciate your coastal conditions.
When it comes to soil, ‘right plant right place’ thinking can be adjusted towards our preference by soil amendment. However, wind & salt exposure that living by the beach will cause, is not something that can be avoided (there are some ways to get around the wind this in step 3).
Certain plants are more tolerant of salty and windy conditions. Choosing these will allow you a higher rate of success. For example, if you want a tree with beautiful fall color, you may consider the Chinese pistache which tolerates wind sand and salt well.
The Chinese pistache has a similar color to a Japanese maple but it’s Hardy and will thrive in your environment. When we first moved into our house we planted three Japanese maples because we had them from a previous location. We knew they would struggle in the wind but didn’t want to part with them. Two out of the three are not at their best (The one that is doing well is in a pot in the patio area). 2 years after planting a Chinese pistache, it is already thriving after only one here.
The lesson learned here, is that when you plant some thing that enjoys the conditions you have everything is easier. Why fight nature? Choose plants that like to be coastal and you will have a lot of success.
3. Create Shelter
Here is the exception to the rule about getting plants that either like, or can tolerate being in the wind.
If you live by the beach, you may (while preserving your view if you have one) want to create some kind of barrier to the wind.
Whether this be a clear glass wall, or in our case a selection of trees that we are growing in a cluster to protect each other from the wind. You can also, if allowed in your area, have a fence that you can cordon off an area of your garden with.
On those windy spring days, having an area that is blocked from the wind will provide an oasis of calm for you on a windy day.
One common misconception with beach side Gardens, is that they need to be pretty bare-bones. Imagine spread out succulents, separated by decorative shells and soil.
Now, just to say this does not mean there’s anything wrong with this kind of landscape. In fact this exact design can be quite elegant modern and calming.
However, assuming that you would like a little more to do in the garden. If you would like a landscape that is a little more leafy or floral than a succulent garden, that is still possible close to the beach. Do you have provided three examples of garden styles below that are possible by the beach. There are many more of course these are the three that we have developed in our coastal location.
English Cottage Garden
If you were looking for a floral style garden, similar to an English cottage garden, by the beach. The key is to choose native (or local condition tolerant) floral varieties and plant them closely together for that cottage garden look.
Imagine if you will the look and feel of an English cottage garden. But it is comprised entirely of native varieties that are tolerant to your local
You can also include other varieties of floral plants such as roses, vines and bulbs. Just choose varieties that are tolerant to your coastal conditions for the highest rates of success.
Plant in a way that uses the hardier larger plants to provide shelter to the smaller tender plants.
Assuming that you have amended the soil a little to be able to hold some moisture and nutrients, and that you have provided a little bit of shelter from extreme winds, you will be able to have a beautiful collection of perennial and annual flowers.
You could also go for a tropical/jungle look. Simply choose tropical or jungle plans that like sandy soil and add a lot of extra water retaining material to the soil.
At the little garden house we have both, on one side of the house we have a mixed annual, perennial herbaceous border. I like to think of it as a mini example of an English cottage garden. At least as close to this as I can achieve in Beachside California.
The other side of the house is a tropical jungle where we like to entertain. There are banana trees elephant ears and giant birds of paradise.
The key to planting tropical plants in sandy soil is to add enough water retaining material to the soil. Check out our post on how to start a tropical garden.
Having settle this, the absolute easiest way to have a beautiful garden close to the beach he’s to choose exactly the plants that you see in the dunes, hills and hiking trails close to your house. You can still follow the guidelines to add more moisture and nutrients to your soil. Then plant native varieties and watch them thrive in your garden with very little intervention.
5. Being a good ocean neighbor
Before you choose plants, one very important consideration when you are within proximity to any natural resource, whether it be the ocean, a lake or beautiful weather, I to be aware of the impact that your garden can have on the local ecosystem.
Beware invasive plants
Be careful not to plant any varieties that are invasive in your area. Beware of plant varieties that will spread into the natural habitat. Examples include ice plant, bamboo, certain grasses and even herbaceous plants can be invasive.
If you are unsure what varieties are invasive in your area, you can reach out to your local park docents, or even you’re local coastal agency to ask.
Beware chemicals getting into the watershed or food cycle
Other considerations in food avoiding pesticides and herbicides. Which can Leach down into the ocean or natural habitats. It’s amazing how easily Gardens can affect the world around us. Another example is that using poison to kill gophers can actually end up harming or killing local owls that use the gophers as a food resource.
6. Final Thoughts
You can have many different styles of garden be successful by the beach. The key is to add nutrition and moisture to your soil. In this location make sure to be aware of your affect on the surrounding ecosystems by choosing organic fertilizers, composts and non invasive plant varieties.
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