Seaside Landscaping

Seaside garden along the edge of Long Island Sound designed by Rock Spring Design Group

By David Verespy & Barbara Wilson

Is your property close or proximate to the seashore? Are you finding it difficult to keep things alive because the nearby ocean seems to be killing off the plants in your yard or ruining your outdoor accessories? Do you want to have that dreamy summer vacation look at your house? Designing wonderful outdoor living spaces by the shore takes proper planning and design to accommodate the elements that occur in these difficult environs
and still get the look you want. Working with a Landscape Architect can ensure a great result.

Seaside plantings that will withstand strong winds, salt spray and baking sun along Long Island Sound, designed by Rock Spring Design Group

Seaside gardening can be a big challenge. The plants and landscape must be able to tolerate strong winds, salt spray, occasional salt water inundation, poor dry sandy soils, baking heat with full sun and drought conditions. However, there are ways to create a more favorable environment for your plants so that they can thrive and enhance your property in these tough conditions. It helps to start out with the right design approach to get the best results.

More formal perennial garden tucked behind a wall to block the winds, garden design by Maria Hickey & Associates

While, there are formal gardens and landscapes along the coast these tend to require even more maintenance than their inland counterparts. The formal gardens along the coast generally have the sense of not fitting in much more so than the inland gardens. Most properties along the shore are oriented to make the most out of the views of the nearby water. The scenery is the focal point, not the garden, so the landscape should be designed to frame and enhance the best views to the water. Frequently, the designed landscape will mimic the natural patterns and forms so it seems to blend with the natural surroundings. A mix of grasses, perennials and low shrubs can create an appealing blend.

Massess of grasses and perennials in this Coastal Maine property designed by Thomas Rainer, LA.

Massings of these plantings, that move freely in the breeze and enhance the natural beauty of the coastal landscape, are an easy and appealing way to achieve this result.

In our last blog post we discussed, what plants work well by the shore  In the article you will find a list of colorful plants that work near to the seashore. Selecting the right plant for the right spot is essential to having a garden that grows and thrives. Salt spray occurs and is most damaging within 1000 feet of the shore. It is also important to select plants that are hardy in your area as indicated on the current USDA Hardiness Zone Map. See our blog Hardiness Zone Map Changes (

For the Northeast US, or other areas in Zones 5-7, there are many plants that can be incorporated into your seaside gardens easily to provide interest throughout the season. The coastal regions tend to be warmer in the winter due to the warming effect of the ocean and conversely warm up later in the spring. The ocean also has a minimizing effect of extreme high and low temperatures. Often times the coastal areas are a zone warmer from inland areas.  Making sure you have the right plants can be accomplished by consulting with a design professional like a Landscape Architect.

Native hedgerow planting of shrubs, roses and grasses that will withstand the sandy shoreline conditions, designed by Paul Maue Associates

The soils the coast and along the water have a unique set of properties that pose challenges not found in other environments. The soils here are mostly a mix of sand and rocks that do not retain moisture well, due to the lack of silty loam and low organic matter. If you intend on installing plants that do not favor these sandy soils, amending the naturally sandy soil to improve the nutrient level and the moisture retention is essential to be able to provide the basic needs of the plants.


There are many attractive native plants that can survive in these harsh conditions. However, many gardeners’ desire landscapes that include more ornamental shrubs and perennials not typical found along the shore. Using non-native plantings will necessitate amending the soil. This can be accomplished by adding plenty of compost to increase the water holding capacity and organic matter. It is also recommended that you regularly take a soil test to check the PH and nutrient levels and add specific amendments to adjust it to optimum levels for the plants. This will improve the plants ability to absorb minerals and nutrients. Besides adding organic matter to the soil, another way to improve moisture levels and nutrient retention is to add a protective layer of two to three inches of organic mulch. The best types of mulch for a seaside condition are oak leaves, pine needles, salt marsh hay, wood chips, eelgrass or even a non-organic mulch like beach stones.

The poor soil conditions in a seashore environment make it tough on the plantings so, it is important to select plants that are able to handle drought conditions. The plantings not only must be able to withstand drought conditions but they also must be able to withstand salt spray, periodic flooding with salt water and wind-blown sand. It’s not easy growing near the shore! A Landscape Architect can ensure that your plant selections are appropriate to the area.

Plantings that require no irrigation and will thrive in the dry seaside

Keeping the soil moist along the shore can be difficult.  The overly well drained soils
and the lack of shade along with the constant breezes and windy conditions
along the coast cause the soils to dry out quickly. Many areas can expect to see tropical storms strength winds (35+ mph) and hurricane force winds (75+mph) on a regular basis, so it is critical to design your landscape with this in mind. These winds will dry out the planting beds and remove the moisture more quickly, so it is important to install plants that are tolerant of these conditions to start with.


Shoreline landscape designed by Rock Spring Design Group

Not, sure how to start planning your seaside garden. Give us a call at 203.268.6979 or email us for a complimentary one hour consultation. Visit us on the web at for more information.

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