For example, waterway health can be helped when natural or man-made structures decrease runoff. One option is the use of rain gardens which slow runoff and filter sediment, oil and lawn-care chemicals. In addition, rain gardens, with their many varieties of flowers and grasses, are natural draws to butterflies and other wildlife, and add beauty and diversity to the landscape. View a UW-Extension Rain Garden “How-to” manual for homeowners at: http://learningstore.uwex.edu/Assets/pdfs/GWQ037.pdf.
The trees along a shoreline are also vital to the waterway’s health. They offer protection to the fish population as they provide shelter on very hot days, stabilize the shore line and again, filter runoff water. Trees IN the water are vital as nurseries for young fish which rely on the nearshore habitat at some point in their life cycles.
Unmowed Vegetative Buffer Zones
One of the best and simplest shoreline solutions is the use of unmowed vegetative ’buffer’ zones. These are spaces along the shoreline between the upland and water which provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. The presence of plants keeps erosion at bay which helps with improved water clarity. The buffer zone reduces erosion caused by boat wakes, filters out contaminated water, and, in general, helps maintain the ecosystem of the water. Traditional mowed lawns are shallow-rooted and provide little wildlife habitat. They also need frequent maintenance and are often over-fertilized. Some lawn fertilizers contain phosphorus which, if it reaches the water, stimulates algae growth. Also, conventional mowed lawns do not appeal to frogs, or toads, but are most alluring to flocks of geese.
A buffer can be any size depending on the property and shoreline. An area as small as 6 inches can be used, but 15 feet or is more effective. Vegetation native to the area has deeper roots than turf grass and ornamental plants, is more resistant to pests, attracts wildlife, and survives better in harsh conditions (such as drought).
Possible shrubs in the buffer zone are: the Common Juniper, Witchhazel, Sand Cherry, or Red Osier Dogwood. Trees include: the American Basswood, Hackberry, or Red Maple. Flowers which would thrive are: Coreopsis, Liatris, Lobelia, Black-eyed Susan, Joe-Pye weed, Monarda or Eupatorium. And grasses which add interest and texture are: Big and Little Bluestem Switchgrass, and Side-Oat Grama.
As stewards of our waterways, we need to ensure that they remain healthy for years to come by exercising options to protect and restore the natural environmental conditions of our shorelines.
Certified Master Gardener