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Australian Coastal Plants: From Beach to Backyard

Choosing plants that thrive in coastal areas around Australia is not that difficult if you understand the basics and the things that these plants have to cope with.

One example of the conditions that coastal plants need to endure is exposure to winds and salt spray. It’s also common for soils in coastal areas to be very sandy and free-draining.

For these reasons, there are a few things to consider when selecting plants that will thrive in these conditions.

Choose plants that:

  • Have silver-grey foliage to deflect the sun’s rays
  • Are slender and grass-like so that the wind can blow right through without damaging the foliage
  • Have thick leathery or fleshy leaves that will hold moisture for longer
  • Are low-growing with a rounded shape so the wind can blow right over them

Here are some of the best plants to grow in coastal regions around Australia:

Spiny Saltbush (Rhagodia spinescens)

Rhagodia spinescens Spiny Saltbush cropped | Plant varieties
Rhagodia spinescens / Photo by Daderot / Wikimedia (cropped) / CC0 1.0

The spiny saltbush is an Australian native shrub with silver foliage. It’s quite low-growing and will only reach a total height of 1.5 metres. However, it will spread over the ground to a width of 4 metres.

This low-maintenance plant will grow either in full sun or light shade. It can handle a variety of different soil types as long as the soil is free-draining. 

The dense foliage can be pruned into shape and it can even be trimmed to form a low hedge. It also provides a nice hiding spot for lizards and small birds and produces small cream flowers in summer.

Cushion Bush (Leucophyta brownii)

Cushion Bush Leucophyta brownii | Plant varieties
Leucophyta brownii

This is another silver-leaved plant that is perfect for coastal gardens. It produces masses of round pale gold or silver flowers in summer. 

This is another low-maintenance plant and requires minimal pruning thanks to its natural round shape. Being low-growing, it only reaches a maximum height and spread of 1.2 metres.

The cushion bush can be grown in full sun or light shade and will handle almost any soil type. It even tolerates light frost and is drought-hardy.

Tussock Grass (Poa labillardierei)

Poa labillardierei Common Tussock grass Eskdale | Plant varieties
Poa labillardierei / Photo by Harry Rose / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Tussock grass is another Australian native plant that is favoured by local councils thanks to its usefulness for erosion control. The fine feathery foliage is blue-gray in colour and adds a touch of softness to the garden.

In summer, the plant produces feathery flowerheads. It can often be found growing naturally along creek banks and exposed shorelines. This native grass will grow in full sun or part shade and can handle most soil types, even those that are a little damp.

This is another low-growing plant that only reaches a height of 1.2 metres.

Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)

Geraldton Wax Chamelaucium uncinatum | Plant varieties
Chamelaucium uncinatum

There’s something quite special about the floral display of Geraldton wax. In winter and spring, the plant is covered with delicate-looking wax flowers. These are often used by florists and are great as cut flowers.

The fine foliage can handle coastal conditions quite well as long as the plant is given a little protection from high winds. The plant responds well to regular tip pruning to encourage a nice bushy growth habit.

Although this plant is native to Western Australia, I grew it successfully in Brisbane quite a few years ago. It is both frost and drought-tolerant.

Coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia)

Banksia integrifolia var. integrifolia | Plant varieties
Banksia integrifolia (Coast Banksia) / Photo by PDH / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Take a walk along any coastal track and you’re sure to come across this attractive banksia with its golden brush-like flowers. There are varieties that are low-growing ground covers and these will cascade happily down banks or along borders.

On the other hand, the original species can grow to a height of 10 metres and be covered in those golden flowers in winter.

The coastal banksia absolutely loves sandy soils and is drought-resistant and low-maintenance. Plus, bees and birds love the nectar-filled flowers.

Native Pigface (Carpobrotus rossii)

Native Pigface Carpobrotus rossii | Plant varieties
Carpobrotus rossii

This colourful succulent is another common sight around the Australian coastline. Its thick fleshy leaves are perfectly adapted to living in dry, sandy soils. There are numerous different varieties of pigface with different flower colours from bright pink to icy white.

Interestingly, the leaves are edible and have a salty flavour. The sap from the leaves is also useful for relieving the sting from insect bites, which is handy to know when you’re down the beach and being attacked by midges.

Callistemon ‘Captain Cook’ (Callistemon viminalis ‘Captain Cook’)

Callistemon ‘Captain Cook Callistemon viminalis ‘Captain Cook | Plant varieties
Callistemon viminalis ‘Captain Cook’

There’s nothing quite as spectacular as a Callistemon‘ Captain Cook’ in full bloom. When conditions are right, this plant will be covered with a profusion of red bottlebrush flowers. These are a magnet for local birds that feed on the nectar.

Callistemon ‘Captain Cook’ is low-maintenance but will benefit from some tip pruning after flowering has finished. This will result in a bushier plant and a greater profusion of flowers the following year. It will grow in full sun and light shade.

Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)

Westringia Fruticosa 1 | Plant varieties
Westringia fruticosa / Photo by Georgios Liakopoulos / 500px, Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Coastal Rosemary is a compact, rounded shrub that grows up to 2 metres tall and up to 4 metres wide, making it well suited for low hedging or as an ornamental plant in a native garden.

It has dense green foliage and small fan-shaped white or lilac flowers that bloom in the spring and summer months but can appear year-round.

Westringia fruticosa thrives in coastal areas, particularly the coastal regions of eastern Australia.

It’s a hardy plant that prefers full sun and well-draining loamy soil.

Native Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii)

Alyogyne huegelii | Plant varieties
Alyogyne huegelii / Photo by Cygnis insignia / Wikimedia

The native Hibiscus is a medium/large-sized shrub reaching about two metres tall and wide. Its beautiful large purple flowers appear in Spring and Autumn.

This plant can mostly be found in Western Australia and is perfect for coastal areas.

Native Hibiscus is a great option for any gardener who wants something that adds a pop of colour and requires minimal maintenance.

Cousin It (Casuarina glauca)

Casuarina glauca Cousin It | Plant varieties
Casuarina glauca / Photo by Nadiatalent / Wikimedia (cropped) / CC BY-SA 4.0

Cousin It is a low-growing she-oak native to Australia. It’s quite a spectacular plant and has many useful applications in the garden.

This hardy native is easy to grow and low-maintenance. This makes it perfect for a landscaped garden that relies on form and structure. It will grow in most areas of Australia including cooler areas as well as sub-tropical regions.

Cousin It is quite salt-tolerant which makes it an ideal plant for coastal gardens. It looks fantastic when planted en masse as a ground cover or cascading over a tall retaining wall.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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