Salt Tolerant 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?

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 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 Name Botanical Name
Century plant Agave americana
Silverthorn Elaeagnus pungens
yaupon Ilex vomitoria
wax myrtle Myrica cerifera
Adagio miscanthus Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’
Muhly grass Muhlenbergia capillaris
oleander Nerium oleander
wild olive Osmanthus americanus
red bay Persea borbonia
pittosporum Pittosporum tobira
rosemary Rosemary  officinalis
yuccas Yucca spp.

Moderately Salt Tolerant Perennials & Shrubs

Common Name Botanical Name
saltbush Baccharis halimifolia
littleleaf boxwood Buxus microphylla
American beautyberry Callicarpa americana
Sawara cypress Chamaecyparis pisifera
sweet pepperbush Clethra alnifolia
cotoneasters Cotoneaster spp.
cypresses Cupressus spp.
loquat Eriobotrya japonica
eucalyptus Eucalyptus cinerea
gardenia Gardenia jasminoides
rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus
hollies Ilex spp.
Florida anise Illicium floridanum
junipers Juniperus spp.
crape myrtle Lagerstroemia spp.
Little Gem magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
sweet bay Magnolia virginiana
mock orange Philadelphus coronarius
mugo pine Pinus mugo
podocarpus Podocarpus macrophyllus
Carolina laurelcherry Prunus caroliniana
beach plum Prunus maritima
pyracantha Pyracantha coccinea
sand live oak Quercus geminata
Indian hawthorn Rhapiolepis indica
staghorn sumac Rhus typhina
Lady Banks rose Rosa banksiae
beach rose Rosa rugosa
American elder Sambucus canadensis
Japanese spirea Spiraea japonica
tamirisk Tamarisk ramosissima
yews Taxus spp.
windmill palm Trachycarpus fortunei
arrowwood Viburnum dentatum
bottlebrush Callistemon

Highly Salt Tolerant Trees

Common Name Botanical Name
honeylocust Gleditsia triacanthos
red cedar Juniperus virginiana
southern magnolia Magnolia grandiflora
live oak Quercus virginiana

Moderately Salt Tolerant Trees

Common Name Botanical Name
horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum
red buckeye Aesculus pavia
birches Betula spp.
catalpa Catalpa bignonioides
cedars Cedrus spp.
hackberry Celtis laevigata
fringe tree Chionanthus virginicus
American persimmon Diospyros virginiana
ashes Fraxinus spp.
ginkgo Ginkgo biloba
black walnut Juglans nigra
sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
black gum Nyssa sylvatica
longleaf pine Pinus palustris
Japanese pine Pinus thunbergiana
oaks Quercus spp.
black locust Robinia pseudoacacia
bald cypress Taxodium 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!!