Creating and Protecting
a Healthy Shoreline
Questions & Answers
Q: Can I get rid of existing vegetation to do more attractive "lakescaping"?
A: "Lakescaping" or "aquascaping" involves much more than gardening on the lakeshore. It relies on the natural abilities of native aquatic plants to improve water quality by filtering runoff, to prevent erosion by breaking the force of waves and anchoring soils on the shoreline, and to create usable habitat for wildlife, such as fish, turtles, frogs, birds and butterflies.
In many cases existing vegetation may be the best choice of plants for the site because it is well-adapted to conditions (such as water levels, soils and light) at a particular site and it already fulfills the needed roles along the shoreline. Removing vegetation disturbs the site and opens the door for exotic species to invade your shoreline. Also, existing native plants are protected by law. An Aquatic Plant Management permit is usually required from the DNR to remove native vegetation.
Q: Why are natural plantings a better alternative to rip rap for preventing erosion?
A: Rip rap is expensive and it provides no usable habitat for fish or wildlife. Plants cost less, are a beautiful addition to a shoreline, and provide multiple benefits, such as creating a shoreline buffer strip that intercepts nutrients and sediments before reaching the lake.
Q: Won't a "naturalized" shoreline look messy and limit access to the lake?
A: Recreational uses of a shoreline need not be compromised by promoting a healthy plant community. Most lakeshore frontage can provide ample room for beaches, docks and views of the lakes as well as vegetation along the waterfront. The key is proper planning for the different uses, concentrating recreational uses in one area while allowing native plants to flourish in others. Because it may take a few years for native plants to get established, it's important to keep out the real weeds, such as Canadian thistle, reed canary grass, burdock, and nettles. Once established, native vegetation provides a rich and visually attractive pattern of color throughout a prolonged blooming season. Each year, more and more lakeshore owners are realizing this.
Q: How do I find out which native plants to use and where can I get them?
A: Start out by identifying the plants that grow in natural areas around local lakes. Because native plants are adapted to local conditions, these have the best chance of growing successfully. When buying plants, look for ones that come from Minnesota, preferably from your own general region. Be sure to avoid prohibited species and remember: A DNR permit is required to harvest plants from local lakes and wetlands. For a list of native plant sources, consult the DNR or you local extension service.
by Tom Beaver, July 2001
LOGS: SOMETHING YOU CAN BANK ON
Our fickle weather has taken yet another bite out of the Cullens' shoreline, and although lakescaping will be the hot topic at the annual meeting, an immediate word to the wise is necessary to prevent further shoreline damage.
This spring, high water and wave action have pounded the wet, soft soils above the average rock solid high water line. If the shoreline bank has no vegetative root structure, it will in time erode into the lake. But, even if the shoreline has established vegetation, the high water and waves this year may have created a little-noticed undercut that in time will cause the bank to collapse at the water line and be washed into the lake.
Low, sloping, sandy shorelines experience little effect from high water. Unfortunately, most of our high banked loam soil shorelines are on the north side of the lakes, exposing them to the prevailing south winds. As you boat along the high banked lakeshore, notice how the stabilized banks have not given way to the water's pounding. If you don't have that ideal wetland or
shoreline natural buffer to help protect your lakeshore, here are some stop-gap measures you can use until nature takes over:
*First and easiest is the "log stuff". Any log will do, even a wind fall, for it will eventually rot and nurture natural vegetation, which is one of the goals. Cut appropriately sized logs to fit under the bank and drive them in with a maul or bar. Then stake them to prevent washout. (See diagram.)
*Second is the "rock stuff". Wedge rocks of any size (however, the bigger the better) under the bank without the mesh backing normally used in rock rip rap. DO NOT take rocks from the lake bottom; this will encourage bottom erosion, so you end up robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you have a chronic erosion problem on a very steep, heavily shaded bank where little wants to
grow, you may choose to (I gasp at the thought) use rip rap.
In 1998 we stuffed our problem bank, placed plastic mesh down and layered a boulder wall ONLY from the low water to the high water line. This has done a remarkably good job of stopping bank erosion, and vegetation has taken over from the high water line landward. Yes, this short rock buffer (it is barely visible from the lake) is more prone to movement, but it is easily maintained and it blends in with nature. It is also less intrusive on the hundreds of shoreline species that are impacted by the traditional
rip rap rock terracing. The critters are important links in the lakes' aquatic biosystems.
Bottom line is we need to help Mother Nature hold her banks together, but we should use environmentally sound
methods in doing so. If we lakeshore owners bury our natural shorelines under a wall of rock in the name of erosion protection, we lose shoreline ecosystems that are essential for the many shore birds, land critters, and aquatic species. We also lose the natural aesthetics of the area.
This spring's sediment wash has added more nutrients to the water and silt to the lake bottom. The chlorophyll a counts are higher, water clarity is lower, and plant growth, although slow to start, is more intense. It's time to roll up our pants!
UPDATED July 1, 2003
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