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One of my favorite things to do is get outside and landscape. When making over our home exterior, I loved designing flower ideas for the front of our house. In my opinion, the perfect landscaping can really help give a home that “wow” factor and totally transform your exterior with great curb appeal.
We already had some southern trees planted like crepe myrtles that just needed a little attention, but I wanted to add a few more plants that would do well in the Lowcountry and really make our yard stand out. We focused on our driveway entrance, side yard, and front yard when coming up with our landscape design and I wanted to make sure I chose plants that would be salt tolerant, heat tolerant, and low maintenance.
There are several things to keep in mind when choosing new plants for your landscaping like knowing your growing zone, figuring out which plants are best for your area, researching the best kind of lighting for them to survive, and comparing plant heights. Some plants also look best when grouped together – I always try to group things in odd numbers for visual purposes. Keep on reading to hear about my favorite plants that we have used in our coastal landscaping for our southern home.
Selecting Plants for Your Coastal Landscaping
First, figure out your growing zone, which tells you which plants will survive and thrive in your specific area. Then, determine the plant heights and which plants will look best in multiples. Make sure to consider the amount of sunlight or shade your yard gets, as well as your soil type and plants’ water needs.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Before you get started with designing your southern landscaping, figure out what zone you live in. This map will help you determine your own zone. Our cold hardiness zone is 8a, with the lowest average temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll definitely need to know your zone before going to the garden center. Most plants will have a label saying what zones they will survive in. If not, you can always ask an employee (or Google) for a specific plant’s hardiness zone.
One time at Lowes I found my favorite tropical bushes that I’ve seen used in Florida landscaping. I was so excited to see them in my garden center thinking I would be able to use them in our side yard garden beds, but nope. It was all a mistake – our local garden center got a large shipment by accident, but they were not designated for our area. All I could think of were those poor homeowners that planted them only to have them die that winter. This is an important lesson, because it’s right there on the label. Know your zone!
Place in Groups
I recommend grouping like plants in groups of three or five. Visually speaking, things in design tend to look better in odd numbers – the same goes for landscaping. When plants are put together in landscaping they are more impactful than when alone. It’s also recommended to group plants with similar growing conditions (like sun, soil, and water needs) together. This will help to make your yard is as low maintenance as possible.
When selecting plants for your landscaping, look at the plant information to see how tall the plants will grow. You’ll want to mix a variety of heights, but make sure the taller plants are in the back and shorter plants are towards the front. For us, I put ligustrum along the foundation of our house that can be trimmed for maintenance but will grow a nice height for a backdrop. Some other great “foundational” plants that get relatively tall and wide are bottle brush bushes and sweet viburnum.
Before you start buying plants for your coastal yard, make sure you track the sun and lighting throughout the day. Most of the time, different areas of your yard will get different lighting. Also, some plants are better for morning sun versus evening sun and some plants like a lot of shade. There’s nothing worse than spending tons of money on beautiful plants, only to have them baked by afternoon sun. The southern summer heat is no joke!
Consider a Soil Test
Did you know that you can your soil tested for it’s quality? You can send a soil sample for testing at the Coastal Ag Services or try some DIY soil tests. This is helpful for determining if you need to add nutrients to your soil to help some plants survive. Mushroom compost and other organic matter is great for improving soil quality. You can even add simple things like grass clippings, coffee grounds, or fallen leaves to create healthy soil.
Low Maintenance Plants
I failed at our landscaping several times before I found the perfect combination. For me, a low maintenance landscaping design is a must because life gets busy. I start with great intentions and think I will take care of my garden like a child when realistically, I ignore it. You cannot ignore needy plants in the summer in the south and expect a beautiful yard.
My favorite low maintenance plants for southern landscaping include flax lily and sweetgrass. I’ve pulled flax lillies out of my landscaping and tossed them in the woods for an entire winter and they still survived. I went out and pulled them from the woods and planted them again, then cut them back in the spring and they still look beautiful! You can also propagate them by splitting the grass at the root and making several grasses out of one – it’s amazing! This front area of my landscaping was created from one grass that was tossed in the woods. Look at them go!
Sweetgrass, also known as pink muhly grass, is a favorite in my area. It is super low maintenance and only requires one trimming in late winter. It puts on a pink show a few times a year and looks like cotton candy blowing in the wind. It truly is beautiful year round with a lovely green color when it isn’t blooming. I prefer this grass over its unruly friend, pampas grass.
When designing your garden beds, it’s important to also factor in which plants only bloom one season and which ones will return every year. Annuals only last for one bloom season, whereas perennials come back year after year. If you choose to use annuals, just remember that you’ll have to replant new ones the next season. I prefer to stick to perennials in my landscape designs and use more annuals in my planters and pots. This helps keep things low maintenance and gives you more bang for your buck!
When designing porch plants and window boxes, keep in mind which plants will grow best in your area. Read more about my favorite southern porch plants and windowbox plants, I love how they’ve turned out!
In our yard we needed to add privacy along our fence line. There are several plants that will achieve this, but my two favorite privacy plants are ligustrum and bottle brush trees. Both grow very quickly and are evergreen, meaning they will stay green and hold leaves throughout the winter. This makes them ideal plants for achieving privacy.
Bottle brush trees are a bit more sensitive to the winter and a random ice storm or lengthy freeze is not great for them. If they’re in the first year of planting it’s best to cover them for a freeze, but after that they can be cut back and will thrive!
Ligustrum have a deep green leaf that is beautiful and they flower with lovely white flowers several times a year. They smell wonderful also, which is a plus in my book! Their scent reminds me of Lowcountry favorites, jasmine and gardenias.
A few others that I love for creating a privacy hedge or fence line in coastal landscaping include sweet viburnum, limelight hydrangeas, and pineapple guava. Just be careful with hydrangeas, as they loose their leaves in the winter, but they’re beautiful and lush during bloom season!
Southern Landscaping Color Palette
My favorite combination for the coastal landscaping includes groupings of flax lily, saw palmetto, drift roses, and lorapetalum. This combination is beautiful together and works really well in the hot summer but is also tolerant to the occasional frost we get in the Lowcountry. I also love the mix of colors and textures that this combination of plants brings to my front yard landscaping, with our new front porch and white exterior paint!
After considering all of these things, it’s times to discuss my favorite plants for a beautiful southern and coastal yard. I’ll dive into more detail about each of these varieties below, plus give some important tips for making your flower beds look their best year round.
- White Wedding Hydrangeas
- Limelight Hydrangeas
- Camelia Roses
- Crepe Myrtle
- Bottle Brush Trees
- Flax Lillies
- Saw Palmetto
- Sweetgrass Pink Muhly Grass
- Drift Roses
- New Dawn Climbing Rose
- Star Jasmine
- Sweet Viburnum
- Pineapple Guava
- Dwarf Palmetto
- Sunshine Ligustrum
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White Wedding Hydrangea
The White Wedding Hydrangea can be planted in a range of USDA zones and they’re cold-hardy in zones 4a-9b. They tolerate both shade and sun, which is another bonus to these beauties. However, white wedding hydrangeas tend to enjoy a little more sun than shade. They have large, white blooms that flower from late spring to summer and also make great cut flowers.
Limelight hydrangeas have a huge panicle shape that looks like a cone. They’re very easy to maintain and get really big. You’ll see these along fences as privacy with massive blooms. Just keep in mind, these are not evergreen, meaning they will sleep during the cold months without leaves. If you plant for privacy, they’ll be twigs throughout the winter! They also love the sun, which is great for our area.
An added benefit of having limelight hydrangeas in your coastal landscaping? They are beautiful when dried. Learn more about how to dry your limelight hydrangeas here.
If you live in the south, you might not know what a gardenia looks like, but you certainly know it’s smell. These heavenly blooms are a southern staple. I’ve found they’re picky with soil and must have proper drainage in order to survive.
Follow my tips from earlier and read more about the exact gardenia you’re planting because there are several varieties. We have the Diamond Spire Gardenia planted in full sun, but other gardenias would not tolerate that harsh of lighting.
Another southern favorite, you’ll find camellia roses in several areas along the southern coast. They put on a beautiful blooming show in the fall (with some varieties blooming several times a year). The roses have a beautiful deep green leaf and they’re evergreen, meaning they will stay green all year long. The flowers themselves range in color from creamy white to yellow to blush to dark magenta – there’s truly a variety for every landscape design.
When we moved into our house, we inherited a crepe myrtle with the most beautiful magenta blooms in the summer. You’ll recognize these trees throughout the south and they’re wildly popular here in Charleston, SC.
There are lots of different kinds of crepe myrtles – some can become really large trees and some varieties only grow as bushes. Just know that they are dormant in the winter so they do not provide great privacy in the colder months, but they make up for it when they bloom in the spring and summer.
Bottle Brush Tree
We just planted twelve bottle brush trees along our fence line for privacy. They’re evergreen, staying green through the winter with beautiful flowers that look like – you guessed it – bottle brushes. The birds and bees love them and they’re super fast growers. They have already grown three feet in three months in our yard! These are definitely a favorite of mine if you’re looking to make a big impact in a short amount of time.
Another one of my favorites to use in coastal landscaping in ligustrum. Ligustrum, or wavy privet, is the perfect plant for creating privacy or a hedge in your landscaping. They bloom several times a year and have a lovely scent with beautiful white flowers. They are fast growing and can also be used in planters, like in our topiaries on the front porch.
Variegated Flax Lillies
If you’re looking for a low maintenance plant for your southern landscaping, flax lillies, or dianellas, are a great choice. I call these plants fool proof, I’ve thrown them out in the brush pile, only to recover them a season later and plant them again. They’re perfect if you’re looking for a low maintenance landscape design.
They look amazing when planted in groups and they do well here in the full sun and shade. I cut them back every year and they bounce back with a healthy, full appearance.
Several varieties of native palm trees are used here on the coast in landscaping. I prefer saw palmetto for coastal landscaping because they have a silver green appearance that looks great when paired with other plants. They are cold hardy, meaning they’ll tolerate colder temperatures like a random ice storm on the coast.
Pink Muhly Grass
Quite possibly one of my favorite plants in the lowcountry, pink muhly grass blooms at the end of summer into fall for several weeks. It’s super low maintenance and we cut it back once a year. The pink blooms blow in the wind and we always know it’s finally fall here in the Lowcountry when we see the pink muhly blooms.
This ornamental grass is drought and salt tolerant, deer resistant, and the snakes don’t seem to like it like other ornamental grasses. That’s a win in my book!
If you love roses but you don’t like the maintenance required, these roses are for you. Drift roses are groundcover roses with repeat blooms from spring to frost. I planted 3-4 drift roses together in several areas of our landscaping and wow, they’re showstoppers. Neighbors stop frequently to ask what kind of flower we planted. They come in a variety of colors, but my favorites are Popcorn, Peach, White, and Apricot.
I’m not a big fan of knock out roses and these are a great alternative with many more flowers. Their flowers are bunched together giving them a showy appearance. Deadheading helps these roses to repeat bloom. I use this fertilizer and this plant food with disease control to keep them beautiful all season long and to fight Japanese beetles.
New Dawn Climbing Roses
If you love roses and you have the need for a climbing plant, I suggest the new dawn climbing roses. I’m a huge fan of David Austin Roses and this climbing rose will not disappoint. Much like the drift roses, the new dawn climbing rose has clusters of flowers, but it climbs upwards of 15ft with glossy green leaves and blush blooms.
New Dawn Climbing Roses love full and part sun and most soil types. If you live in an elevated coastal home, this rose is perfect for your porches and backyard patios! After replacing our porches and having the house painted, I planted these on our brick pillars.
Star jasmine, previously known as confederate jasmine, is another climbing favorite. You’ll see jasmine throughout the south climbing on walls, gates, and homes. In our growing zone, it is evergreen with some winter growth. Once established, star jasmine will have hundreds of star shaped flowers that smell lovely. I recently planted jasmine on our large pergola in the backyard and can’t wait for it to grow over our castle grey flagstone pavers.
Lorapetalum has beautiful deep burgundy and purple leaves that keep their color through all seasons. Their blooms are a bright magenta color and overall, they contrast really well against a green landscape. They also come in a few varieties that have different heights.
There are several different types of holly that perform well in the south. We have a few bushes that were established when we moved in and the birds love them. They keep their beautiful green leaves through seasonal changes. Some are really fast growers so they’re a great option for privacy.
Another great option for privacy is sweet viburnum. These bushes grow very quickly and have beautiful blooms, much like the ligustrum plants. They like clay and sand as soil, so they’re a great option for you coastal yard!
Magnolia trees thrive in southern landscapes, with large leaves and white blooms. Magnolias like fertile and well draining soil. There are several varieties but be aware, they can get really big. Some magnolia trees can grow to 70-feet, wow! Make sure you read up on the variety of tree you plan to purchase and keep in mind where you’re planting it, don’t plant it too close to your home or foundation!
While I don’t have pineapple guava in my yard, my neighbor has several and I’m including them in my favorites. They have a silver green leaf that is evergreen. I love their tropical look and guess what? You can eat the flowering fruit as well!
Agapanthus is a perennial flowering plant with tall purple blooms and flows grass at the base. They love full sun and some part shade in the south. They’re evergreen with a grass like base through the winter and a big ball of purple blooms in the summer. When grouped together, these plants are beautiful!
Drawf palmettos, or sabal minors, are small palm trees. These are low growing palms that will fan out with large leaves. The palm leaves can be as large as 4 feet wide, so keep your planting placement in mind. I try to keep them in areas with little traffic so my kids are not injured by the pointy palms.
When I first moved to Charleston, I was puzzled by these large fruit bearing trees. They remind me of a tropical tree that you would find on a remote island. They are evergreen and can grow to be 30-feet high! This is another fruit that you can eat and I know many people that make loquat jam from the fruits! Just keep in mind that fallen fruit will attract critters like squirrels and raccoons.
Sunshine Ligustrum is a sun loving plant that adds a golden touch to you landscaping. They can grow to 3′-6′ tall with bright yellow leaves that instantly add curb appeal. They’re easy to maintain and can be pruned for shaping.
Shade Loving Plants
While most of our landscaping is part to full sun, we have a space under our large oak trees that needs landscaping. A few of the spaces are full shade while others get morning and afternoon sun. Tracking the sun at various times has helped determine which plants will survive in those spaces. I’ve started adding in some shade plants like philodendrons, fatsia, ferns, upright elephant ears, azaleas, tractor seat plants, irises, and more. I can’t wait to update you as those fill in the space!
Considerations for Southern Landscaping
A few other considerations when designing your coastal landscaping, do you have deer in the area and need deer resistant plants? Another question to ask, are you sensitive to smells? Some of the plants that I listed are very fragrant when blooming, which I love, but you might not like the sweet smell. Finally, think about how much time you plan to spend on maintaining your yard. Will you have help? There are SO many amazing plants that you can use for your landscaping and while I included all of my favorites, there are many more!
Did I miss any of your favorite plants? I would love for you to comment below and let me know your favorites! Where are you landscaping and let me know how it goes!