Evergreens are choice plantings along the foundation of a building, and to bring year-round livelihood to a landscape. The environment along a coastline is often demanding on any plant, but evergreens even more so because their foliage is exposed to the abuse of wind and salt spray all year. There are many evergreens that have evolved to withstand these conditions, and serve functions ranging from wind breaks to seasonal interest.
Coastal areas differ in wind intensity, issues with salt spray or salt in the soils, composition of the soil, seasonal temperatures and annual rainfall. Evergreen plants for coastal conditions need to be chosen not only for their resistance to coastal factors, but also local factors. For this reason, the list of evergreens that work close to the shore is extremely limited the closer one gets to the seawater.
Evergreens must have salt tolerance to survive near the shore. Salt spray and salt in the soil will burn the leaves of non-tolerant varieties. They also cannot be brittle or have delicate leaves, because they may be exposed to constant winds. You can circumvent this requirement for areas sheltered from offshore winds. Most coastal areas have high sand content in the soil as well. While this contributes to good drainage, too much sand will mean that giving plants adequate water may be difficult. Choose drought-tolerant evergreens.
Evergreen varieties that work well near the shore include many pines, junipers, cypresses and palm trees. For foundation plants and wind breaks, consider Indian hawthorn, yaupon holly, oleander, privet, rugosa rose, pittosporum, century plants and eleagnus. There are far more small perennials to choose from, because these are often easier to protected from salt spray. Still, a bit of salt and wind tolerance helps tremendously. Consider yarrow, daylilies, Louisiana iris and rosemary.
Even with the availability of salt and wind-tolerant evergreen varieties, a sheltered spot can do wonders for improving the look and health of your evergreens. A raised berm to re-direct blasting coastal winds over the plants and the home provides relief for your plants. Strategically placing trellises and pergolas with tightly woven, salt-tolerant vines growing over them will catch salt spray. In the shelter of these barricades, plant evergreens or other plants with less wind and salt-spray tolerance. Take advantage of creeping evergreens with salt and drought tolerance instead of planting high-maintenance lawns.
Draw ideas for your evergreen plant list from native plants. Your local extension service can provide lists of evergreen plants that have adapted naturally to the exact conditions of your area. If there are native evergreens already on your property, try designing around them, or transplanting them before just removing them altogether. Use native plants as windbreaks, ground covers and greenery for the most demanding areas of your landscape. This will mean less maintenance for you and more success of your living landscape.