Newly-planted sea oats at a beach

Sea oats for restoring sand dunes

A newly-planted sea oats plant in the sand

A newly-planted sea oats plant

Many beachfront homeowners and municipalities are in the process of restoring dunes that were heavily damaged by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. This process is regulated and permitted by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. Once sand has been placed, it is important to stabilize that sand by planting dune plants. Sea oats (Uniola paniculata) play a major role in stabilizing and building dunes.  Sea oats are protected by law. Plants may not be collected and transplanted; rather, seedlings must be obtained from licensed growers.  It takes about 64 seedlings to plant an area of dune that is 10’ x 10’ in area.  Best planting times in north Florida are between April and October. Much of this time coincides with sea turtle nesting season. Precautions may need to be taken so as not to disturb these nests. Planting sea oats (or any dune plants) is labor- and time-intensive!

Below are some guidelines for planting sea oats. Once established, sea oats plants will spread vegetatively as well as by producing seed. The “liners” that are typically planted are relatively vulnerable during their first few months. To maximize success of the planted seedlings, people should not walk over the young plants!

Some tips for planting sea oats
A boy holding a handful of sea oats liners ready to be planted

A handful of sea oats liners ready to be planted

  • Obtain sea oats plants that come from seed from your part of the state (if possible). Gulf coast and east coast sea oats are genetically different. They may not survive as well if planted on the “wrong” coast.
  • Several growers in Florida can supply sea oats, but many will not sell to individual homeowners (they only sell wholesale). Most are in the southwest part of the state, or in the panhandle.
  • Sea oats are typically sold as liners/plugs, although 4” and larger pots may be available.
  • Sea oats need to be planted so that at least 4-6” of the vegetation is buried in sand. This requires creating a hole that is about 8-12 inches deep (but it does not need to be very large in diameter). Because sand blows around so much, if the plants are not planted deep enough, their roots may become exposed and they will not survive.

    A bucket full of hydrated water-absorbing polymer gel

    Hydrated water-absorbing polymer ready to be added to the hole for the sea oats plant.

  • Sea oats require watering once or twice a week during their first few months. One way to accomplish this is to add about a cup of water absorbing polymer (hydrated) to each hole before adding the plant. The plant will be able to draw water from this gel. Rainfall will re-hydrate the gel so it will continue to keep the plant watered for some time.
  • Most recommendations are to sprinkle one teaspoon of time-release fertilizer around the base of each plant. Work the fertilizer into the sand with the spoon or your fingers.
  • Individual sea oats should be planted 18” apart, with rows of plants staggered. It is best to start at the top of the dunes and work your way down to the base of the dune.

Click here to read a document explaining how to use straw to help fertilize sea oats that have been planted to restore dunes.

13 Comments on “Sea oats for restoring sand dunes

  1. I live in okaloosa county and would like to get some sea oat plants…where would that be possible?

    • Hi Nancy, There is one retailer near you listed with the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (www.afnn.org). 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery is in Defuniak Springs, and it sells sea oats in gallon pots, according to the website. There may be other retailers who carry sea oats but are not members of that association. Hope t his helps!

    • Whether or not you need a permit (in Florida, the permits come from the Department of Environmental Protection) depends on the size of the area to be planted, whether or not a sprinkler/irrigation system will be installed, etc. You may be required to coordinate with the local sea turtle patrol if planting will be done during sea turtle nesting season (to ensure no damage is done to nests that may be in or near the area to be planted. You can find your local DEP contact at https://floridadep.gov/water/coastal-construction-control-line/content/district-field-representatives-contact-list. That person will be able to advise you as to whether or not you need a permit (and if so, how to go about obtaining one).

  2. I am looking to purchase sea oatsplants for doing restoration in Gulf County, Fl. affected by hurricane Michael if you know of any suggestions where I could purchase these, thanks

    • The answer somewhat depends on the quantities you will be needing–there are a few wholesalers listed on the Florida Association of Native Nurseries’ website. However, they only sell wholesale. If you are looking for a retail outlet, there are a few retailers listed here. You may also be able to work with a local nursery and have them purchase from a wholesaler and then re-sell them. The sources listed on the websites may not be the only ones (the websites only list members of the Association of Native Nurseries), but they are a good starting point. I hope this helps!

  3. Any advice on propagation from local seeds to replenish hurricane depleted dunes ?

  4. Your article here is the helpful I’ve found anywhere. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for this article. St George Island here. I followed your suggestions, including the use of hydrating polymer (despite having been discouraged from using this material by others). Planted 1200 liners over about 1 month. Last plantings dome about 6-8 weeks ago. 97-98% survival rate with great majority thriving!

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