A shoreline landscaped – or lakescaped – with natural habitat plants is an excellent way to provide for better water quality and protect important habitats for fish and wildlife. As more lake-side properties are developed, it is common to clear the natural shoreline vegetation, add beaches with sand, boulders and plant grass close to the waterfront. This type of shoreline management may look attractive, but it results in many harmful consequences for the lake environment. Why is grass along the shoreline bad for the lake? There are several reasons. Phosphorus fertilizers used on lake-side lawns can have a serious negative impact on water quality. Runoff from fertilizer is carried directly into the lake and stimulates plant growth that can lead to uncontrolled algae blooms making the water murky and unhealthy. It reduces oxygen levels in the water damaging fish populations and creating irritating smells. Lawn grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and fescue do not have the deep root systems that are needed to protect the shoreline along the water’s edge. Shallow rooted plants increase the risk of erosion from waves and ice. Lawn grasses also do not grow well in wet soils along the shore. This can lead to thin lawns where soil particles are washed into the lake causing sedimentation of the lake bottom and fish spawning habitat. So what can be done on your shoreline to prevent a negative impact to the lake? First, know that the decisions you make on your property will directly impact the health of the lake.
1) Deep-rooted and woody vegetation along the shoreline should be preserved as much as possible.
2) Eliminate all use of phosphorus-based fertilizers near the water.
3) Add a buffer strip of native vegetation between turf and the water to benefit the health of wildlife and the lake. Shoreline plantings create a natural buffer that stabilizes the shore from waves and provides habitat for wetland birds, small animals such as chipmunks, squirrels and reptiles such as turtles and frogs. Many native plants are important pollinators for butterflies and hummingbirds. It also shades and cools the water, helping fish to thrive. Natural shoreline plantings capture sediment by storing moisture in the soil and reducing runoff into the lake. Another benefit is the natural beauty of these landscapes. Keeping our shorelines healthy is an important way to maintain water quality and protect our property values.
Recommended video: Our Lakeshore Connection: Lakeshore restoration and stewardship (Anoka Country)
Recommended publication: Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality by Carrol Henderson & Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.