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Extension > Environment > Water Resources > Property owners > Shoreland maintenance > Developing shoreland landscapes and construction activities

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Developing shoreland landscapes and construction activities

Why is a landscape plan necessary?

Whether you are landscaping your property, building a cabin, or designing a large resort, each land parcel has limitations for development. Limitations may include the type of soil, steep slopes, native vegetation, and other landscape features.

Plants and trees help to hold the soil and prevent erosion, especially on steep slopes. Removing them to establish a lawn increases the chance for soil erosion. Soil erosion can lead to structural damage, reduce soil fertility, and fill in road ditches. It harms your river or lake by causing excess sedimentation, killing aquatic bottom life, and disrupting spawning. The sediment, with accompanying nutrients, may lead to algal blooms, decreased lake depth, and reduced aesthetic appeal. All of these potential problems are expensive to correct and, more importantly, can be avoided by proper water and land use practices.

Use existing features of your landscape in creating your plan. You can prevent problems by working "with the land" rather than against it.

Getting started

The most important steps in getting started are to draw a detailed map of your property (see Figure 1 as an example) and to check with your planning and zoning office for local requirements. On the map, take care to accurately note these important features:

Next consider your long-term objectives for the property:

These and many more questions should be explored, including considering the potential uses for your property.

Developing your site plan

The site plan should be based on your long-term objectives and the suitability of the land for these uses, with precautions taken to prevent soil erosion and water pollution. With these considerations in mind, your site plan will optimize the natural beauty and attributes of your property. The site plan can be a one year, ten year, or a twenty-five year plan, depending on your resources and time. But remember, the longer you wait, the more difficult and costly it will become to fix erosion problems.

Layout of your grounds

If you have the freedom to arrange your buildings and grounds, you can reduce water runoff problems in several ways. Locate driveways, walks, and yard and garden edges to follow level contours and gentle slopes. Do not lead water directly downhill. This gives it maximum speed and cutting power for erosion. Long, steep slopes have the greatest erosion potential. Consider putting small dams at intervals in ditches to slow runoff water and trap sediment. Cross-slope designs are better than up-and-down-hill ones.

The site plan you develop is critical. Site your septic system and water well in suitable areas before you finalize building locations and landscaping plans.

General guidelines for landscaping

Don't forget that "hard" surfaces are impermeable to water and increase runoff. These impermeable surfaces include building roofs, roads, driveways, and patios. Minimize the amount of hard surfaces to help control excess runoff.

To prevent runoff damage by water:

Check these off as you draw them on the plan:

_____contour elevations of your property (OR note steep slopes and flat areas)

_____areas where you will be excavating and filling soil types (e.g., clay, sandy loam)

_____property boundaries

_____setback distances between shoreline and structures

_____elevations of important features such as buildings, drainage outlets, or wetlands

_____drainage patterns (streams or drainageways)

_____location of electric, gas, water, or sewer utilities

_____areas needing protection to prevent erosion such as unstable slopes and steep embankments

_____vegetation (to be removed, added, or left as is)

_____ordinary high water level of lake or river

_____scale (usually number of feet per inch)

_____north directional arrow

Big, old dead trees, brush piles, and unmowed grass are "home" for a wide variety of wildlife. Save these whenever possible.

Use vegetation to help direct people away from sensitive areas, such as steep slopes.


Figure 1: A landscaping plan should include roads, buildings, topography and slope, shoreline, and vegetation.

Remember to maintain an adequate turnaround area near your home for emergency vehicle access.

Regulations that apply

Before beginning any landscaping or construction, check with your local zoning department for information on shoreland requirements including setbacks, permits, and building codes. Most ordinances restrict the total surface area that may be covered with impermeable materials. These include driveways, roofs, and patios.

For more information

Local contractors:

County offices:

Regional offices of MN State agencies:

Shoreland Best Management Practices

Reviewed 2016

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