In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
August, 2014
Regional Report

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Plants like this palm at a Florida marina must be able to bend -- not break -- in the wind.

Gardening at the Seaside

Depending on what part of our region you live in, the distinction between beach-front and leeward can be important. Both your plant choices and gardening practices may hinge on which side of the house they're on.

Natural Strength
Although the Atlantic Coast is windier than the Gulf Coast, the same challenges mark both sites. Breezes that become gales, salt spray, and bright sun are not accommodating to plants with brittle stems and leaves that are easily shredded or sunburned. The classic "bend, don't break" description of willow trees sets the trend, but gardeners can make the difference, too. Any tree planted with rigid guy wires or tied closely to a stake will be less able to adapt to windy conditions once the ties are unbound. Select sturdy trees that do not need staking at planting time.

Salt Spots
Many plants develop unsightly spots on their leaves when salt pelts them. While the spots may not kill the plant outright, any constant damage to leaf surfaces eventually slows growth and affects flowering. Better choices on the beach-front side mean less maintenance, and can include both native and exotic plants.

There are many beautiful, salt-tolerant plants -- pittosporum and flame of the woods (Ixora), to name a few. Instead of azaleas, plant oleander or Indian hawthorne for spring-flowering shrubs. Select century plant and yucca over cannas for broad-leaved texture. And rather than submit to pruning redtops over and over to remove the damage, plant wax myrtle or eleagnus as a sturdy hedge.

Don't be fooled by the classic image of palm trees at seaside. Not all can take the saltspray nor stand a hurricane. For any beachfront garden in both coastal and tropic regions, look to jelly palm, Washington palm, and the state tree of Florida, cabbage palmetto. Use royal and coconut palms in the tropics.


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