Coastal Gardening: Screens and Hedges for the Sea Coast Garden

If you’re gardening on the sea coast, the wind can make it hard to enjoy being outdoors. Using fast-growing hedges or screening plants can help you block the wind and enjoy hanging out and working in your garden.

How to use hedges and screens successfully to block wind:

  • First, think of what direction the wind comes most strongly from, most often. Could you put a section of tall screening shrubs just along one side of your property and block the majority of the wind?
  • Next, think about light: most screening plants will grow faster and thicker with full sunshine. Can you put your screening shrubs far enough away from any other plants or structures that they will get full sun? (What does full sun mean?)
  • Consider the view. Obviously, you love the beauty of the ocean and don’t want to block your view! Think about whether you can create little “viewing corridors” from the places you sit most, so you can block a lot of the wind but not ruin your view.
  • It’s possible to use fences or even large windows to block the wind. A number of my clients have decks that are surrounded with 6’ tall glass panels, so you can sit outside and enjoy the view without having sand blown into your coffee.
  • It’s best if you can use a gradated effect to planting your screen, with 5’ shrubs leading to 10’ shrubs leading to taller ones as needed. This helps move the wind up and away from your garden and helps share the burden of the wind along more than one plant, preventing your plants from breaking during storms.

Which plants will work as a hedge or screen?

You want them to grow fast, be tough enough to take the salt wind, and grow thick and bushy so the wind gets stopped in its tracks. Here are a few good contenders.

California Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica) is a California native that not only helps support wildlife, but is an attractive deep-green screening shrub. It grows to 12’ fairly quickly (5-8 years), and responds well to hedging or natural pruning. This is one of the few screens I’d try in shade, but it grows faster in sun.

Purple Hopseed Bush (Dodonea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) A fast-growing evergreen shrub with lovely purple foliage and little pink seed-pods that glow when the sun shines through them. To 12-15’ in 3-5 years with good care.

Tough Rhododendron varieties can often perform well. Try ‘Anah Kruschke’, a  purple bloomer that gets to 8’ in ten years.

Escallonia is a common hedge that the honeybees and hummingbirds enjoy. If you’re sick of seeing the pink ones everywhere, there are some rather elegant white varieties that are harder to find but are every bit as tough, and the white flowers give it a much different appearance. Most get around 8’ tall in ten years.

Pittosporum tenuifolium is another hedging plant that performs well, but you might be sick of seeing. Fortunately, varieties like ‘Silver Sheen’ and ‘Variegata’ can provide some foliage interest while still blocking the wind.

Some other ideas are tough varieties of Bamboo, large Phormium or Flax varieties, Leyland Cypress sheared yearly into a hedge, Miscanthus Grass for a summer and fall screen, and shrubby varieties of Arbutus like Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’, which does double-duty to feed the birds.

Want to read more about gardening on the seacoast?

Coastal Gardening Basics

Shade-Loving Plants for the Sea Coast

Ground Cover Plants for the Sea Coast

Perennial Flowers for the Sea Coast

4 responses to “Coastal Gardening: Screens and Hedges for the Sea Coast Garden”

  1. When I gardened on the coast ( Monterey, Carmel and Mendocino ) my go to sea side hedges were : Leptospermum , Ceanothus, Echium, Grevilleas, and Baccharis.
    Great essay Gen with good info for the CA seacoast gardener .

  2. Wow, Michelle, coming from you that’s a real compliment. Thank you!

    I love your picks for seacoast gardening. There’s a gorgeous variegated Echium with a Star Wars style name – I think it’s called Death Star? And yeah, Ceanothus are always winners in my book. I haven’t tried any Grevilleas on the coast except the groundcovering varieties ‘Coastal Gem’ and ‘Austraflora Fanfare’, which do great. Thanks for the tip!