Benefits of Coastal Landscaping

Find landscaping options for controlling coastal erosion and preventing storm damage, provided by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) StormSmart Coasts Program.

Landscaping your coastal property provides a range of benefits. See the information below for details on how coastal landscaping can help control erosion, provide a buffer to pollution, create wildlife habitat and enhance natural beauty, and lower your maintenance needs.

Photo of a landscaped coastal property

Erosion Control

Along the coast, beaches and dunes are constantly moving with winds and waves, coastal banks are eroding, and large amounts of sand are shifted during big storms. Rainwater and snowmelt can carry away exposed sand and soils, compounding erosion problems. The right landscaping approach can help counter the forces of wind, waves, and runoff, and protect property against erosion caused by storms and flooding.

Plants are one of the best natural remedies against the forces that cause erosion and destabilization of dunes, banks, and bluffs along the coastline. Trees, shrubs, and smaller plants have root systems that structurally reinforce and bind soils, reducing their susceptibility to erosion from wind or rain. In addition, plants take up water directly from the ground, absorb water through their leaves, break the impact of raindrops or wave-splash, and physically slow down the rate of water runoff, decreasing flows that can lead to erosion. Plants are therefore an excellent alternative to structural erosion control measures.

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Pollution Buffer

Coastal landscaping can help keep your bay or harbor clean. Excess sediments washed to coastal waters can smother eelgrass beds and other habitats, and can also reduce water quality. Nutrients from fertilizers, pet wastes, or septic systems can lead to nuisance plant or algae growth, while bacteria from the latter two sources can lead to closed shellfish beds and swimming areas. Oils and greases washed from roadways and driveways can also pollute water bodies. But plants offer a natural defense by capturing and filtering many of these pollutants before they reach coastal waters.

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Wildlife Habitat and Natural Beauty

Trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and grasses growing along the coast, particularly native species, provide shelter, nesting areas, and food for wildlife. These plants also beautify your yard, preserve the appearance of the natural shoreline, and provide privacy screening. In contrast, extensive lawns do not provide as much visual interest, stability against erosion (their roots are relatively shallow), or value for wildlife. In addition, fertilizers and pesticides used on lawns (especially with the quantities needed in sandy soils) can degrade water quality and may be hazardous to human health and wildlife. (If planting or maintaining a lawn along the coast, see Lawns under Tips for Planting, Installation, and Maintenance.)

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Lower Maintenance Needs

Native plants (i.e., those that originally grew in this area) are adapted to local conditions, and consequently require less maintenance, watering, fertilizer, and pest control than introduced species. Because certain natives thrive in coastal conditions, they may also out-compete and control unwanted invasive species, such as multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), all of which tend to take over and require a lot of pulling and weeding to keep a tidy appearance. CZM recommends the use of native plants wherever possible but has included certain non-native species in this website that have specific coastal landscaping advantages and no known environmental impacts. When selecting plants, always be sure to avoid invasive species by checking the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group's Evaluation of Non-Native Plant Species for Invasiveness in Massachusetts (PDF, 272 KB) or the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England.

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