The Effect of Saltwater on the Growth of Plants


Growing a garden full of healthy and beautiful plants is dependent on a few basic growing conditions. Among these are suitable soil and water for nutrition and hydration. Sometimes, especially in coastal areas, soil becomes contaminated with saltwater, compromising plant health. Fortunately, gardeners dealing with the effects of saltwater on plants can learn how to help their gardens stay healthy.


Saltwater damages plants when salt is taken into plant tissues. The salt builds up, interfering with plant processes. Saltwater also deprives plants of water by inhibiting the process of osmosis, whereby water easily passes through root tissues into the plant.

Sources of Contamination

Soil can become contaminated by saltwater through coastal or tidal flooding, and by rising water tables. An abundance of salt spray can also contaminate soil as it washes off sidewalks, patios and plant surfaces into the soil.


Plants suffering from saline toxicity in soil show brown leaf margins. Sometimes they turn yellow with green veins (chlorosis). As chlorosis progresses, leaves can turn brown or black and fall off. A general decline of health and death can follow. Salt spray can cause brown spots on plant leaves, sometimes damaging them.


Grow plants in well-drained soil, which allows fresh water to wash salt out. Fertilize plants only when needed and according to label directions to avoid contributing fertilizer minerals to soil salinity. If your water table is rising, raise the garden beds, using plenty of organic matter and sand to improve drainage.

Plant Selection

Choose plants that tolerate saline soils. Salt-tolerant trees include Russian olive, Leyland cypress, yaupon holly, and southern magnolia. Shrubs include rosemary, rugosa rose, forsythia, rose of sharon and bigleaf (common) hydrangea. Many ornamental grasses are salt-tolerant, including pampas grass, maiden grass and Muhlygrass. Salt-tolerant perennials include daylily, lantana and blanket flower.

Keywords: Saltwater effects plants, Salt Tolerant Plants, Saline Soil Toxicity

About this Author

Robert Lewis has been writing do-it-yourself and garden-related articles since 2000. He holds a B.A. in history from the University of Maryland and has training experience in finance, garden center retailing and teaching English as a second language. Lewis is an antiques dealer specializing in Chinese and Japanese export porcelain.