Guide to Coastal Landscaping

Palm Trees - Costal Landscaping

Take full advantage of your beachside home by turning your backyard into a coastal paradise. Our guide to coastal landscaping will help you work with the land to establish a stylish outdoor space that will be both beautiful and functional. 

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  1. Hardscaping
  2. Rock walls
  3. Salt-tolerant plants
  4. Salt-tolerant lawns
  5. Decor
  6. Fencing
  7. Hurricane-resistant landscaping
Hardscape with path around inground pool
Hardscaping | Gregory Gapare | Unsplash

1. Hardscaping

Although hardscaping features aren’t as sensitive as the organic components of your landscape, they still can be worn down by harsh coastal weather. You want to pick materials that will stand the test of time so you don’t have to worry about replacing them in five years.

What is hardscaping? Hardscaping is anything inorganic in your landscape like:

  • Decks and patios
  • Furniture
  • Stone features
  • Pathways and pavers

Concrete pavers are an excellent example of long-lasting hardscaping. Not only do they provide clear pathways and divisions in your landscape, they also can prevent soil erosion, which can be a problem along the coast. 

If you’re installing a driveway, think about choosing gravel instead of asphalt. It’s less likely to be damaged by ocean salt spray. 

If your home sits on a slope, you can employ terracing to prevent soil erosion and add visual interest to what might otherwise be patchy ground. Terracing means cutting into the slope at regular intervals to create flat outcroppings where you can add garden boxes, stairs, and more. 

Rock Wall
Rock Wall | Redi-Rock International | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

2. Rock walls

A rock wall is a classic feature of a coastal landscape, especially if you’re situated on a beach with its own natural rocky outcroppings like in the Pacific Northwest.


Rock walls are striking aesthetic elements, but they’re also useful. They help buffer winds and salt spray, and can stop soil from sliding down hills. You can DIY this installation, too. The dry-stack method doesn’t require any mortar or concrete footing.

Where should your rock wall go? Rock walls are usually used as retaining walls on slopes, but you also can use them to mark property lines. You might want to place it somewhere it can double as a convenient seat.

Coral Honeysuckle
Coral Honeysuckle | Sarah Nichols | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

3. Salt-tolerant plants

While an ocean breeze can feel great on a hot day, coastal winds carry a threat to plants’ health: salt. Salt always exists in soil, but when there’s too much of it or a sudden influx, the ground isn’t able to drain it as it usually does. When there’s a lot of salt around plant roots, it draws the water out, effectively creating drought conditions for the plant no matter how much water you add. 

Some plants, however, use a combination of chemical and physical characteristics to combat the effects of high salinity. These salt-tolerant flowers, trees, shrubs, vines, and cacti will maintain their vibrance and health when less-adapted plants are likely to wilt or die. 

Pro Tip: Combine salt-tolerance with wind-resistance to curate the perfect plants for a coastal landscape. 

Flowers

  • Daylily
  • Lantana
  • Bee balm
  • Butterfly weed
  • Gaillardia
  • Blazing star

Shrubs

  • Japanese pittosporum
  • Hibiscus
  • Inkberry
  • Southern bayberry

Trees

  • Live oak 
  • Wax myrtle
  • Sweetbay magnolia 
  • Red cedar

Vines

  • Trumpet creeper
  • Bougainvillea
  • Virginia creeper
  • Coral honeysuckle

Cacti 

  • Adam’s needle
  • Agave
  • Yucca
Bubble on St. Augustine grass - Salt Tolerant Grass
St. Augustinegrass | Jay Morgan | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

4. Salt-tolerant lawns

Dealing with salty soil doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a green front yard. There are options for salt-tolerant turfgrasses if you prefer a traditional look. Salt-tolerant ground covers or ornamental grasses are also great options if you’re looking to cut down on your water usage with a lower-maintenance plant. 

Turfgrass

  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Zoysiagrass

Ground cover

  • Bearberry
  • Beach pea
  • Morning glories
  • Stonecrop

Ornamental grass

  • Sand cordgrass
  • Gulf bluestem
  • Coastal dropseed
  • Pink muhly grass

5. Decor

When it comes to coastal landscaping decor, there are as many options as grains of sand on the beach! Well, maybe not that many, but your only limit is your creativity. 

Small space? Try vertical gardening. Want to stay sustainable? Check out these recycled gardening ideas.

Maybe you want to dive into the nautical theme with anchors, flamingos, and seagull statues. Maybe you prefer more subtle touches like seashell borders around flower beds or sea glass mosaic. Coastal towns are often overflowing with artisans, so keep your local artists in mind when you’re shopping for unique bird feeders, wind chimes, and sculptures.

Just because you live near a body of water doesn’t mean you can’t have your own backyard water features, too. A dip in a freshwater pool can be a refreshing change from harsh saltwater. A winding pond or water fountain can help give a sense of structure to plant arrangements and add a pleasant sound in the background. 

Chain-link Fence
Metal Fence | AaronShoots | Pixabay

6. Fencing

Fencing is an excellent way to add visual interest to your property, fight erosion, and display some of your new salt-tolerant vines like coral honeysuckle. 

Choosing fencing that will resist storms is also important. To make sure your fencing is built to last, keep in mind two things: wind resistance and materials.

Fencing isn’t meant to act as a windbreak. It’s much less likely to suffer damage if strong winds can pass through it. That makes chain-link and slatted designs superior on the coast compared to solid fencing. If you do have solid fencing you want to keep, reinforce the posts with brackets and consider removing a single panel at each end to let pockets of wind move through from one side to the other.

When it comes to materials, metal wins. Steel and wrought-iron fences are much more durable than wood when it comes to surviving fallen branches and high winds. Vinyl is a good second choice (though not as resilient as metal) for salt-resistant, waterproof fencing. If you do opt for wood, go for teak wood which is also salt and water-resistant. 

Silverberry Shrub
Silverberry Shrub | USDA NRCS Montana | Flickr | Public Domain

7. Hurricane-resistant landscaping

The downside to having a gorgeous oceanside view is the threat of natural disasters. Chances are if you’re looking into coastal landscaping, you’ll need to think about hurricane-resistant landscaping, too. 

Tips for hurricane-resistant landscaping:

  • Plant wind-resistant trees.
  • Group trees together to help buffer high winds. 
  • Keep plants pruned.
  • Assess drainage. 
  • Use soft, organic mulch like wood chips, shredded leaves, and pine needles instead of something inorganic mulch like pea gravel.

If you need ideas for wind-resistant plants, take a look at the options. 

Wind-resistant trees

  • Bald cypress
  • Live oak
  • Windmill palm
  • Shumard oak
  • Winged elm

Wind-resistant shrubs

  • Silverberry
  • Juniper
  • Sea buckthorn
  • Fragrant sumac

Wind-resistant flowers

  • Veronia
  • Crambe
  • Sea holly
  • Zinnia

You’ll also want to secure anything that could become a storm hazard (often all those finishing touches on your landscape) if a storm is on its way. Take moveable objects like outdoor furniture, benches, toys, and bicycles inside. Turn trellises and playground equipment on their side and group them together. Strap down sheds using eyebolts and concrete footing. 

For more information on hurricane-resistant landscaping, check out one of our other pieces on Lawnlove.com:

FAQ about coastal landscaping

How close to the water do I need to be to choose salt-tolerant plants?

According to the University of Florida, if you live within ⅛ of a mile of saltwater, you should pick salt-tolerant plants. 

What else should I consider when choosing plants?

Think about your USDA Hardiness Zone, how much sun or shade you get, and what plants are native to your area. 

Do I need to amend my soil?

If you live near the coast, your soil likely contains more sand than average. Most salt-tolerant and native coastal plants will do fine in sandy soil, so you won’t have a problem.

However, if you want to grow something that requires fertile, loamy soil, like a vegetable garden, consider installing a raised garden bed. Because you can just pour in your desired soil type, it’s much more efficient than amending your existing soil with compost, which can take months to get right. 

How else can I prevent erosion?

A huge part of controlling erosion in your yard is making sure you have good drainage. Downspout extensions, French drains, rain gardens, and drip irrigation are all solutions to explore if you’re noticing standing water or squishy grass. 

Native plants installed on slopes also help stabilize soil. 

Hire a pro to help with your coastal landscape 

If you’re interested in elevating your backyard with these tips, but aren’t sure if you have the time or skills, consider hiring an expert. Professional landscapers can help install hardscaping, rock walls, water features, and more. A Lawn Love pro can mow and edge your lawn. That means you can trade the garden spade for a beach umbrella and get back to enjoying the waves.

Main Photo Credit: Anastasiya Vragova | Pexels

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.