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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Design > Shoreland Landscape Design, Maintenance, and Management to Protect Water Quality > Shoreline Planting and Buffer Zone Implementation

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Shoreline Planting and Buffer Zone Implementation

The first step in plan implementation is site preparation to remove undesirable or competing plants. Existing sod can be removed in a number of ways: through herbicide application, removal with a sod cutter, or by smothering sod with black plastic or other materials. One advantage of using either herbicide or smothering techniques, is being able to leave grass roots in place to prevent erosion.

Only specific types of herbicides can be used near the water's edge. Check with your local DNR office to determine if a permit for application is required, if application personnel need to be licensed, and for assistance in selecting the correct herbicide. Eradication of some non-native weeds such as smooth brome, Canada thistle, leafy spurge, and quack grass may take several years. A combination of burning and herbicides may be needed.

If planting is to be done with transplants rather than seeding, no additional soil preparation, fertilizer, or soil supplements will be needed. Plants should be selected to be compatible with existing soil conditions.

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One convenient planting technique on flat areas or shallow slopes, is to cover the dead grass with a four-inch thick layer of mulch. Wood chips work well for this. Indicate to the mulch supplier that the site requires a type of mulch that will not wash away when it rains. Water the soil thoroughly before planting to make the task easier. Use a hand spade or cordless drill with an auger bit to make planting holes. Place holes 12" apart, pack transplants firmly into the holes, and water immediately.

If the planting area is to be seeded, tilling may be necessary. The nursery that provides your seed should be able to offer advice on planting techniques. Tilling and seeding near the shoreline may be difficult due to the need to prevent erosion until plants become established. A cover crop may be needed during the first year to hold soil in place until permanent plants can establish, see Section 4: Plant Identification and Selection.

For more details on landscape installations and site preparation, including removal of invasive exotics (such as reed canary grass), see Lakescaping For Wildlife and Water Quality from the Minnesota DNR and the Shoreland Landscaping Series: A Guide to Natural Landscaping and Revegetation For Enhancing Lake Quality.

Native Vegetation in Restored and Created Wetlands, available from Minnesota's Bookstore listed in reference section, provides detailed information on planting strategies for buffer zones and wetlands.

Installations on steep slopes or within reach of waves or flooding cannot be mulched and will require the use of other erosion control materials.

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The above erosion control blankets are composed of straw or coconut fiber layered between two jute mesh layers. Stake the blanket in place, cut holes through the layers, then use a drill or hand spade to create planting holes in the soil. The blanket is biodegradable, so it can be left in place. Erosion control materials can be purchased at many landscape supply stores.

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Views of the above shoreline one year
and six weeks post-planting

In areas that are subject to wave action, wave breaks may need to be temporarily installed to prevent erosion of the shoreline and give new plants time to become established.

Diagrams from University of Minnesota Extension Publication # PC-7357-S
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Detail                                                                                                                Top View                                                                                  

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Construction Plan

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The above wave break utilizes concrete highway dividers with plywood extenders on the top. For more detailed information on wave breaks see Shoreland Landscaping Series.

Some sites may require additional methods to stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion. Bioengineering methods use organic materials such as coconut fiber rolls and live vegetation, to hold soil in place. The advantages of bioengineering over rock riprap are lower installation cost, no need for heavy equipment access, less maintenance costs, and creation of a natural looking shoreline. Bioengineering practices provide habitat for wildlife such as amphibians, birds, and the insects they depend on. If rock riprap is the best choice to stabilize a shoreline, inter-planting can soften it and provide a better environment for wildlife. Willow and red-osier dogwood, as well as many species of grasses and flowering plants can be planted above and between the rocks. See the plant selection list at the end of Section 4 for a list of plants suitable for use with riprap.

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Rock Riprap Stabilization  Coconut Fiber Roll &
Erosion Control Blanket

In order to be sure that your shoreline stabilization project is successful, professional help may be advised for both design and implementation. Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District and/or the Department of Natural Resources for help in determining which is the best stabilization method for your site and whether any permits are needed to install the stabilization materials. Work below the ordinary high water mark may require a permit.

On many sites, protective fencing needs to be installed before planting. A series of mesh fences can create enclosed planting cells to prevent geese and ducks from disturbing tender young plants. Silt fences should be used until plantings are established to prevent disturbed soils from being washed into the water.
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Planting in, or at, the water level requires some specialized techniques. Even with wave protection in place, plantings at the water's edge may need to be anchored in the soil until well rooted. Four-inch U-shaped stakes work well. Stakes will need to be located and removed after a few months. When planting in deeper water, care must be taken to insure that plants are placed firmly in the sediment and do not float. The best planting time is spring or early summer, so plants have sufficient time to become anchored and develop strong root systems before winter.

In general, best results are achieved by overlapping plant selections from adjacent plant communities in each moisture regiment. The plants will determine which area they are best suited for. This technique may also prevent the need to replant if conditions, such as soil moisture or water levels, change. In Minnesota, collecting and/or transplanting aquatic vegetation and planting below the ordinary high water mark of public waters requires a permit. To determine if a permit is required for your project, call your Regional DNR Fisheries office or 1-888-646-6367.

Following are some examples of vegetative buffer zones. A mature, attractive planted can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.

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Upland site three months
  Same site one year

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Water's edge three months
  Wet meadow one year

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Seeded upland two years
  Water's edge four months

Resources For Additional Information On Shoreline Planting and Buffer Zone Implementation

University of Minnesota Extension

Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Native Vegetation in Restored and Created Wetlands is an extensive manual for wetland restoration. Much of the material is also applicable for shoreline restoration. Topics include: planting strategies, site preparation, site analysis, making a planting plan, general plant selection and selection for problem areas such as fluctuating water levels, and follow-up management. Available at Minnesota's Bookstore:
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:
  • Gervais Lake Shoreline Revegetation Demonstration Site; view before, after, and during implementation photos.
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 Wisconsin Extension Service The Center For Watershed Protection
  • Web site offers an on-line watershed quiz, CD-ROM presentations, and a library of technique articles on topics such as site planning and impervious surfaces. At
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