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Winglewich's Top 10 Plants For Beach Houses!

Ask a non-Californian a place they associate California with. They'll probably name-drop Los Angeles, or The Golden Gate, or CA Route One. Notice a theme? They're all near the beach.

Beaches in CA are somewhat of a sacred place in the cultural zeitgeist. Heck, The Beach Boys and surf-rock dominated the 60s, most songs referencing or gleaning inspiration from the beaches of California. It's a place to let the kids and dogs explore, somewhere to cool off from the intense, bone-dry valley heat, or even a place of solace - somewhere to sit in the sand and let the ebbing, flowing breakers slowly pull your negative thoughts out to sea.

Those who own beachfront property all view their homes as one-of-a-kind palaces, no matter how small, run-down, or ugly they are. And if you're trying to turn that beach-bum bungalow into a picturesque hideaway that would make even the stingiest AirBnB'er fork out hundreds, here's a few plants I like to recommend for landscape installs on the beach.

10) Euryops chrysanthemoides (African Bush Daisy)

Why is this tough-as-nails little evergreen shrub on the list?

They're bombproof. The one thing that will lead an African Bush Daisy down the path of eternal suffering is cold snaps, which, as a rule, the beach is (usually) exempt from. Thanks to the marine layer, the beach almost never gets cold enough to freeze, and doesn't become an oven like the inland areas. Expect 40-80 degree temps year-round.

African Bush Daisies grow to about 6 feet tall/high max, hang onto their yellow blooms longer than most plants, and live relatively long lives, although they get pretty twisted and gnarled in their old age (This is a feature, not a bug, trust me.) Well drained, yet consistantly moist soils tend to yield the best results, and while it tolerates very sandy soils, it loves clay loam.

9) Erigeron Karvinskianus (Mexican Fleabane)

The good news: Mexican Fleabane grows everywhere. The bad news: Mexican Fleabane grows everywhere.

Seriously, if you have a little wind and moisture, your garden can get overrun by these. But it's an invasion I welcome. Imagine a year-round lump of dainty, yet enduring white, yellow, and pink flowers the size of your fingernail growing in 1 foot tall, 3 foot wide clumps all over the cracks of your rock walls, spilling over planters, filling in gaps between shrubs, and softening up all those rough hardscape edges. That's the Mexican Fleabane, and it thrives in temperate, moist coastal climates. They're not aggressive, simply prolific.

8) Salvia Leucophyllia (Purple Sage)

Back when gold was in the hills and railroads were king, Iceplant (Carpobrotus Erdulis) was introduced to stabilize railroad embankments. It worked-albeit too well. This greenish-red succulent relative went on a tear along the California coastline, choking out every competing species with its advantageous webs of roots and stunning flowers. It's in bad taste to plant it now. However the advantages to a prolific carpet of purple and green is hard to ignore. It crowds out weeds, looks neat, and sandy soils under the plant succumb less to erosion by oceanic winds and heavy rains.

Purple Sage is my recommended Iceplant substitute. It posesses key characteristics of iceplant (soil stabilization, very low maintenance, covers lots of ground). It spreads, but not quickly, and has a softer, more approachable vibe than the chunky, domineering iceplant tendrils. Nutrient poor soil means absolutely nothing to this hearty little fellow, and you will very likely see it growing wild in absolutely stark places, standing out amongst dead grasses and coyotebush with its signature, erect stalks of deep purple.

7) Echium Candicans (Pride Of Madeira)

Speaking of erect stalks of deep purple, here's the Purple Stage on steroids. There is not one coastal town in this great state which you can drive through and NOT see a Pride Of Madeira bush. Greyish, fuzzy foliage towers to ten feet tall and ten feet wide in the right conditions. Each Pride Of Madeira is like a snowflake; no two look the same. Some take on the appearance of dwarf trees, others neat little balls chock full of foliage. Additionally, keep an eye out for giant funky fan-shaped appendages. They are rare and enchanting.

Pride Of Madeira blooms are unforgettable. Expect to see giant, phallic clusters of deep purple shooting into the June and July sky. Of course, these shrivel up and turn black when they go to seed, and many gardeners choose to deadhead, or remove them, at this point. These black seeds, which get stuck to even the poly'est of blends, reliably propagate new plants if left in even a semi-fertile patch of coastal soil. This is an important part of their short lives - if one lasts five years, it's an extremely old plant. Maintenance will be needed to trim the dead buds and remove old, dead bushes to make room for the new generations, but take care - I find the fuzzy leaves to be a bit itchy if I brush against them with bare arms.

6) Literally Any Succulent, But Especially Crassula Ovata (Jade)

A Jade Plant is the lazy gardener's dream. Not only does it grow slow and adore sandy, nutrient devoid soil, but it prunes itself. That's right - and you're more likely to damage it by trying to coddle it and tend to it too much. Don't try to make it a bonsai - it will do this on its own.

Jade Plants are succulents. I'm no succulent expert, I just think they're neat, and deserve a home in any listicle regarding western gardening. (I would love to be a succulent expert) This is one of the larger succulents, with its twisted, papery stems and bulbous variagated leaflets. The act of self-pruning is a delightful and calculated act on the plant's part to promote air circulation and reduce the chances of it getting overweight and suffering a massive split or break. (My client's fruit trees should take some lessons from the Jade Plant.) Jade tolerates small pots just as eagerly as wide open spaces, so long as they are not disturbed or handled roughly.

Also, FYI, almost any succulent will thrive on the coast. When in doubt, succulent out.

5) Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm)

Palms are a shoe-in for beaches. Sandy soil, moist air, and a low chance of freezing gives the palm tree an ideal habitat. Many palms would be a great #5 choice, but the winner to me is the only California native palm - the California Fan Palm.

The California Fan Palm isn't for everyone. If you want a tall tree with a moderate water consumption and beautiful, fuss-free fronds, this is your dream. If you want small palms, stay away. Yes, you may have to water it until the roots dive deep and long enough to tap into water, and yes, it may drop a big brown frond occasionally. These are part and parcel of palm ownership, but most people would accept these drawbacks for the iconic look of a palm on the seashores of the golden coast.

4) Artemisa "Powis Castle"

This cult favorite is greyish-blue, mounding, and as soft looking as it is adaptable. To me, Powis Castle Artemisa is a smart landscaper's "Go-To" for modest, muted, low-growing shrubs. Yes, Crassula, Sage, and Palms are aggressive, unique, eye catching, but just like every loud and rowdy friend group needs the quiet, sensible voice of reason, a good beach landscape needs uniform, low growing, mounding plants. Place it in empty spots, hide a foundation line or valve box, or surround a tall palm or light post with them. As long as the soil is well-drained, the Powis Castle endures.

3) Pinus Mugo (Dwarf Mugo Pine)

In the 70's, Juniper, a lush,shaggy, green shrub, capable of growing large or being kept sheared and small, took California by storm. Junipers used moderate to low amounts of water, needed little care, and grew almost anywhere. They lived long, looked great, and...caught on fire. A lot.

For this reason, along with changing ideas of what makes a landscape great, the Juniper wears an albatross around its dusty, prickly, oily neck. If you desire a long lived lump of green at your coastal property, let me introduce you to the Dwarf Mugo Pine. They grow to about 8 feet tall and wide, tolerate a broad spectrum of soils and weather conditions, and can be pruned just about any way you like. Keep it high and tight, let it bush out, or train it into a bonsai. Anything goes.

What makes this a nice choice for the coast is the typical inland beetles and gremlins plauging members of the Pinus family are low in numbers. Winds blowing in from the sea are typically clean and don't contain a shebang of horticultural gremlins (YET) if you're close to the ocean. You'll still get a borer or canker occasionally, but less than inland. Water it deeply and occasionally, prune it if you like, and enjoy the peace of mind of not owning a hyper-combustible bush.

2) Callestemon Spp. (Bottlebrush)

An australian native, this rugged, reddish-green survivor will make a bold statement in the beachside landscape. Bottlebrush, variety dependent, can look weepy or sturdy, like a small tree, a big bush, or a knee-high shrub. The flowers are quirky and needle-like, the stems and trunks remind me of manzanitas or madrones, and the leaves are pointy and irregular. A very showy and stunning offering to occupy any space you see fit. Make sure they aren't planted in a bog (mounds and hills are best) position them in the sun, mix up a little compost amendment when planted, and the bottlebrush is off to the races.

Pruning is best when minimal. A hacked up bottlebrush is an ugly thing - give it space to grow to its full potential. I'm a fan of Bottlebrush against south facing walls, fences, and buildings. They can hide garbage cans, backflows, HVAC units, and add pizzazz to any space without adding too much leaf litter or maintenance concerns. Water occasionally but thoroughly.

1) Baumea Rubignosa v.Varigata (Striped Rush)

Here's a marshy, beach-y, aquatic looking native grass which gets criminally overlooked by all but the most prudent local designers. Despite resembling an exotic bamboo, it's a grass!

This is a rugged survivalist in delicate pondside drag. Dry soils? Sure. Boggy marshes? Absolutely. Lots of shade? Can Do. No shade? No problem. Buy a tiny one; let it acclimate.

Striped Rush grows about 2 feet in diameter and five feet tall. However, there's a glorious specimen in the front yard of a property in Salmon Creek i have maintained for years, and it's a whopping four feet wide and eight feet tall. And it grows in pure sand and gets whipped by winds around the clock.

The Striped Rush is a native, with a radical appearance. It will seperate your landscape from all the cookie-cutter assemblies of mediocrity that dot your neighborhood, while simultaneously looking exotic without a bit of cliche. And it will thrive wherever you put it. For this reason, the Striped Rush is my number one pick for beach houses.

Dishonorable Mention: Cortadeira selloana (Pampas)

Holy cow. If I could I would absolutely banish you to Plant Jail if you aid, abet, propagate, or establish these monster plumes of grass. These love coastal climates, to the point where they seed themselves all over the rocky hills and sandy pits of the California Coastline. They became popular as screening plants - I mean, they look like jumbo-size fountain grass, I get the appeal. But then they went everywhere. And I hate them. Not only do they crowd out delicate natives, they seem predisposed to growing as close as possible to roadsides and creating hazardous blind spots and terrifying experiences when trying to pull out of certain parking areas and drives. You need mega machines to properly remove them, and even if you pull one out, they will dump their poofy tufts of seeds and two more will return. It's the Medusa's Head of coastal garden cleanup. It's awful. Please don't buy or tolerate them.

Coastal gardening comes with its own set of challenges and rewards. There are hundreds of good choices aside from these - but when I think of a home by the beach, these always come to the front of my mind. If you need help installing, caring for, or planning a coastal landscape, or any landscape at all - CALL WINGLE!


If I don't respond, I'm probably trying to destroy a 14 foot wide clump of Pampas Grass.

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