Who doesn’t enjoy the beach? If I close my eyes I can almost feel the warmth of the summer sun, smell the salt air and picture a glorious sunset with the cool breeze on my skin. I can also remember the feeling of sand between my toes and that sunburn I got on the cloudiest day of the summer last year but I still love the beach anyway! It’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful setting could also be one of the most challenging environments to garden in. The soil can be sandy or as hard as a rock in some places and those cooling ocean breezes can dry out your soil in a hurry. Despite these obstacles gardening at the beach can be just as fun as gardening in your own backyard!
The first suggestion I have is really very simple. Go for a walk or take a drive and see what is already growing in the area. You may be surprised at what you find when you do so. It’s a good idea to focus on native plants that already have adapted to these harsh conditions. Ornamental grasses such as Maiden Grass or Festuca are good choices no matter what stretch of sand you are on as they are usually easy to grow and once established they don’t need a lot of TLC. Shrubs like Crape Myrtles and Oleander do quite well at the beach although you may want to be careful with Oleander as it is considered an invasive species in some areas. Finally, when you look around you may find plants like Red Hot Poker, Blanket Flower, Yucca, Ice Plant and other succulents that manage to thrive in desert-like conditions buy can also be grown successfully at the seashore.
Another image that comes to my mind when I think of the beach are quaint homes with cottage gardens and window boxes overflowing with Geraniums, Verbena, and cascading Petunias. If this is your dream it can be realized but it means dealing with two fundamental concerns; soil and water. Trying to turn sand into soil is a difficult proposition but in smaller gardens it can make sense to amend the soil with lots of compost and organic matter. Sometimes it is better to try to work around what is there and raised beds and containers might be a good alternative to “the big dig”. This will not only save your back but it will help you start gardening a lot faster and these alternatives might even allow you to sneak in some plants that otherwise might not ideally grow at the beach such as herbs and vegetables.
Once you’ve solved the soil concerns you’ll need to deal with the issue of water. It is a cruel irony that at the beach you’re surrounded by water but you can’t use it to irrigate your garden. Therefore, it becomes important to maximize what Mother Nature provides. Rain barrels are a great way to catch rainwater and store it for future use. Drip irrigation systems are an efficient way to water flower beds and since they get the water right to the plant roots it minimizes evaporation and avoids diseases that can come from watering the leaves. Finally, those window boxes that are so beautiful will need to be watered at least daily and sometimes more frequently than that but if you have self-watering containers it can make that job a whole lot easier. The aforementioned Geraniums, Verbena, and Petunias are good choices for containers but you can also consider Lantana, Portulaca, Gazania and Vinca which can stand the heat, the salt air and are drought tolerant as well.
If you’re fortunate enough to live at the beach or even if you just get to take a vacation there why not snap a few pictures and share them on our Facebook page so we can all “spend a day at the beach”.