Elisabeth C. Miller Library

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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Glyceria, Muhlenbergia, Holodiscus discolor, Elymus mollis, Symphoricarpos albus, Rosa nutkana, Vaccinium ovatum, Mahonia aquifolium, Festuca, Seaside gardening, Gaultheria shallon

Do you have some suggestions for hardy, lower growing plants that would do well near the water? Our house is on the south side of Whidbey Island. The main plantings will be behind the house, thus roughly 75-100 yards from the shore. This part of the yard has early morning sun and then some shade in the afternoon. And, since we have a large yard at home we are working toward very low maintenance at the beach.


The following plants are mentioned in April Pettinger's book, Native Plants in the Coastal Garden (Whitecap, 2002):


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)
Gaultheria shallon (Salal)
Vaccinium ovatum (Evergreen huckleberry)
Rosa nutkana (Nootka rose)
Holodiscus discolor (Oceanspray)
Symphoricarpos albus (Snowberry)
Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)


Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue)
Festuca idahoensis spp. roemeri (Roemer's fescue)
Leymus mollis or Elymus mollis (Dunegrass)
Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hairgrass)
Festuca rubra (Red fescue)
Glyceria grandis (Reed mannagrass)
Muhlenbergia glomerata (Marsh muhly)

There are many other ideas in this book, which I highly recommend.

Date 2019-04-06
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: salt-tolerant plants, Seaside gardening, Ornamental grasses

What ornamental grasses can I plant near salt water, and is there a local nursery that specializes in grasses?


As far as nursery sources, I think a full-service nursery is your best bet for finding ornamental grasses. The only "specialist" in grasses I could find is Walla Walla Nursery, which seems a long way from Seattle to go.

King County's interactive native plant guide also includes a page on marine (salt water) shoreline plants. At the bottom of the page, note the three native grasses which are recommended:

  • Lyngbye's sedge (Carex lyngbyei)
  • tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa
  • dunegrass (Elymus mollis)

The following list of plants according to their salt tolerance comes from University of Minnesota Extension, but there may be some ornamental grasses that will do well here.
From the lists:

  • Calamagrostis acutifolia 'Karl Foerster' (Karl Foerster reed grass): high tolerance
  • Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem): high tolerance
  • Elymus arenarius (Blue Lyme grass): high tolerance
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides (Fountain Grass): high tolerance
  • Festuca 'Elijah Blue' 'Elijah Blue' fescue: moderate tolerance

In her book Gardening at the Shore (Timber Press, 2006), Frances Tenenbaum lists a number of ornamental grasses (in addition to dune grasses):

  • Festuca glauca
  • Miscanthus sinensis
  • Muhlenbergia capillaris
  • Stipa tenuissima [now renamed Nassella tenuissima--in my experience, this grass is aggressive, seeding itself everywhere; the seedheads stick to people and pets who walk past it]

There are many attractive cultivated varieties of some of the plants listed above, and most local nurseries will carry them.

Date 2019-05-04
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: salt-tolerant plants, Shrubs, Seaside gardening, Perennials

I need plant suggestions for growing in cold, salty winds only 15 to 20 feet from the high water mark of the Georgia Straits. In winter, the salt water from the ocean occasionally douses the area where I will be gardening. I'm particularly interested in perennials and small shrubs.


I found a list from Island County, WA (no longer available online) with revisions added for Bay Area gardeners.
"Some of the better salt-tolerant shrubs and small trees to consider include Salal (Gautheria shallon), Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Elderberry (Sambucus species), Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana), and the Wax Myrtle (Myrica [now called Morella] californica).

There are a variety of native plants that are commonly found near the shoreline, and which typically do well in the Puget Sound area. These include the sword fern (Polystichum munitum), Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilimum), Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), Coastal lupine (Lupinus littoralis), Honeysuckle (Lonicera species), and Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)."

Washington Native Plant Society also has a list of plants for a saltwater setting.

I recently answered a question about salt-tolerant grasses which may be helpful to you as well.

The book cited in the answer above, Frances Tenenbaum's Gardening at the Shore, also lists shrubs and perennials. Below are those which might work in zone 8 or lower, and which are smaller than 20 feet.

  • Acca (also called Feijoa) sellowiana (8-12 feet)
  • Amelanchier (small tree/large shrub)
  • Arbutus (there are some smaller species than the familiar Pacific madrone)
  • Arctostaphylos patula (6 feet)
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (ground cover)
  • Atriplex canescens (3-5 feet)
  • Baccharis halimifolia (6-10 feet)
  • Calluna vulgaris (from 6 inches to 2 feet)
  • Caryopteris x clandonensis (2-3 feet)
  • Ceanothus (many varieties of different sizes, from ground cover to 20 feet)
  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (look for a dwarf variety of this tree)
  • Clethra alnifolia (8 feet)
  • Gaultheria shallon (ground cover)
  • Hydrangea macrophylla (6-8 feet)
  • Juniperus virginiana (look for creeping juniper cultivars like 'Bar Harbor' and 'Blue Rug' which are salt-tolerant)
  • Picea glauca (look for dwarf cultivars like 'Arneson's Blue')
  • Rhus typhina
  • Rosa rugosa
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Syringa vulgaris
  • Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
  • Viburnum (numerous species of different sizes)


  • Achillea
  • Armeria maritima
  • Artemisia 'Powis Castle'
  • Artemisia schmidtiana
  • Asclepias tuberosa
  • Baptisia australis
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro'
  • Nepeta x faassenii and Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'
  • Perovskia atriplicifolia
  • Platycodon grandiflorus
  • Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Date 2018-09-12
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