Millions enjoy the ocean beach for the water, sun, air and a multitude of sounds, sights and smells of nature. Dunes, formed by wind, water and vegetation are an integral part of the ocean environment and help protect the lives and property of coastal residents. Mankind is a main contributor to dune formation by pumping, constructing, fencing sand areas and establishing and maintaining vegetation.

This publication was written to help people in the Ocean City, Maryland area select and use plants to control erosion, build dunes, provide wildlife habitat and beautify the beach. It pictorially describes the types of plants, methods of establishing them and programs for maintaining a healthy, vigorous and functional vegetative community. It is in loose-leaf form to simplify the inclusion of alterations created by new technology or of new subject materials.

It was made possible through the cooperative effort of local citizens and government. Participants include: The Ocean City Dune Stabilization Committee, a volunteer citizens group; the Worcester County Soil Conservation District and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Technical advice and assistance was provided by: Bruce E. Nichols, District Conservationist; Norman Melvin, Botanist; and Christopher Miller, Plant Materials Specialist. Bruce Nichols and Lou Granados, from the Dune Stabilization Committee, provided the writing, editing and copy preparation. Graphic design and printing was provided by Hastings Brothers Printers, Inc. of Salisbury, Maryland.

Financing was obtained from governmental bodies, condominium associations, businesses and individuals in the Ocean City area including: the Town of Ocean City, Worcester County and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S.D.A.

The Delmarva Condominium Managers Association, and the Atlantis, Calypso, Century I, Golden Sands, Irene, Mann Properties, Our Place at the Beach, Pyramid and Sea Watch condominiums also contributed.

Businesses included the Ed Smith Real Estate School, Millar Elevator Company, Ocean Landscaping, Peninsula Bank and WZBH Radio station. The Caine Woods Community Association, Womans Club of Ocean City and private individuals contributed funds.

Dune Management

The beach at times appears as barren sand. Only specialized plants adapted to the inhospitable environment can survive and they must withstand salt, high heat, lack of nutrients, drought, flooding, erosion, abrasion from wind-driven sand and freezing temperatures.

A plant may be poisoned by salt, cooked by high temperatures, starved from lack of nutrients, withered from lack of water, cut by wind-driven sand, flooded by storm or tide, uprooted by wave or wind erosion, eaten by wild life or crushed by tourists.

Most beach vegetation occurs naturally. However, man has introduced species such as yucca from the southwestern U.S. desert and lambs-quarters from Eurasia. Many species found on the beach are transitory and not suited to the long-term environment; others, such as downy broom and cheatgrass (a winter annual) can dominate the vegetative community temporarily, but may not reappear for years.

Any vegetation growing on the beach helps stabilize the sand, and is therefore considered beneficial. Although removing plants to lessen competition for preferred or planted species is not recommended, property owners may decide to remove competing plants.

At times, entire plant species populations are removed for frivolous reasons. Although attacked by owners and managers as allergenic, the beautiful goldenrod is not. Its showy blooms just happen to appear when allergic reactions such as hay fever and rhinitis, induced by ragweed, occur.

Ragweed is wind-pollinated, and has inconspicuous small green flowers that are generally unnoticed. A comparison of the two pollens shows that goldenrod is relatively smooth, while ragweed has sharp, irritating spines projecting from a sphere similar to a mace. The spines help attach the pollen for fertilization, but irritate tissue as it is pulled through the respiratory system. Goldenrod pollen relies on insects for pollination. It is heavy, and it attaches itself to insects with a sticky substance and is then transferred by contact. It is generally not windblown.

In general, bright fragrant blossoms are pollinated by insects and do not cause allergic reactions. It is usually the windblown pollinators that cause such problems.

We recommend that any plant that becomes established on the dune be allowed to develop. Let nature decide which one stays and which goes. After all, nature has the long-term experience.

Although attacked as allergenic, goldenrod is innocent. It blooms the same time as ragweed.

General Planting Information

In most years, planting should be done in winter or early spring. Planting in late February or March is suggested because the plants can be well rooted and established before hot weather. Good results can also be achieved by planting during summer when soil moisture is sufficient for warm season species. Take special care to keep the soil moist for germination and seedling development. Avoid planting during the dry season; instead, plant when the risk of loss by sandblasting, moisture stress and erosion are lowest.

Maintain planted areas by reestablishing plants where plants die and by correcting problems with such things as surface mulch, sand-trapping devices and access walkways.

For most herbaceous plants, seed is difficult to harvest without special equipment. Seed or other plant materials may be produced commercially.

Vegetative material, rather than seed, is generally used for planting when the seed supply is limited, and small amounts of plant material can be obtained by thinning natural areas of dense growth. A supply of plants for your site can be raised in a nursery, field grown by experienced persons or purchased from a commercial grower specializing in coastal plants.

In general, plant vigorous, mature plants one to two feet apart in rows two feet apart. Space the plants more closely to speed the accumulation of sand. Plant the area uniformly since unequal plant density promotes erosion. Random species spacing will minimize bare spots if a plant dies.

Large areas can be planted with various types of transplanters. Plant small areas by hand with a nursery spade, bar or other device to make a hole the size needed.

Plant tall beach grasses upright in the soil about eight inches deep. Part of the leaf surface may be buried. Most other species should be planted at the depth at which they were removed from the source site.

Herbaceous plants will become established and diversify faster if they are fertilized. Nutrients should be supplied to stimulate growth during the growing season from April through November. Target dates to apply fast-release fertilizer are April 1, June 20 and September 7. Slow release fertilizers should be applied according to directions.

Fencing is a necessity, given the number of visitors to the beach, and an integral part of dune maintenance and plant protection. Fencing types vary greatly. The most common is the wood slat snow fence, where the woven wire may be mounted to salt-treated 4″ x 4″ posts or steel open-eye posts. Materials should be degradable, and items such as stainless steel staples not used because of their prolonged endurance; long after the wood is gone. Stepping on one of these staples will make your memory of the beach an unpleasant reality. Sample blue print plans for fencing are available through your local government. We hope you will take advantage of their experience and knowledge.

Stainless steel staples should not be used in fencing because of their prolonged endurance.

Plant Management

The key to plant management is plant recognition. Once plants are identified, propagation techniques and maintenance programs can be planned. Dune propagation techniques need to diversify plant types and establishment methods. The most economically efficient plantings are usually made with seed mixtures if available. Seed from compatible plants should be selected according to their growth zone on the dune, required depth of planting, time of planting, and desired function or plant form. This does not forego sprigging, container, dry-root or balled specimen use, but where seed can be used, economics dictate that it should be. It saves labor, improves opportunity for diversity and longevity of stands and assures a higher probability of establishing a protective vegetative cover.

Once established, dune plants require a regular inspection and maintenance program to retain their protective function. A fertilization program is required to maintain a vigorous plant community in the harsh dune environment. Nutrients offset the stresses associated with salt toxicity, high heat, a lack of plant nutrients, drought, flooding, erosion, abrasion from wind-driven sand and freezing temperatures.

Various plants and fertilization rates should be tried to determine overall Best Management Practices.

The common names used in the plant descriptions are those generally accepted in Maryland. Authority for nearly all scientific names is the “NRCS National List of Scientific Plant Names”. Conflicts in spelling were resolved using the most recent papers and publications available.

The following photographs and text provide a basic understanding of the beach and its vegetation. We tried to capture the beauty of the vegetation during various seasons so the user can recognize the plants any time. Although all plants are beneficial and some add beauty, others provide food and wildlife habitat, or serve as deterrents to trespassers. It is important to remember that no completely undesirable species of plants grow on a dune.

Note: The listing below contains all plants included in the publication. We have included the complete Virginia Creeper page to provide a sample of the information available in the book.

Sea Rocket
Beach Plum
Beach Heather
Coastal Panicgrass
Rugosa Rose
Red Cedar
Winged Sumac
Common Cocklebur
Virginia Creeper
Seaside Spurge
American Beach Grass
Seaside Goldenrod
Seaside Evening Primrose
Lathco Flatpea
Partridge Pea
Scarlet Pimpernel
Coastal Bluestem
Trailing Wild Bean
Prepared by the Ocean City Dune Stabilization Committee in cooperation with the Worcester Soil Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service U.S. Department of Agriculture. This publication is available from The Dune Stablization Committee. February 6, 1998