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Salt Tolerant Plants

sea side plants

If you garden near the seacoast, your plants are probably exposed to salt spray in the air and salt accumulation in the soil. Most plants require only trace amounts of salt (sodium chloride, aka NaCl), and when concentrations are too high it can be toxic to them. Find out more about salt tolerant plants and how to care for them here!

What Does Too Much Salt Do to Plants?

salt tolerant plant test
A salt test taken over 3 weeks by comparing a control plant to a plant that had 150 mM of salt added to it

Too much sodium causes wilting, slower growth, smaller leaves, and eventual death. Coastal gardeners aren’t the only ones to be concerned. Runoff from roads or sidewalks that are de-iced with salt in the winter can cause salty soils that many plants cannot tolerate.

The good news is that salt leaches from soil very quickly and where rainfall is 20 inches or more a year, toxic levels of salt do not accumulate in the soil. Near the coast, however, salt can be constantly deposited by wind spray. This is especially common in most parts of Florida and other coastal states. And up North or out West, runoff from salted roads or sidewalks can create toxic conditions for a few weeks in spring before the salt is leached away – long enough to kill susceptible plants.

How to Fix Salty Soil

muhly grass ornamental salt tolerant plant
Muhly Grass is an excellent choice for salty soils.

There are no amendments that can reduce salt levels in soil. You must grow plants in containers or select plants that are naturally tolerant of higher sodium levels. Plants that grow near coastal shorelines and beaches are naturally resistant to salty conditions. Such plants can be planted strategically so that they act as barriers to salt spray, thus protecting intolerant plants. Where de-icing salts are used in winter, protect susceptible plants with an row of salt tolerant plants adjacent to the road or sidewalk.

Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs that are naturally resistant to salty soils and coastal salt spray. Perfect Plants offers several on this list of salt tolerant plants.

Highly Salt Tolerant Shrubs & Perennials

Common NameBotanical Name
Century plantAgave americana
SilverthornElaeagnus pungens
yauponIlex vomitoria
wax myrtleMyrica cerifera
Adagio miscanthusMiscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’
Muhly grassMuhlenbergia capillaris
oleanderNerium oleander
wild oliveOsmanthus americanus
red bayPersea borbonia
pittosporumPittosporum tobira
rosemaryRosemary  officinalis
yuccasYucca spp.

Moderately Salt Tolerant Perennials & Shrubs

Common NameBotanical Name
saltbushBaccharis halimifolia
littleleaf boxwoodBuxus microphylla
American beautyberryCallicarpa americana
Sawara cypressChamaecyparis pisifera
sweet pepperbushClethra alnifolia
cotoneastersCotoneaster spp.
cypressesCupressus spp.
loquatEriobotrya japonica
eucalyptusEucalyptus cinerea
gardeniaGardenia jasminoides
rose of SharonHibiscus syriacus
holliesIlex spp.
Florida aniseIllicium floridanum
junipersJuniperus spp.
crape myrtleLagerstroemia spp.
Little Gem magnoliaMagnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
sweet bayMagnolia virginiana
mock orangePhiladelphus coronarius
mugo pinePinus mugo
podocarpusPodocarpus macrophyllus
Carolina laurelcherryPrunus caroliniana
beach plumPrunus maritima
pyracanthaPyracantha coccinea
sand live oakQuercus geminata
Indian hawthornRhapiolepis indica
staghorn sumacRhus typhina
Lady Banks roseRosa banksiae
beach roseRosa rugosa
American elderSambucus canadensis
Japanese spireaSpiraea japonica
tamiriskTamarisk ramosissima
yewsTaxus spp.
windmill palmTrachycarpus fortunei
arrowwoodViburnum dentatum

Highly Salt Tolerant Trees

Common NameBotanical Name
honeylocustGleditsia triacanthos
red cedarJuniperus virginiana
southern magnoliaMagnolia grandiflora
live oakQuercus virginiana

Moderately Salt Tolerant Trees

Common NameBotanical Name
horsechestnutAesculus hippocastanum
red buckeyeAesculus pavia
birchesBetula spp.
catalpaCatalpa bignonioides
cedarsCedrus spp.
hackberryCeltis laevigata
fringe treeChionanthus virginicus
American persimmonDiospyros virginiana
ashesFraxinus spp.
ginkgoGinkgo biloba
black walnutJuglans nigra
sweetgumLiquidambar styraciflua
black gumNyssa sylvatica
longleaf pinePinus palustris
Japanese pinePinus thunbergiana
oaksQuercus spp.
black locustRobinia pseudoacacia
bald cypressTaxodium distichum

Having these plants planted in your landscape will help if you live in an area with salty soil, salty wind, or salted roads. Salt can propose a problem to your plants and trees. With careful thought and preparation, gardening in salty areas has never been easier to master!

Happy planting!!

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