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

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Landscape Maintenance and Management

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Darlene Charboneau

Landscape maintenance takes us back to the discussion on watersheds in Section 1. When choosing landscape maintenance techniques, we need to ask ourselves, how will my actions impact the watershed? Urban property owners need to remember to keep leaves, grass clippings, and fertilizer out of gutters where they will be washed into the storm sewer system. All property owners, whether in rural, urban, or lakeshore settings, can benefit by using low-input lawn care methods. In particular, once grass is established, most soils do not require additional phosphorus applications to maintain a healthy lawn. For complete information on sustainable lawn care practices, see the SULIS maintenance section at:

Native plant buffer zones require minimal maintenance. Fertilizer should not be used on native plantings as it will give an advantage to unwanted weed species and alter the natural growth habit of the natives. Plants that were properly selected for a site should thrive without fertilization. Plants will establish faster if watered during their first season of growth. After establishment, watering should not be needed except in periods of extreme drought. Mulch will help to retain soil moisture and prevent weed competition. If necessary, some hand weeding can be done until the planting has filled in. After establishment, plantings should be checked once a year for unwanted tree seedlings and other woody species. Remove these species on a regular basis if you do not wish to have an herbaceous planting convert to trees and shrubs. For further information on site maintenance, see Native Vegetation in Restored and Created Wetlands available at Minnesota's Bookstore.

If invasive exotics, such as purple loosestrife or reed canary grass, were previously present, it will be necessary to be on the lookout for their reappearance. They can be kept in check by carefully sponging on an appropriate herbicide. Do not spray herbicides after plant installation as drifting herbicide will harm all plants. Also, herbicide use is limited near water. Check with your local DNR office or visit the DNR Web site at: for appropriate use of herbicides.

Aquatic plant management is a concern for many lakeshore property owners. This is a complicated issue. Plants play a vital role in the health of lakes. Aquatic plant roots maintain lake bottom stability to prevent re-suspension of sediments. Plants recycle nutrients needed by other species and add oxygen to water. Finally, plants provide food and shelter for fish, frogs, turtles, birds and some mammals.

Controlling some species of plants may produce unintended consequences. The species removed may have been playing an unrealized role in keeping an even more troublesome species in check. A particular plant species could be playing a crucial role in the food web; if removed, the existence of a desirable species, which depends on the removed species, could be put in jeopardy. Excessive aquatic plant growth may be due to a lake's trophic state, or the amount of nutrients in the water. If reduced water quality is causing increased vegetation, watershed issues will need to be addressed for long-term control. Michigan State University Extension has produced a book entitled, A Citizen's Guide For The Identification, Mapping, and Management Of The Common Rooted Aquatic Plants Of Michigan Lakes. The book discusses watersheds, aquatic plant communities, lake mapping, management options, and control tools. The book also has a convenient key for the identification of common species that can be used for all of the upper Midwest. See the reference section for information on obtaining a copy.

Department of Natural Resources regulations apply to the control and removal of aquatic plants. Lakeshore rules and regulations for Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are printed in Lakescaping For Wildlife and Water Quality. In Minnesota, permits may be required to remove emergent plants, apply herbicides, and remove submerged plants. See and following references.

Minnesota State Regulations on Controlling Aquatic Plants

Summarized from A guide to Aquatic Plants: Identification & Management
(Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

Minnesota law states that aquatic plants growing in public waters are property of the state. Aquatic plants are considered such an important part of lake ecosystems that their control is regulated by the state via the Department of Natural Resources. Some control measures are not allowed, some are allowed with a permit, and some are allowed without a permit if guidelines are followed.

Control Measures That Are Not Allowed

  • The removal of vegetation from posted fish-spawning areas
  • The removal of aquatic plants if they do not interfere with recreation including swimming and boating
  • The removal of aquatic plants from undeveloped shoreline
  • Using a plastic mat on the lake bottom to destroy aquatic plants or prevent their growth

Control Measures That Can Only Be Done With A Permit

  • Removing aquatic vegetation, either by hand or with a mechanical harvester, in an area larger than 2,500 square feet
  • Removal of emergent plants such as bulrushes and cattails
  • Transplanting aquatic plants into protected waters (protected waters is a DNR designation, contact your regional DNR office to determine the designation for your body of water)
  • Application of chemicals to control algae or other aquatic plants
  • Moving or removing a floating bog in protected waters
  • Use of a beach-cleaning machine below the ordinary high water mark

Control Measures That Can Be Done Without A Permit - If Aquatic Plants Are Interfering With Swimming and Boat Docking

  • Area must be less than 2,500 square feet
  • Area cannot extend more than 50 feet along shoreline or 1/2 of shoreline -- whichever is less
  • An area in addition to the above 2,500 feet can be kept clear for a boat channel to reach open water, channel cannot be wider than 15 feet
  • No emergent plants are removed
  • Submerged or floating-leaf vegetation may be cut or pulled by hand or with hand-operated equipment that "does not significantly alter the course, current, or cross-section of the lake bottom"
  • Powered earth-moving equipment such as suction dredges and draglines are not allowed
  • Cut or pulled plants must be disposed of on land in an area far enough away from the water that they will not be washed back in

Resources For Additional Information On Landscape Maintenance and Management

Minnesota Sea Grant and Water Resources Center/University of Minnesota

  • Minnesota Shoreland Management Resource Guide is an extensive Web site that provides easy access to information about sustainable shoreland practices to improve the management of Minnesota's lakes and rivers. The site contains scientific and technical background, camera-ready quick and easy answers to frequently asked questions, highlights citizen action, and gives contact information for individual Minnesota counties. Fact sheets cover many topics including management of aquatic plants and animals. A companion CD is available at 218-726-8106.

University of Minnesota

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)
  • Restore Your Shore CD-ROM is a companion to the Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality book. It is a helpful guide for native plant selection for specific areas of Minnesota. It includes information and photos of over 400 plant species. This is a valuable tool for both property owners and restoration professionals. Available from Minnesota's Bookstore (1-800-657-3757).
  • Aquatic plant Management Program has many publications available at:

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: follow-up management, site analysis, making a planting plan, general plant selection and selection for problem areas such as fluctuating water levels, and planting strategies. Available at:

Minnesota Lakes Association

  • Workbook on Sustainable Lakes Model, has a description of the process for lake management planning with instructions on conducting lakeshore property owners' survey, color watershed maps, pilot lake management plans, and articles on land-use impacts to water quality. Available at

Michigan State University Extension

  • A Citizen's Guide for the Identification, Mapping and Management of the Common Rooted Aquatic Plants of Michigan Lakes, this guide includes a key to aquatic plant identification, a discussion of aquatic plant communities, and a model to develop an aquatic plant management plan. Ordering information is available at here.

Wisconsin Lakes Partnership

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Center For Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES)

  • Web site with four main sections: Maintenance of the Sustainable Landscape, Implementing the Landscape Plan, Sustainable Design Considerations, and Sustainability and Shoreland Landscaping -- description and benefits of a sustainable landscape at:

Some Additional Resources For General Lake Ecology

Lake Access Program

This is an excellent site to use as a lake ecology, aquatic plant, and watershed primer. Learn how to interpret lake data and access real time data on study lakes.

Water Resources Center

Water Quality Program is a resource to answer all types of water quality questions at:

Water On The Web

An educational site geared to high school and older students and adults interested in understanding lake data and lake ecology. Covers physical (watershed), chemical (nutrients), and biological (eutrophication) parameters of lakes. The site is easy to navigate and contains a useful glossary of terms.

Minnesota Water Line

Minnesota Water Line is a service of the University of Minnesota. Citizens can call 1-800-455-4526 from 9:00-2:00 Monday -- Friday to ask questions regarding erosion, lawn care, aquatic plants, and any other water-related question.

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