Living by the sea is beautiful, but every year we must deal with beach erosion. This year was particularly bad for many waterfront owners, here are some steps that can be taken to help minimize the loss of sand.
Plant vegetation is our best means of holding onto what sand we have. Cape Dune Grass is one of the best, both through its root mass and through the foliage that gathers flying sand particles. This native plant will grow in pure sand and can be sprayed with salt water. The planting period of Cape Dune Grass is February through mid April and again, mid October through the first part of December.
Two plant sprigs per hole per square foot are sufficient. The dormant plants are usually sold in bunches of approximately 300 per bunch. These plants are put in dormant and do not need to be “watered in”. Fertilizing is recommended each early spring with a slow release nitrogen so it does not leach past the roots. Do not worry if the plants get buried by the sand for they will grow through. No mowing is required and should be avoided. This plant can also be planted away from the ocean in a full sun sand environment.
The next plant in succession moving away from the water is the non-native plant Rosa rugosa or Beach Rose. This plant too will grow in the poorest of soils, full sun and salt spray. It will colonize and become a big clump and in time, will send out a deeper and vast root system. The plant is deciduous producing either pink or white flowers in the summer, followed by red hips in the early fall. This plant has an added benefit where it is used for inhibiting foot traffic due it’s very thorny canes. This plant can be pruned back in the early spring to thicken and also benefits from a yearly application of fertilizer. This plant originally came from China but has freely colonized up and down the east coast.
The next two plants that are native and just back up the slope from the beach rose are Bayberry and Beach Plum. These are again deciduous and can take salt spray but not go under water. These are much larger plants and can be up to ten feet tall given the right environment. They will tend to be smaller next to the ocean due to the winds. These plants are best planted early in the spring with some care given to water until they are established.
Next behind the deciduous bushes that can block the wind, you will start to see your toughest evergreens: Juniper virginiana, Austrian Pine and Japanese Black Pine. All of theses can take sandy soil, limited salt spray and full sun.
There are many strategies employed in arresting soil erosion including the use of rip rap stone walls, fences and erosion cloths. No two situations are the same and local conservation agents need to be consulted for some projects.