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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Design > Shoreland Landscape Design, Maintenance, and Management to Protect Water Quality > Shoreland Design

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Shoreland Design

Resources For Additional Information On Vegetative Buffer Zones

In the last chapter we learned what vegetative buffer zones are and how they play a role in protecting water quality. So how can we utilize this knowledge in creating sustainable shoreland designs?

Landscape design and management that creates sustainable shoreland landscapes is referred to as lakescaping. Incorporation of a native plant vegetative buffer zone is a key element in creating successful lakescaping plans that are good for water quality and wildlife as well as being beneficial to property owners. Effective buffer zones should be along at least 75% of a property's water frontage, extend 25 to 50 feet into the water, and continue 25 to 100 feet or more from the water's edge onto the land. The wider the buffer zone the better it will function.

A good place to start any design project is with the SULIS design sequence at This program will teach you basic landscape design techniques to create a master plan that will insure that both the human needs and the environmental concerns of the property are addressed. A master plan allows work to be done over a period of time and still achieve an integrated landscape. Click here to view a completed master plan that includes a shoreline design.

The first step in creating any landscape design plan is to do a site survey. A survey inventories the plants and structures currently on the site. Draw a base plan indicating where these structures and plants are located along with drainage areas, attractive and unsightly views, topography, and accurate site measurements.

A site survey for shoreland property should also include:

  • water depths along the shore and ice ridges
  • steepness of slope moving inland from the shore
  • soil moisture and type (sand, clay, gravel, muck) for each area
  • areas prone to erosion - both upland and along the shoreline
  • inventories of existing plants should indicate problem plants, exotics, existing native plants, and dead trees (standing snags and downed logs are valuable for wildlife)
  • areas where wildlife is observed
  • areas where runoff water flows into the water
  • existing use areas such as beaches, boat dock, picnic area
  • winter storage areas for boats and docks
  • access roads/driveways/paths
In Addition, note if water levels tend to fluctuate, signify where the ordinary low and high water marks are, which direction is north, and indicate what the shoreline's exposure to wave action is.

The second design step is the site analysis.

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Using the information gathered with the site survey, evaluate the site's challenges and strengths such as undercut shore needing stabilization. The resources at the end of this section should be helpful to formulate solutions for erosion and other problems. Now the design process can be started to incorporate those solutions into the landscape plan.

Determine how much area is actually needed for lake access and recreation and which areas can be left undeveloped or earmarked for restoration. See the SULIS design section to help lay out your plan. Water quality protection measures should be included in this initial design phase.

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Darlene Charboneau
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Darlene Charboneau
  • Keep impervious surfaces to a minimum. For example, instead of using solid paving for walks and parking areas, incorporate porous surfaces that let water infiltrate the soil such as wood chips or pea gravel.
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Darlene Charboneau
  • Include vegetated areas at the base of downspouts and adjacent to paved surfaces to capture water and allow it to infiltrate the soil. This can be as simple as including a grass swale or low area that holds storm water, allowing it to slowly soak into the soil. For a more interesting and enjoyable design, add a rain garden in a natural or planned low area. For more information on rain gardens and plant selection, see the Friends of Bassett Creek website at:
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Kathryn McFadden
  • Design curved paths and drives to prevent runoff water from being directed to the lake. This will also create a more attractive design.
The initial design process is also a good time to consider the types of wildlife you would like to encourage and determine the type of habitat needed. For example, many birds are ground nesting and require thick vegetation for protection. Woody debris provides habitat for insects and amphibians that other species depend on. Logs in the water and along the shoreline provide attractive perching sites for birds and turtles. Replacing a natural shoreline with mowed grass creates habitat that is suitable for few species except geese -- lots of geese.
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Carrol Henderson

Including a vegetative buffer zone in your design will discourage geese while providing food and shelter for more desirable species. A well-designed vegetative buffer zone should not block views. It is easy to maintain views between the shrub layer and the tree canopy with careful plant selection and a little pruning. Vegetation can actually be a means to frame desired views and restrict undesirable views.

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Plantings in a buffer zone can be designed in many landscape styles,

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Darlene Charboneau
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Darlene Charboneau

A final critical component of good shoreland design is erosion control. Wave breaks and shoreline bioengineering may be needed to protect shorelines from erosion and allow young plants to become established. See Section 5: Shoreline Planting and Buffer Zone Implementation for further details.

Resources For Additional Information On Shoreland Design

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

  • Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality is a "must have" manual for shoreline restoration from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Topics include: buffer zones, lake ecosystems, designing lakeshore landscapes, site preparation, plant installation, and shoreline stabilization. The book is available from Minnesota's Bookstore (1-800-657-3757) , the University of Minnesota bookstores, and most private bookstores.
  • Restore Your Shore CD-ROM is a companion to the Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality book. Step-by-step project examples illustrate solutions to shoreland problems and demonstrate restoration techniques. This helpful guide includes worksheets, a plant selection guide with over 400 color photos, and information on invasive exotic species. Available from Minnesota's Bookstore (1-800-657-3757) Watch for "Restore Your Shore to be added to the DNR Web site.
University of Minnesota Extension Friends of Bassett Creek Web site is an excellent source of information for rain gardens including why, how-to, and plant selection.

Prairie Crossing Web site has instructions on how to install rain gardens from an individual lot size to a community size at:

Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) at:

  • Reducing Impervious Surfaces includes planning and site design options at
  • Clean Waters includes water friendly gardening and landscaping practices at
  • Pictures of different installations of alternative pavements from various manufacturers, including grass roofs at:
  • Use of vegetation to prevent runoff

Center For Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES)

  • Web site with four main sections: Implementing the Landscape Plan, Maintenance of the Sustainable Landscape, Sustainable Design Considerations, and Sustainability and Shoreland Landscaping -- description and benefits of a sustainable landscape at:
Center For Watershed Protection
  • Better Site Design slide presentation is available to view and purchase as a CD-ROM. This presentation outlines 22 model principles for land development that focus on streets, parking lots, lot design, and conservation of natural areas in new developments.
  • Site offers an on-line watershed quiz and a library of technique articles on topics such as site planning and impervious surfaces.
Stormwater Center
  • The Architecture of Urban Stream Buffers (article number 39) in the Stormwater Center library describes how to design a vegetative buffer zone.
University of Wisconsin Extension Service
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