14 Best Salt-Tolerant Landscape Plants

Salt-tolerant Plants - Open windo by the sea with view of shrubbery

That coastal breeze might feel good on a hot afternoon, but the salt it carries can wreak havoc on your garden. Whether you’re dealing with constant road salt during winter in New Jersey or saltwater winds in Florida, planting salt-tolerant trees, flowers, and shrubs will help ensure your landscape keeps thriving. 

Our top picks for the best salt-tolerant plants:

  1. Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)
  2. Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)
  3. Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
  4. Daylily (Hemerocallis)
  5. Gaillardia (Gaillardia x grandiflora)
  6. Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)
  7. Lantana (Lantana camara)
  8. Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
  9. Prickly pear
  10. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  11. Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana)
  12. Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
  13. Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)
  14. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)
Adam’s needle | Puddin Tain | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

1. Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)

Adam’s needle is a classic-looking yucca plant that will add a desert-like flavor to any landscape. This stemless shrub is green year-round and resembles a spreading bouquet of spiny, dagger-like leaves. Although the shrub itself can be as short as 4 feet, this plant’s flowering stalk can add an extra 6 feet. Expect a column of white, bell-shaped flowers to spring up in the summer. 

A great choice for the beginner gardener, Adam’s needle needs minimal care. Just don’t overwater it and give it at least 2 feet around the planting site for room to spread. To avoid painful cuts, wear gloves when handling your new yucca plant. 

Plant type: Shrub
Hardiness zone: 4-11
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Average, well-draining
Water needs: Low
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 4-8 feet tall; 2-3 feet wide

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)
Bougainvillea | Mark Bonica | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)

If you’ve ever seen a flush of raspberry along the side of a house, you’ve probably seen bougainvillea. This woody vine can be grown as a shrub or a climbing vine, depending on your preference. They sport multicolored green and white leaves with clusters of deep pink leaves, too. 

Bougainvillea are drought tolerant and will grow rigorously in any soil type as long as it doesn’t stay consistently wet. Don’t be shy about pruning your bougainvillea — cutting suckers away at the base will encourage top growth. Save serious pruning for late fall after summer flowering.  

Plant type: Vine
Hardiness zone: 9-11
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Well draining, acidic
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 1.5-2 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide as a shrub; up to 30 feet tall and wide as a climbing vine

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
Bee balm | C Watts | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

3. Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm will take your flower bed from boring to spectacular with little effort from you. Its showstopper blooms come in vibrant red whorls that will capture the interest of local wildlife (including your neighbors). Plant it outside a kitchen window to view the show from the birds and butterflies when they visit.

Because bee balm is a native flower, it’s already well adapted to the environment and resilient to pests and disease. It will tolerate a range of conditions, but thrives with plenty of direct sunlight and consistent moisture. 

Plant type: Flower
Hardiness zone: 4-9
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Rich, moist
Water needs: High
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 2-4 feet tall; 2-3 feet wide

Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Daylily (Hemerocallis) | Renee Grayson | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

4. Daylily (Hemerocallis)

This dependable perennial is a favorite among home gardeners and perfect for a coastal garden. The daylily produces a showy bloom with luxuriant petals that fall open in a bell shape. Every color of the rainbow is available from deep crimson to the classic yellow. Although each flower only lasts a day, one clump within the plant can bloom for 30 to 40 days. 

Daylilies perform best when they receive at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Plant them in moist, well-drained soil to help prevent disease. Leave at least 18 inches of space around each plant to encourage air circulation. With the right placement, daylilies won’t need much supplemental care for years.

Plant type: Flower
Hardiness zone: 4-9
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Well-drained, rich
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 1-8 feet tall depending on cultivar; 1-3 feet wide

Gaillardia (Gaillardia x grandiflora)
Gaillardia | yewchan | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Gaillardia (Gaillardia x grandiflora)

Gaillardia, also called blanket flower, is a front yard staple. The daisy-like flowers sport bold colors, often with bright red flowers with yellow tips on each petal, and bloom throughout summer and fall. They add a fabulous contrast to softer ornamental grasses or airy flowers like yarrow. 

Gaillardia spreads fast — it can form a sizeable mound in its first year. Full sun and plenty of water will help young blanket flowers develop a healthy root system. Keep in mind that this plant prefers poor soil, so no need to amend it with compost or fertilizer. 

Plant type: Flower
Hardiness zone: 5-10
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Poor, well-drained
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 24-36 inches tall; 12-24 inches wide

Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)
Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)| Jason Baker | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira)

Sometimes known as mock orange, the Japanese pittosporum is a hardy, attractive shrub. With glossy, thick, evergreen foliage that grows quickly, this shrub can act as a fence. Its clusters of white flowers that appear in late spring give off a sweet smell of orange blossoms. 

Pittosporums are remarkably resilient. Whether you have abundant sunshine or lots of shade, they can thrive as long as the soil has good drainage. If the ground stays consistently wet, pittosporums are at risk of dying from root rot disease. 

Plant type: Shrub
Hardiness zone: 8-11
Sun: Full sun to heavy shade
Soil: Well draining
Water needs: Low
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 8-12 feet tall; 12-18 feet wide

Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lantana | RODNAE Productions | Pexels

7. Lantana (Lantana camara)

Also known as shrub verbena, lantana is a classic flowering shrub that will bring a cottage feel to any backyard. Tight clusters of bright, multicolored flowers spring up from large, feathered leaves. Expect frequent visits from hummingbirds and butterflies when you plant lantana. 

Lantana is not drought resistant and prefers full sun (which makes regular watering especially important). If you have sandy soil, daily watering might be necessary, especially if you notice that blooming has stopped. With proper care, lantanas can bloom year-round. 

Plant type: Flower
Hardiness zone: 7a-11a
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained
Water needs: High
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 6 feet tall and wide

Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)
Pink muhly grass | Heather Paul | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

8. Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Pink muhly grass is an excellent choice for a low-maintenance, ornamental grass that will turn heads. This showy plant sports thin stems of green leaves surrounded by plumes of fuzzy pink flowers that emerge in the fall. Muhly grass is especially stunning in late afternoon when its cotton candy tufts are lit up by the low sun. 

This plant is susceptible to a fungal infection called tar rot, so make sure you leave plenty of space around each plant for good airflow. With enough sun and well-drained soil, muhly grass won’t need much care. It benefits from pruning and dividing every few years.

Plant type: Grass
Hardiness zone: 6-9
Sun: Full sun to partial sun
Soil: Well-drained, dry
Water needs: Low
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 1-3 feet tall; 2-3 feet wide

Prickly Pear (Cactus)
Prickly pear | MonikaP | Pixabay

9. Prickly pear

Prickly pear lives up to its name — you definitely don’t want to handle this one without gloves! This easy-maintenance cactus doesn’t need much to thrive. After a few years of proper care, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful, lotus-like yellow blooms. In some regions, the flowers give way to small purple or red fruits that are pickled and eaten.

This cactus can live as long as 20 years under the right conditions. The most important thing is planting it in a place with plenty of direct sunlight and well-drained soil. 

Plant type: Cactus
Hardiness zone: 9-11
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Sandy, well-drained
Water needs: Low
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 6-12 inches tall; 12-18 inches wide

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary | HansLinde | Pixabay

10. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Are you a culinary whiz? Or maybe just interested in sprucing up a dinner party with an aromatic garnish? Rosemary isn’t just a great resource for cooking and homemade goods; it’s a beautiful evergreen shrub that adds an elegant, silvery touch to a backyard. In spring and summer, rosemary sports small blue and white flowers. 

Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary prefers a sandy environment. It does not thrive in rich soil. Not only does loam hold excess moisture, it also weakens the fragrance and taste of rosemary. Add a handful of sand before planting to keep rosemary happy. 

Plant type: Herbaceous shrub
Hardiness zone: 8-11
Sun: Full sun
Soil: Well draining, sandy
Water needs: Low
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 2-6 feet tall; 4-5 feet wide

Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana)
Southern live oak | Anissa Wood | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

11. Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana)

Our next plant makes a big impression — the Southern live oak. This breathtaking, sprawling tree is a staple of the southern landscape and it also happens to be salt-tolerant. A live oak is a fantastic choice if you plan to own your home for a long time and have a large space to fill. 

This tree can do well in full sun or partial shade, but has a narrow range of hardiness zones in which it thrives. Once established (after about two years), your live oak won’t need supplemental watering or fertilizer. In its first year, it’s essential to encourage a dominant leader branch with proper pruning. 

Plant type: Evergreen tree
Hardiness zone: 8-10
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Well draining, slightly acidic, loam
Water needs: Low once established
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 40-80 feet tall; 60-100 feet wide

Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Sweetbay magnolia | Plant Image Library | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

12. Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

The sweetbay magnolia has many attractive qualities, but its star feature is its deliciously scented flowers. Magnolia blossoms stand out for their large, sweet-smelling white petals nestled in glossy, evergreen leaves. 

The sweetbay magnolia is a slightly smaller version of the southern magnolia, making it an ideal choice for smaller yards. Magnolias aren’t picky about water — they can tolerate wet soil as well as drought. They do like a slightly acidic soil, so make amendments if needed to achieve a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5. 

Plant type: Evergreen tree
Hardiness zone: 4-10
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Average, moist, slightly acidic
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 12-30 feet tall (can reach up to 80 feet depending on species); 20-50 feet wide

13. Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)
Wax myrtle | NC Wetlands | Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

13. Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)

Wax myrtle, or southern bayberry, is a large, multi-trunked shrub with olive, evergreen leaves. If you’re in need of some extra privacy around your landscape, wax myrtle is a great choice. It can grow up to 3-5 feet a year, providing quick coverage. 

If you’re into handmade goods, wax myrtle’s leaves and berries can be crushed and used to scent candles. Pollinators like birds and bees are also attracted to the fragrant fruit, so expect visits from flying friends when you plant this shrub.

Plant type: Shrub
Hardiness zone: 7-10
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Average, well-draining, slightly acidic
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: Most varieties grow 3-8 feet tall while others can reach up to 20 feet high and 8-10 feet wide

14. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)
Yaupon holly | Alabama Extension | Flickr | Public Domain

14. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)

If you have a corner of your yard that needs a little sprucing, the yaupon holly is perfect. An evergreen shrub or small tree, this plant has beautiful contrasting colors. Its vivid green leaves, clusters of bright red berries (on female plants), and small white flowers add a little life to an otherwise unremarkable area. 

The yaupon holly doesn’t get shocked easily, so it’s a smoother transplant process than other species. Apply a layer of mulch after planting to keep moisture in the soil and regulate the ground temperature. It’s drought and salt tolerant, so it’s perfect for a variety of landscapes. This evergreen plant will add welcome winter interest during the cold months. Keep in mind that if you want your tree to produce berries, you’ll need both a male and female plant for pollination. 

Plant type: Evergreen shrub or tree
Hardiness zone: 7-9
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Prefers sandy soil
Water needs: Moderate
Duration: Perennial
Mature size: 10-30 feet tall; 10-25 feet wide

Characteristics of salt-tolerant plants

Soil always has salt in it, but it’s usually flushed out regularly by rainwater so there’s no buildup. When soil receives an influx of salt, as is the case with coastal landscapes or places affected by hurricane winds, it draws water out from plants. Even if the ground is saturated with water, the plant is effectively experiencing drought conditions. 

Some plants handle that better than others. Certain characteristics of salt-tolerant plants help species resist the effects of high salt content so they’re not in constant drought. 

Salt-tolerant plants display:

  • Strong, spreading roots
  • Efficient water uptake
  • Low salt permeability
  • Good root osmotic adjustment

Research is still being done on all the mechanisms plants deploy to combat salt injury. From physical traits to genetic sequencing, plants have an arsenal of ways to survive high salinity. If you want to do a deep dive on scientists’ theories about salt tolerance, check out this paper from Frontiers in Plant Science

FAQ about salt-tolerant plants

1. How do I know I need salt-tolerant plants?

If you live right by the beach, planting salt-tolerant plants is an easy choice. If you live farther inland or are dealing with road salting, it might be harder to tell if they’re necessary. The easiest method is assessing if your current plants are suffering salt damage. 

Symptoms of salt damage include:

— Browning at the tips
— Bud damage or delayed bud break
— Wilting when it’s hot or dry 
— Tufted and stunted growth
— Leaf burn, especially at the tip
— Premature leaf drop

2. What are the best salt-tolerant plants for a sunny landscape?

Bougainvillea, hibiscus, and lantana are great options for sunny spots. Any cactus (like prickly pear or agave) is almost always a good choice for direct sun, too. 

3. What are the best salt-tolerant plants for a shaded landscape?

Japanese pittosporum, saw palmetto, and live oaks can thrive in heavy to part shade.

4. Can you grow a salt-tolerant edible garden?

Yes! Beets, bell peppers, and tomatoes all tolerate salt. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are also highly salt tolerant.

5. What are some native salt-tolerant plants?

There are tons of native plants that can thrive in coastal areas. North American native salt-tolerant plants include:

— Wax myrtle
— Bee balm
— Pink muhly grass
— Live oak
— Goldenrod
— Yucca
— Coral honeysuckle
— Virginia creeper

Salt-tolerant landscaping with a pro

Choosing your salt-tolerant plants is just the start. Taking care of them is the next step! If the idea of installing a new flower bed or vegetable garden is overwhelming, hire a Lawn Love pro. They can handle all your lawn care needs from landscaping to weekly mowing.

Main Photo Credit: KRiemer | Pixabay

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.