American Beachgrass Care: Planting Beachgrass In Gardens
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Native grasses are perfect for the back forty or open landscape. They have had centuries to create adaptive processes that make the most of the existing environment. That means they are already suited for the climate, soils, and region and require less maintenance. American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) is found in the Atlantic and Great Lakes coastlines. Planting beachgrass in gardens with dry, sandy, and even salty soils provides erosion control, movement, and ease of care.
About American Beachgrass
Beachgrass is found from Newfoundland to North Carolina. The plant is in the grass family and produces spreading rhizomes, which allow the plant to entrench itself and help stabilize soils. It is considered a dune grass and thrives in dry, salty soil with little nutrient base. In fact, the plant thrives in seaside gardens.
Using beachgrass for landscaping in areas with similar environmental situations protects important habitats and delicate hills and dunes. It can spread 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m.) in a year but only grows 2 feet (0.5 m.) tall. The roots of American beachgrass are edible and have been used as a supplemental food supply by indigenous peoples. The grass produces a spikelet that rises 10 inches (25.5 cm.) above the plant from July to August.
October to March is the best time for planting beachgrass in gardens. Seedlings have difficulty establishing when temperatures are too hot and conditions are too dry. Establishment is usually from plugs planted 8 inches (20.5 cm.) below the surface of the soil in clusters of two or more culms. Spacing of 18 inches (45.5 cm.) apart requires nearly 39,000 culms per acre (4000 sq. m.). Erosion control planting is done at a closer range of 12 inches (30.5 cm.) apart per plant.
Seeds germinate unreliably so sowing is not recommended when growing beachgrass. Never harvest wild grasses from natural environments. Use reliable commercial supplies for starter plants to prevent damage to existing dunes and wild areas. The plants do not tolerate foot traffic, so fencing is a good idea until the starts mature. Stagger the planting for a more natural effect with several inches (7.5 to 13 cm.) between each culm.
Some growers swear by fertilizing in the first spring and annually with a nitrogen-rich plant food. Apply at a rate of 1.4 pounds per 1,000 square feet (0.5 kg. per 93 sq. m.) 30 days after planting date and then once per month during the growing season. A formula of 15-10-10 is appropriate for American beachgrass.
Once the plants have matured, they need half the amount of fertilizer and only sparse water. Seedlings do need evenly applied moisture and protection from wind and foot or other traffic. Be careful, however, as soggy soils will cause the plant to decline.
Beachgrass care and maintenance requires no mowing or trimming. Further, plants may be harvested from mature stands by separating the culms. Try beachgrass for landscaping in low nutrient areas and enjoy the coastal ambiance and easy beachgrass care.
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Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass or American marram grass) is a species of grass native to eastern North America, where it grows on sand dunes along the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes coasts. Beachgrass thrives under conditions of shifting sand, sand burial, and high winds it is a dune-building grass that builds the first line of sand dunes along the coast. Beachgrass is less vigorous in stabilized sand, and is only infrequently found further inland than the coastal foredunes. On the Atlantic coastline of North America, Ammophila breviligulata has been observed as far south as North Carolina,    and is often planted in dune restoration projects. Ammophila breviligulata was introduced to the Pacific coast of North America in the 1930s. It is proving to be invasive, and is increasingly important to coastal ecology and development in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
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Along the west coast from British Columbia to California and the northeastern part of North America, down to South Carolina, grows American beachgrass. A perennial graminoid member of the Poaceae or grass family, American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) is native to the country’s coastal areas, thriving in the full sun and their well-drained sandy-soil conditions. A bunch grass that establishes a strong and deep rooting system, American beachgrass is valued for its sand or soil stabilization, particularly in coastal sand dunes. It grows to less than 3 feet in height—growing actively from spring through fall—and thrives in moderately moist to dry soil conditions and full sun. Other common names: marram grass, beach grass and coastal beachgrass.
One of the few vines that clamber over trees in dune woodlands and shrub thickets is roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), which grows in USDA zones 7 through 10. Roundleaf greenbrier produces sparse leaves and grows quickly to 15 or 20 feet with large, round, pointed-tip leaves, white summer flowers and purple berries in fall on female plants. Sharp, curved spines grow along the stems. Growing in more open areas, the showy-flowered beach pea (Lathyrus japonica) grows in USDA zones 3 through 7. The 2-foot vine produces pink and white flowers. It's most common in New Jersey's sand dune and beach heather plant communities.
- Taller evergreen trees that grow in New Jersey's shore areas include pitch pine (Pinus rigida), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 7 in dune woodland, and red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which grows in USDA zones 2 through 9 in shrub thickets and dune woodland.
- Among the shrubs that grow along New Jersey's coasts are colorful highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), which grows in USDA zones 3 through 8 with white, urn-shaped spring flowers and edible, dark blue summer fruits.
For drought-prone poor soil conditions, ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae) provides an attractive screen, forming clumps 3 to 6 feet wide and 10 to 15 feet tall. Leaves of this clumping grass have a center white stripe, turning beige in the fall. Very large purple-brown flower clusters fade to silver. Ravenna grass is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9. It is a suitable substitute for the invasive pampas grass (Cortaderia spp.) in the milder climates of USDA zones 7 through 11.