Q: I live on Mobile Bay and would appreciate suggestions for some plants that will do well in my yard.

A: Gardeners in coastal areas face a number of challenges. In addition to occasional high winds and torrential rains, Gulf Coast gardeners must contend with salt spray and coastal soil conditions.

Although unnoticeable to the casual observer, salt spray can leach moisture from plants through a process called exosmosis, which causes the leaves of non-salt-tolerant plants to shrivel and drop off, often leading to the plant’s death.

Soils that are too acidic or too alkaline will not support healthy plant growth. A pH below 7 is acidic and common in areas with high rainfall; a pH above 7 is alkaline and typical of areas with low rainfall.

It is very important to test your soil to determine if and how it needs to be modified. The County Extension office has soil testing kits available, and they will help you determine what the soil you’ll be planting in needs to meet the conditions for the plants you want to grow.

In general, lime and ground limestone are used to make soil less acidic, and the amount needed is also a function of whether soil is clay-like or sandy. Wood ashes and oyster shells are often used to modify soil that is too alkaline.

Particularly useful when planning your coastal landscape is information about the degree of salt tolerance of the plants that have caught your fancy. If you find this article on lagniappemobile.com, the plants suggested in the accompanying table are salt-tolerant, moderately salt-tolerant and slightly salt-tolerant and suitable for our growing zone.

Salt-tolerant plants are suitable for areas exposed to the elements. Moderately salt-tolerant plants will do best if somewhat protected from the elements by buildings and other structures or sheltered by salt-tolerant plants. Slightly salt-tolerant plants need protection from the direct assault of the elements.

For success, your landscaping plans must accommodate the most favorable growing conditions of the plants you choose for your yard. Degree of salt tolerance and exposure to the elements, plant dimensions when grown, plant shape and floral/non-floral display are important considerations.

Although the plants in the table are a useful place to start, the listings are only suggested as a place to begin your quest. From personal experience in my own yard, I can say that even plants considered too tender for our coastal region’s temperatures often do very well if placed in the perfect location or if grown in a pot and moved indoors when temperatures drop too far.

I live near the mouth of the bay and I have plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) that thrives in an area where a wall protects it from cold winds. My neighbors whose plumbago plants are shielded somewhat by other plants also have blooms to brag about.

I love allamandas and keep one very happy in a pot next to a garage wall. I only have to put it inside the garage when it gets really cold. And I have a friend on the coast of North Florida who loves roses and grows drift roses successfully in pots despite salt spray and occasional hearty winds. She has told me she closely monitors the soil for her roses.

My advice is to read about the plants to which you are partial during planning stages for your garden and give them a try if they are to your liking and you can simulate growing conditions in which they’re supposed to do well. Only stick to the hale-and-hearty, guaranteed-to-thrive plants if you are faint of heart. It can be nice to think outside the cold frame and fool Mother Nature once in awhile.

UPCOMING:
(Free and open to the public)

What: Monthly Master Gardener meeting
When: Thursday, Sept. 1, 10-11:30 a.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: “Permaculture” by speaker Clint Burdette

What: Herb Day 2016
Presented by: Gulf Coast Herb Society and Mobile Botanical Gardens
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, 9 a.m. to noon
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens
Cost: $30, includes lunch, info packet, door prizes
To pre-register, email herbday2014@yahoo.com.

What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Sept. 19, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: “Learn Where to Snip” by speaker Beverly Davis-Ikibana

MASTER GARDENER HELPLINE: Call 1-877-252-4769 or send your gardening questions to coastalalabamagardening@gmail.com.