Plants for coastal areas

Strong, often salt laden, winds present a challenge for planting in coastal gardens. Providing windbreaks in the form of hedges or netting will widen the range of plants that can be grown.

Olearia macrodonta is a good choice for coastal gardens. Image: RHS/Graham Titchmarsh

Quick facts

Top five plants for coastal planting:
Armeria maritima
Crambe cordifolia
Griselinia littoralis
Euonymus japonicus
Pinus nigra

Practical considerations

To establish plants successfully in exposed situations it is essential is to form a windbreak against the prevailing coastal wind. It is best to develop a wind-filtering screen of trees or shrubs, but polypropylene webbing is an alternative. It is not advisable to use solid structures such as walls or fences, as these can create turbulence and add to the problems. A windbreak can reduce wind on its leeward side for a distance of ten times its height. Once a barrier has been established, it may be possible to grow quite a wide range of coastal-tolerant plants.

Suitable plants

For a fuller choice, see the RHS Plant Selector

Trees tolerant to full exposure

Alnus glutinosa (common alder) - deciduous, conical, H 20m (70ft), S 8m (25ft)
Crataegus x persimilis 'Prunifolia' AGM – deciduous, leaves turn orange-red in autumn, white flowers in spring, red berries, H 8m (25ft), S 10m (30ft)
Pinus nigra (European black pine) – domed evergreen tree with spreading branches, H 30m (100ft), S 6-8m (20-25ft)
Populus alba (white poplar) – deciduous, young shoots are covered with white hairs, leaves turn yellow in autumn, H 20-40m (70-130ft), S 25m (50ft)
Quercus ilex AGM (Holm oak) – evergreen, dark green glossy leaves, H 25m (80ft), S 20m (70ft)

Trees for planting slightly back from the sea

Acer platanoides AGM (Norway maple) – deciduous, vigorous, leaves turn yellow or red in autumn, H 25m (80ft), S 15m (50ft)
Crataegus laevigata (hawthorn) – thorny, deciduous, white to pink flowers in spring, red fruit, H & S 8m (25ft)
Ginkgo biloba
AGM – columnar, deciduous conifer with fan-shaped leaves, H 30m (100ft), 8m (25ft)
Pinus sylvestris AGM (Scots pine) – flaky red-brown bark, blue green needles, H 15-30m (50-100ft), S 6-9m (20-28ft)
Sorbus aucuparia (rowan) – dark green leaves turning yellow-orange in autumn, white flowers spring, red berries, H 15m (50ft), S 7m (22ft)

Shrubs for exposed situations liable to salt winds

Euonymus japonicus (Japanese spindle) – dense bushy evergreen, good for hedging H 4m (12ft), S 2m (6ft)
Olearia macrodonta
AGM – vigorous, evergreen, daisy-like fragrant flowers in summer, H 6m (20ft), S 5m (15ft)
Rosa rugosa
– vigorous, deciduous, fragrant carmine-red flowers followers, orange-red hips, good for hedges H & S 1-2.5m (3-8ft)
Tamarix tetrandra – arching branches, scale like leaves, pink flowers in late spring, good for poor soils, H & S 3m (10ft)
Hippophae rhamnoides AGM (sea buckthorn) – bushy deciduous shrub/small tree with spiny shoots and silvery to bronze leaves, female plants produce orange fruit, H & S (6m (20ft)
Elaeagnus x ebbingei – dense evergreen shrub with dark or metallic sea-green leaves, H & S 4m (12ft)

Shrubs for open situations slightly back from the sea

Arbutus unedo AGM - evergreen, white flowers in autumn, red fruit, H & S 8m (25ft)
Ceanothus 'Gloire de Versailles' AGM – deciduous, pale blue flowers in late summer H & S 1.5m (5ft)
Cistus x purpureus AGM – evergreen, dark pink flowers in summer, not fully hardy, H & S 1m (3ft)
Cytisus x praecox AGM (broom) – deciduous, arching shoots, yellow flowers in spring, H 1.2m (4ft), S 1.5m (5ft)
Lavandula angustifolia
'Hidcote'
AGM (lavender) – more compact cultivar, evergreen, grey green foliage, fragrant blue flowers in summer, needs good drainage, H 60cm (24in), S 75cm (30in)
Phlomis fruticosa AGM – evergreen, grey-green leaves, yellow flowers in summer, H 1m (3ft), S 1.5m (5ft)

Shrubs for hedges with some protection from direct sea-wind

Berberis darwinii AGM – evergreen, spiny, orange flowers in spring H & S 3m (10ft)
Cotoneaster simonsii AGM – deciduous or semi-evergreen, leaves turn red in autumn, red fruit, H 2.5m (8ft), S 2m (6ft)
Escallonia rubra – evergreen, pink flowers in summer, H & S 5m (15ft)
Fuchsia magellanica – deciduous, upright arching shrub, small red flowers in summer, milder areas only, H 3m (10ft), S 2-3m (6-10ft)
Griselinia littoralis AGM – evergreen, glossy bright green leaves, H 8m (25ft), S 5m (15ft)
Pittosporum tenuifolium AGM – evergreen glossy leaves, H 4-10m (12-30ft), S 2-5m (6-15ft)

Additional shrubs for planting after a windbreak is established

Abelia x grandiflora AGM – evergreen to semi-evergreen, arching stems, pink flowers in late summer, not fully hardy, H 3m (10ft) S 4m (12ft)
Ceratostigma willmottianum AGM – deciduous, blue flowers in late summer, leaves turn red in autumn, H 1m (3ft), S 1.5m (5ft)
Cotinus coggygria AGM (smoke bush) – deciduous leaves turn orange-red in autumn, attractive fruiting panicles, H & S 5m (15ft)
Hibiscus syriacus – deciduous, large pink flowers from late summer, 3m (10ft), S 2m (6ft)
Perovskia atriplicifolia AGM – deciduous, grey- white shoots and leaves, blue flowers in late summer, H 1.2m (4ft), S 1m (3ft)

Wall shrubs and climbers for sheltered walls

Azara microphylla AGM – evergreen shrub, vanilla scented small yellow flowers in early spring, H 10m (30ft), S 4m (12ft)
Campsis radicans – deciduous climber, tubular orange-red flowers in late summer, H 10m (30ft)
Celastrus orbiculatus – deciduous, orange yellow fruit with red seeds, H 10m (3ft)
Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris AGM – deciduous, white flowers in summer, H 15m (50ft)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia AGM (Virginia creeper) – deciduous, leaves turn brilliant red in autumn, H 15m (50ft)

Rock garden plants

Armeria maritima (sea thrift) – evergreen, clump forming, pink flowers in summer, H 20cm (8in), S 30cm (13in)
Aurinia saxatilis
AGM – evergreen, grey leaves, yellow flowers in spring, H 20cn (8in), S 30cm (12in)
Hypericum olympicum
AGM - deciduous shrub, yellow flowers in summer, H 25cm (10in), S 30cm (12in)
Phlox subulata – evergreen, purple, red or pink flowers in early summer, H 5-15cn (2-6in), S 50cm (20in)
Pulsatilla vulgaris
AGM – deciduous hairy young leaves, bell shaped purple flowers in spring, attractive seed heads, H 10-20cm (4-8in), S 20cm (8in)

Hardy perennials

Crocosmia 'Emily McKenzie'- lance shaped leaves, orange flowers in summer, not fully hardy, H 60cm (24in) S 8cm (3in)
Crambe cordifolia AGM – large dark green leaves, white flowers in summer, H 2.5m (8ft), S 1.5m (5ft)
Crinum x powellii AGM – arching leaves, large pink flowers in late summer, not fully hardy, H 1.5m (5ft), S 30cm (12in)
Eryngium variifolium (sea holly) – spiny leaves, grey blue flowers in summer, H 30-40cm (12-16in), S 25cm (10in)
Sedum telephium – grey-green leaves, pink flowers in late autumn, H 60cm (24in), S 30cm (12in)
Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears) – evergreen, white-woolly foliage, pink-purple flowers in summer, H 45cm (18in), 60cm (24in)

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