Salt Tolerant Plants

Salt and plants are never a good mix. Saline in soil prevents plants from absorbing water, making most plants struggle and die in coastal communities. The sea spray can lead to leaf burn, which causes leaf drop and then death. Some hearty plants can thrive close to the ocean, even close enough to be subject to sea spray.

The sandy soils found near beach areas retain less water and nutrients than do less porous soils, so plants growing in the former are especially susceptible to salt damage. If you're lucky, salt damage may manifest itself only in leaf-burn; but the worst cases progress from leaf-drop to death! Thus the need for information on salt-tolerant plants. (Plants tolerant of salt are indicated as so on each plant page)


Salt tolerance of different plants is usually grouped into three classes:

SALT TOLERANT plants are resistant to extreme conditions and can be used in exposed areas where salt spray is evident. (American Holly, Black Pine, Blue Pacific Juniper, Blue Dune Grass, Artemesia)

MODERATELY SALT TOLERANT: plants always need protection from salt spray but will tolerate some inundations by storm surges. They are best used behind fences or buildings. (Blue Point Juniper, Weeping Willow, Boxwood, Indian Hawthorn, Maiden Grass)

SLIGHTLY SALT TOLERANT: plants always need protection from salt spray and should be protected by fences or buildings. (Bald Cypress, Sweet Gum, Butterfly Bush, Japanese Ligustrum)

Good planting practices go a long way in ensuring your plants survive these harsh conditions:

* At the time of planting, amend soil with organic matter - this will provide nutrients and water holding capability

* Avoid fertilizers with high salt levels of chlorine, sodium and sulfate. Slow-release, organic fertilizers are best.

* Provide good drainage.  This will help prevent salt buildup in the root zone.

* Water thoroughly, never lightly.  This will tend to leach salts deeper into the soil.

* Have soil tested for PH by local Agricultural Extension Agent. Alkaline soil (ph above 6-6.5), add gypsum or other limestone material to improve the cation exchange of the soil and reduce sodium uptake.