Gardening Tips: Beach Landscape

— Written By and last updated by Chrissy Poole

I’m writing this week’s column from vacation at a small town near Virginia Beach. My family has been coming here every summer for about 15 years and I’m always fascinated by the landscaping. It is a fairly wealthy area so, as you might expect, many of the houses have very lavish landscapes with finely manicured lawns and lovely trees and shrubs, but that begins to change as you approach the shore. The closer you get to the beach, the more the landscape starts to resemble the beach itself. Yards become little but mounds of sand, with only a select few plants able to withstand the harsh beach environment of hot sun, sandy soil, salt, and wind. What I find interesting is how many of these beach plants have, or could have, a prominent role in our landscapes.

Halifax County shares some characteristics with these coastal environments- obviously the hot summer sun and for many of us very sandy soil are commonly shared traits, but our local landscapes don’t have the intense wind blowing off the ocean during every storm, the salt spray from the ocean, or the ever changing topography as sand dunes form and reform over time. Still, the plants that survive those coastal conditions are often ideal for some of the tough spots in our landscapes here.

Consider ornamental grasses. Most ornamental grasses are extremely drought tolerant and because of this are ideal for hot, sunny spots with sandy soil. In our home landscapes you’ll often see ornamental grasses near driveways or walkways, where a lot of heat builds up as the sun reflects off the hard surface, or in beds in the middle of a yard, unprotected by trees where the sun beats down on it all day.

Similarly, tropical plants like cannas can be used in the toughest parts of our landscapes. Although some gardeners find the standard cannas boring, plant breeders have introduced many new species of cannas over the last several years. Many of these new varieties have variegated or colorful leaves in addition to their blooms, making them more interesting than their old fashioned counterparts. These plants, which I see all over the coast here are ideal for hot, dry spots in our landscapes.

Of course, many of the plants I see here at the beach are already quite common at home. A good example of that is lantana. With its extra long bloom period, its yellow/orange sun-like flower color, and its ability to tolerate heat and drought, it is the perfect beach plant. However, all those same characteristics make it a great plant to put around a mailbox, or to line the driveway to welcome visitors.

Other plants I see here regularly include oleander, blanket flower, Russian sage, coreopsis, podocarpus, butterfly bush, rosemary, ice plant, agave, yucca, coneflower, and angel’s trumpet. I’ve never cared much for yucca and those who have grown it before know that it can take over and become quite difficult to remove, but all of these plants have a place in our landscapes, provided you have a location that is suitable for them to grow. The key is to plant each plant in a location that suits its needs. All of the plants that I’ve mentioned will do well in the sun and all have moderate to high drought tolerance. If you try to plant one of these plants in a shady, wet spot in your yard, most likely you’ll find that you aren’t satisfied with the results. If you have a hot, sunny, dry spot where you just can’t get anything else to grow, however, plant one or more of the plants I’ve mentioned in this article and you’ll have a little taste of the beach right there at home.

Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or