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.

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.

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.  We recommend that any plant that becomes established on the dune be allowed to develop. Let nature decide which one stays and which goes.

General Planting Information

Planting should be done in winter or early spring. Late February or March planting 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Suggested Dune Trees, Shrubs and Plant

Bayberry Sea Rocket Beach Plum
Beach Heather Coastal Panicgrass Rugosa Rose
Sandbur Red Cedar Winged Sumac
Common Cocklebur Virginia Creeper Seaside Spurge
American Beach Grass Seaside Goldenrod Seaside Evening Primrose
Yucca Lathco Flatpea Partridge Pea
Scarlet Pimpernel Camphorweed Saltwort
Coastal Bluestem Trailing Wild Bean
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 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. 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 Stabilization Committee. February 6, 1998