Planting Shoreline Areas

By: Ralph M. Winslow, Jr. Extension Educator, Agricultural Resources & Community Development

Despite increased awareness about environmental issues, the activities of those who live near our lakes and rivers could adversely affect the quality of those waters. Land use activities within a watershed, especially along shorelines, can have a tremendous impact on the quality of adjacent surface waters. By considering some of the following landscaping techniques, shoreland residents can help protect our ground and surface waters for all to use and enjoy.

Fertilize Properly
The law states that “no fertilizer, except lime or wood ash, shall be used on lawns or areas with grass on residential properties” within this 250 zone. A soil test is invaluable in determining and, if necessary, in raising the soil pH, enabling turf to make the best use of available soil nutrients.

Water Wisely
Over-watering can greatly increase the movement of nutrients and other substances into groundwater. For most growing situations, about one inch of rainfall per week, either natural or artificial, is sufficient for adequate growth. The addition of organic matter to soil, the use of mulches, and the application of xeroscaping techniques, landscaping to minimize water use, can further reduce the need for supplemental water. These practices will help conserve a valuable natural resource and will help reduce the potential for nutrients and sediment to affect our ground and surface waters.

Proper Turf Management
Since fertilizer applications are prohibited on residential lawns within this shoreland zone, proper turf management takes on renewed importance. Grass kept at a height of 2 1/2″ – 3″ during the months of July and August can withstand heat and drought stress better than closely clipped grass. This higher mowing height encourages deeper rooting, reducing the need for frequent watering. It will also allow turf to more successfully out-compete broad leaved weeds, reducing the need for weed control. In addition, unmown grass tends to make a very good erosion and nutrient barrier. Its fibrous root system and dense top growth can greatly slow and reduce surface runoff and help intercept nutrients and pesticides.

Grow Low Maintenance Grasses
Due to lower maintenance requirements, there is increased interest in and research devoted to the development of dwarf turf grasses. These grasses, such as fine leaf fescues and perennial ryes, perform well with lower inputs of fertilizer, water, mowing and pesticides.

Use Alternative Landscaping
Using alternative landscaping techniques, such a groundcovers, rock gardens or shrubs mulched with bark or stones, can greatly reduce the need for turf areas and can help reduce or eliminate fertilizer and water needs, helping to prevent ground and surface water pollution from shoreland areas.

Maintain Natural Buffer Areas
Keeping a portion of a property between lawns or gardens and any stream, pond or wetland in native vegetation will help reduce the impact on surface waters. Buffer areas will help to remove nutrients that might be included in the runoff from lawn areas during intense rain storms and snow melt. These areas also provide food and habitat for birds and other wildlife. Many native shrubs and ground covers would be good choices for these buffer areas, especially those with dense surface root systems. Trees are important plants for buffers, too, but too much shade at ground level may inhibit the growth of many under-story plants. Good site analysis and evaluation is critical for the successful planting of buffer areas. Knowing the existing growing conditions, sunny or shady, dry or moist, is essential for proper plant selection.

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