It's all about putting the right plant in the right place

Waterfronts have different plant needs

May 26, 2008 

So you finally have your place on the water. You’ve worked out the details on your home, whether it’s humble or fancy. Now what?

What about the yard and the usual talk of landscaping? Do you apply the same rules of caretaking that you learned around a home far inland?

The answer is no — living on the water is different. The environmental system around the water is fragile, easily destroyed. So what are some rules of a green-thumb for your yard on the water?

The basic rule of thumb is do nothing. More precisely, that means do not disturb any native vegetation that still exists on your piece of heaven. These plants are well-adapted to life on the coast — to growing conditions we might think of as rather harsh, such as salt air.

Thus, they are easy-care ornamentals. More than that, these plants help protect your investment by stabilizing sandy soils with their often-deep roots and by acting as baffles for gusty winds.

You may agree that doing nothing is not a bad rule, anyway for a retirement or vacation home. The pace of life, after all, is usually one of relaxation.

But what if you like yard work, consider it enjoyable and relaxing? Is there puttering around you can do? Things that will enhance rather than stress the natural workings of your coastal plot? Yes.

An important exception to doing nothing is to destroy — safely — any invasive exotic plants encroaching. Invasive exotics are nonnative plants that have turned out to be very aggressive.

They escape easily from cultivation, and having no natural enemies here, spread wildly, crowding out the natives and ripping apart the fabric of natural biodiversity. Often, the qualities for which they were introduced are the very reasons they become such a problem: They grow and reproduce easily, have few or no pests, and tolerate a wide range of conditions.

If you think your coastal haven harbors one or more invasive exotics, check the identity with a local botanist, extension agent, nursery expert or state regional biologist. Learn all you can about the plants’ habits and how to get rid of them so they don’t accidentally spread to another spot.

If you want to add to your heavenly setting, plant coastal natives. They come in all types, from lovely ground cover to sturdy tree. And before you rush right out to your nearest nursery, take a look around your place in the sun. Get to know the natural habitat (visit a state park, for example).

Use this as a guideline: How might your home nestle more comfortably into the environment?

Listen and read, too. A lot of information is available about our ecosystem from the library, local native-plant society, and various local and state agencies. Just ask.

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