Waves, wind, currents, and ice put significant stress on soil that comes into contact with a body of water or run-off during rain storm events. Ecologists, water quality specialists, and land planners and landscape architects agree that a naturally vegetated buffer along a shoreline is optimal for the maintenance of a healthy body of water. This concept of a native plant buffer is simple: a continuous vegetative strip planted with various native plants in an undisturbed setting. A native plant buffer with its extensive root system and ability to adapt to changing weather conditions is preferable to a turf grass lawn that has neither the root system nor the tolerance for water to be an effective buffer against the dynamic effects of water on the shoreline.
Conventional solutions to erosion problems have been to armor shorelines with hard surfaces such as rock, concrete, or steel. Over time, these methods have proved to be expensive to maintain, detrimental to wildlife, visually un-attractive and may actually cause increased flooding and erosion in other locations connected to the body of water. There is also the inevitable repair and replenishment of materials that becomes necessary when these design ideas fail.
At Pizzo & Associates, Ltd., we develop specifications to protect shorelines using native plants. These specifications will vary depending on the specifics of a particular site. An added benefit of a bio-engineered solution is that it can be substantially less expensive to maintain over a long period of time. After a two-to-four year establishment period during which time the native plants become well established, the maintenance cost is minimal.
Several basic components common to all buffers include:
- Vegetation: All plant species will be native to the region. The species used will range from wetland plants to upland prairie types. The choice of plants will be influenced by the velocity at which the water travels, the amount of water level change during a rain event, the current degree of slope, current shoreline condition and, of course, the owner’s preference.
- Width: Any strip of native vegetation will be beneficial. However, the full benefits of a native plant buffer are proportional to its width. The width of the buffer is also dependent on the size of the water body and site conditions with larger bodies of water requiring wider buffer zones.
- Accessibility: A continuous, uninterrupted buffer is preferable for optimum protection, but it is possible to create access to the water for recreational purposes. Either a mowed path or rocks can be used. A stabilized, native plant buffer serves as a line of defense against threats to our region’s ponds, lakes and waterways.