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Native Plantings: A Beautiful Solution for Minnesota Shorelines

Angie Hong
East Metro Water Resource Education Program

Here in Minnesota, shoreline living is not limited to the rich and famous. According to the MN DNR, Minnesota has 11,842 lakes and 69,200 miles of natural rivers and streams. We have over 13 million acres of lakes, streams, and wetlands, which is equivalent to one quarter of the area of the entire state. Correspondingly, 200,000-225,000 lucky Minnesota families own lakeshore homes, and countless others live along rivers, streams and wetlands.

Living close to the water provides many benefits, including a beautiful view, easy access for water recreation and higher property values. The advantages of waterfront living, however, also come with the responsibility to maintain the health of the lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands so that those of us not so lucky to own shoreline property can still enjoy clean water for fishing, boating, and other forms of recreation.

The water quality data for developed lakeshores can be quite alarming. On average, the development of a lakeshore lot reduces aquatic vegetation along that lot by 66%. There is a direct correspondence between the amount of aquatic vegetation and the number of fish able to live in a lake, and studies have shown that even small changes, paving over or building on 8% of the land on a lot, for example, can impact water quality and fish survival rates.

Shoreline property owners have perhaps more to benefit than anyone from maintaining healthy water bodies, and the most important thing they can do to protect their property investment is to minimize impervious surfaces and maximize native vegetation.

Often, there is pressure from neighbors to maintain a tidy yard by mowing the grass down to the water’s edge or removing tall vegetation from the shoreline. Many people are afraid that their property values will decrease if they plant native vegetation; however, recent planting projects in the local area have shown that a natural shoreline can actually be quite beautiful. Deep-rooted plants and trees also help to control erosion, a major problem for many shoreline properties. In most cases, a buffer of native plants is actually more effective at limiting erosion than a retaining wall, and has the added benefit of discouraging geese from visiting and dropping “presents.”

At first, some people are resistant to planting native vegetation along their shoreline because they are afraid it will limit their access to the water. It is fairly easy, however, to design a yard plan that allows for a dock and a trail to the water while still keeping a healthy buffer along the shoreline. For sample shoreline planting plans and step-by-step instructions for doing a shoreline project, as well as local partners that may be able to provide technical or financial assistance for shoreline planting projects, visit BlueThumb.org.

Read Up

Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality, by Carrol Henderson, Carolyn Dindorf and Fred Rozumalski, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 1999.

Restore Your Shore (CD-ROM), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2002.

Act Locally

Landscaping professionals that specialize in Shoreline Plantings
BlueThumb.org/partners

Mary Blickenderfer, Shoreland Education, Extension Regional Center
Grand Rapids, MN
218-244-7966
extension.umn.edu/shoreland/programteam.html

Recommended Native Plants for Shoreline Landscaping

Upland Plants (6″–1.5′ tall)

  • Prairie smoke (sun)
  • Butterfly weed (sun)
  • Sensitive fern (shade)

Upland Plants (1.5’–2.5′ tall)

  • Purple coneflower (sun)
  • Yellow coneflower (sun)
  • Black-eyed susan (sun)
  • Hoary vervain (sun)

Upland Plants (2.5’–5′ tall)

  • Big bluestem (sun)
  • Blazingstar (many varieties, sun)
  • Golden alexander (sun or shade)
  • Columbine (shade)
  • Zig-zag goldenrod (shade)

Upland Shrubs

  • Black chokeberry
  • Red-osier dogwood
  • Dwarf bush honeysuckle

Transitional Plants (edge of water)

  • Blueflag iris
  • Fox sedge
  • Swamp milkweed

Emergent Plants (in water)

  • Softstem or three-square bulrush
  • Arrowhead

Recommended Native Plants for Shoreline Landscaping
Upland Plants (6″-1.5′ tall)
Prairie smoke (sun)
Butterfly weed (sun)
Sensitive fern (shade)
Upland Plants (1.5′-2.5′ tall)
Purple coneflower (sun)
Yellow coneflower (sun)
Black-eyed susan (sun)
Hoary vervain (sun)
Upland Plants (2.5′-5′ tall)

Big bluestem (sun)
Blazingstar (many varieties, sun)
Golden alexander (sun or shade)
Columbine (shade)
Zig-zag goldenrod (shade)
Upland Shrubs
Black chokeberry
Red-osier dogwood
Dwarf bush honeysuckle
Transitional Plants (edge of water)
Blueflag iris
Fox sedge
Swamp milkweed
Emergent Plants (in water)
Softstem or three-square bulrush
Arrowhead

Native Plantings

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