Planting for Shoreline Health
by Carolyn Aita
On April 1st, a grey day with intermittent light snow, the BDLIA held a Shoreline Restoration Workshop attended by a full house of enthusiastic members and guests. President Karen Huber gave an introduction, a raison être for the workshop, and introduced the main speaker, Scott Langum from DRAX, Inc. Scott showed many examples of hardscaping (non-vegetative) solutions that DRAX has done to protect against shoreline erosion in the first place and to restore property after erosion, even on a disastrous scale, has occurred. Honestly, some of the examples left me breathless and thankful that (1) I do not live on a bluff that might disappear under wave action, and (2) my shoreline is on a quiet bay on the northwest corner of Beaver Dam Lake, sheltered from the prevailing wind.
Karen then spoke about the Wisconsin Healthy Lakes and Rivers Initiative which addresses what we, as individual land stewards, can do to bolster lake health. In contrast to the hardscaping solutions DRAX offered, much of this initiative involves softscaping, that is, using vegetation at the shoreline or in upland swales to collect and filter rainwater which will then enter the aquifer and not run off a lawn or impervious surface into the lake. Karen made the critical point that native plants, with roots deeper than those of turfgrass, are better able to hold shoreline soil in place. Native plants also offer a diversity of root structure, taproot, fibrous, rhizome, bulb, corm, or woody, so positive interaction with multiple levels of soil and with every soil type is possible.
I followed with a short feel-good presentation on the fascinating bugs and butterflies, eye candy, that forage the native plantings in our garden. (One of our longterm goals has been to provide nourishment, shelter, and nesting sites to diverse indigenous invertebrate species when their global habitats are shrinking.) It was easy to please the audience. Who doesn’t smile at the sight of a newly hatched monarch butterfly nectaring on milkweed (A), or two monarchs socializing near a blazing star (B). And how about the excitement of finding an uncommon red-belted bumble bee enjoying Joe Pye weed (C)? But does such planting contribute to shoreline stabilization? Let’s ask the experts. Checking the catalogs of two well-established local suppliers of native plants, Prairie Nursery and Agrecol LLC, we find that milkweed, Joe Pye weed, and blazing star species all are included in their pre-planned shoreline buffer garden offerings.
Shoreline softscaping benefits the ecosystem and brings us joy. But, gentle Reader, be careful to obtain your native plants from reputable sources. There are lots of jumping worms around. Also, please use “straight species,” avoid varieties cultivated by humans (cultivars). And don’t substitute “nativars” for the real thing. Nativars are plants passed off as natives but are cultivars in disguise. Be bold. Use natives everywhere in your garden (D, E, F). Mix them in established flower beds that could use a boost and watch for the arrival of eye candy.
Presentations and other resources are posted on our website at www.bdlia.org under the Resources tab.
Photos by Mike Aita