Landscaping Options – Buffer Zones

By David Ernes – Lake Management Committee

In many cases, lakes located in areas away from human development tend to be clear and clean. However, once humans build homes, and construct docks, the natural state of the land is disturbed. In the 2007 National Lakes Assessment, a study of thousands of lakes across the continental US, lakeshore habitat change was the number one stressor for a lake’s biological condition. In the 2012 Assessment, habitat changes, coupled with increasing phosphorous are major stressors. When we replace porous soil with impervious concrete or asphalt, or remove local plants and trees and replace then with lawns and open spaces, we eliminate nature’s ability to keep bodies of water clean.

So, what can be done? You may have heard the term “buffer zones” or riparian zones. This is an approach where the area between a lawn and the lakeshore is modified by planting bushes and other plant materials that will reduce erosion and filter run-off before reaching the lake. There are numerous articles on the Internet describing the types of plants that are most beneficial and are beyond the scope of this article. In many cases, plants are selected that are natural for the area, to prevent non-native plants from growing out of control and causing a greater problem.

As one travels on our lake, you can see that almost all lakefront properties are unique. The slope of the land, the shape of the shoreline, and the proximity of our neighbors all make for unique situations. Not every situation can add a buffer zone at the shore. However, that does not mean that you cannot help. If one is thinking of making changes to their lawn and shoreline, take a look at the area. Can you use a rip-rap (use of rocks for shoreline control of erosion) instead of a retaining wall? Are there open areas next to your dock that you can have plants run up to the shoreline. If you have a steep slope, can you have a buffer zone before the slope that can filter run-off and prevent the edge from eroding. Think before removing large trees near the shore.

And, you don’t need to just be on the lakeshore to use this approach. Many lots back into a field, creek, ditch, culvert or drain. Run-off from all properties, not just lakefront, eventually winds its way into the lake. Keeping a buffer at the edge of the lawn can help to keep the nutrient levels in check.

There are numerous examples on the Internet where this approach has lead to an improvement in water quality. The Wisconsin Lakeshore Restoration Project is one example. The Portland Water District has a brochure titled “Lakes Like Less Lawn”, which outlines their program for environmental landscaping. So, if you are looking to make changes to your landscaping in the spring, consider the design and see if you can include bushes, trees and other plant material to improve not only your lot but the lake as well.

BE LAKE RESPONSIBLE

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