Shoreline Planting FAQs

What is a native shoreline planting?

A native shoreline planting is an area of native grasses and perennial flowers planted directly adjacent to a pond, reservoir, stream, or river.  Some plants, called aquatic emergent plants, grow in the water, while others grow on the banks above the waterline.

What are the benefits of a shoreline planting?

Currently, many shorelines are planted with turfgrass and mown all the way to the waterline.  Turfgrass roots are only a few inches deep – the root depth is approximately equal to the above ground growth.  These shallow roots do little to hold soil in place, so when wind, fountains, boats, or geese create waves, those waves pull soil particles from the bank into the water.  This makes the water cloudy and the bank steeper.  Native plants have roots that commonly grow several feet into the soil.  These fibrous root systems hold soil in place easily.  Additionally, native plants grown in the water (called aquatic emergent plants) absorb and buffer wave action, further protecting the shore from erosion. Native plants, unlike turfgrass, also have the ability to filter out pollutants like pesticides, fertilizers, and pet waste that would otherwise run directly into the water.

  • Hold soil in place and reduce shoreline erosion
  • Absorb and filter pollutants before they flow into the water (this includes nutrients from fertilizer, which contribute to algae growth)
  • Provide habitat for frogs, turtles, songbirds, butterflies, and other beneficial wildlife
  • Reduce mowing and maintenance
  • Discourage nuisance Canada Geese

Will the plants grown in the water or up on the bank? Will they spread and form mats?

Both.  Aquatic emergent plants typically grow in 2-12 inches of water.  Other plant communities grow up on the banks, close to but not actually in the water.  Your native shoreline plantings may contain just one or both of these types of plants – it all depends on your goals and preferences.

Lilies and a few other native species will spread into deep water, but most plants you would install in a native shoreline planting will not grow beyond 12 inches of water depth.  Talk with the contractor doing your planting, or if you’re doing it yourself, speak with the plant provider, to make sure you understand how far your plants will spread.

Will a shoreline planting stop bank erosion?

It depends.  If a shoreline is already severely eroding, these plants likely cannot reverse that trend on their own.  However, if installed early enough and allowed to flourish, they can do a great job of stabilizing the soil and preventing shoreline erosion thanks to their deep, fibrous root systems.  If you choose to plant aquatic emergent plants in the water, they will provide an added benefit by absorbing and buffering wave action before it ever reaches the shore.

Will native shoreline plantings get rid of geese?

If native shoreline plantings don’t get rid of the geese, they at least discourage them.  Canada Geese are a native species of waterfowl, but our suburban areas have drastically changed their habits and created quite an issue in suburban areas. Our perfectly manicured lawns and unfrozen retention ponds keep them well fed and allow them to stay here year-round instead of migrating like they used to.  Unfortunately, geese can be aggressive, especially if they have a nest nearby.  Their droppings are not only unsightly, but dangerous to humans, pets, and water quality.

Geese tend to avoid native shoreline plantings.  They cannot see through the vegetation and think a predator might be hiding there.  Some neighborhoods have completely eliminated their goose population by surrounding their retention ponds with native plantings.

What if I want to fish? Won't native plants block my access?

Native plantings are typically a minimum of 3 feet tall, so if you want to fish on your shoreline, you will want to identify a few favorite spots to stand and then either fill those areas with short-stature native species or skip planting there altogether.

My shoreline/streambank is really eroded. Can I still plant a native shoreline along it?

Yes, but there will be some extra considerations.  If you plant plants and seed on a severely eroding shoreline, you run the risk of the shoreline eroding further and destroying the new plantings.  For this reason, some type of structural stabilizer will be required.  The most common practice is to install a coir log, a coconut fiber roll that looks like a tree trunk, along the shoreline.  This roll gets staked against the shoreline, forming an instant buffer against wave action and further erosion.  Because the roll is made of coconut fiber, the native plants you install can grow in and around it.  Eventually the log will be covered in plants and you’ll never know it’s there.

Will my shoreline planting attract snakes?

It might, but snakes will be more likely in rural areas than suburban ones.  A native shoreline planting isn’t usually enough to provide a complete habitat for a snake, so while the occasional reptile may find refuge in your planting, by using common sense and not disturbing it, you can usually avoid any trouble.  And look at it this way – snakes eat mice and other rodents, so they are providing natural pest control!

Will my shoreline planting attract or breed mosquitoes?

No, not if properly installed. Native shoreline plantings do not pond water, they simply filter and absorb it before it runs into the adjacent body of water.