A native plant is usually defined as one that was growing naturally in a specific area before European settlement. Still today, the most ideal landscape is one where a broad range of plants occur naturally, or where they are planted to fit the local area’s, soil and climatic conditions, as well as suit the preferences of the landowner. By choosing plant species native to your ecoregion, you will help sustain biodiversity. Many types of animals, insects and even fish need native vegetation for their own survival and these plants rely on them equally as well for seed distribution and pollination.
It is imperative that you keep your property well vegetated. Native trees and plants not only provide habitat for wildlife they hold soil in place on slopes, prevent erosion, and filter out pollution that could contaminate water. When landscaped properly, trees and plants can also be used to save you energy costs. Talk to an experienced landscaper or employ a few soil bioengineering techniques:
- Plants knit the waterfront together; roots act like rebar in concrete.
- Reduce energy of waves, currents, and wind.
- Provide shade, channel wind.
- Foliage reduces energy of rainfall; prevents excess runoff.
- Inexpensive and attractive way of controlling shoreline erosion.
- How can I protect trees on my property during construction?
- How can I tell whether my shoreline vegetation is native?
- I have a shorewall on my property which I am told is contributing to erosion elsewhere along the shore. Is there anything I can do?
- It was recommended that I plant willows to protect my shoreline from erosion. Why willows?
- What can I do to prevent the spread of invasive plants on my shoreline?
- What can I do to provide wildlife habitat on my property?
- What is a buffer strip/zone and why is it important?
- What is an invasive species?
- What is a “riparian area”?
- What is meant by cuttings or live stakes, and how do I prepare and plant them?
- How do I restore a shoreline that has been totally cleared and planted with grass?
- What can I do to protect my shoreline from erosion?
- How can I tell whether my shoreline vegetation is native?
- What is an invasive species?
1. Trees are often damaged during construction and then die later. The major problems are grade changes around trees, soil compaction and injuries such as gouging caused by heavy machinery, and tree thinning. The extra initial expense of careful site development to avoid these problems is a worthwhile investment.- Use temporary fencing to protect trees and shrubs from damage by construction vehicles. This will prevent root damage, gouging and soil compaction (which cuts off air and water to roots). - Keep all digging and excavation at least 3 m (10 ft) from any tree you want to preserve. Roots generally extend out at least as far as the branches (the “drip line”).- To avoid soil compaction around trees, hand clear brush surrounding trees rather than using heavy machinery.- Do not bury tree roots when backfilling or grading. Even 15 cm (6 inches) of fill over the existing grade can cause the death of a mature evergreen.- Attend to any damage. Damaged roots, trunks, and limbs can cause major trauma to a tree. Support or remove damaged limbs and maintain root cover by adding soil or mulch when necessary.- Discuss with your contractor how to protect existing drainage patterns as much as possible in order to maintain the same water flows to the vegetation you are protecting.
2. The easiest way to tell whether or not your shoreline harbours native plants is to carefully inspect an area which you think has not been altered or disturbed and compare it to your shoreline. However, do keep in mind that some non-native, invasive plants have become wide spread and common and you may think they are native to your area. The next step is to consult a comprehensive native plant guide to identify the plants growing on your property. It is also important to learn about non-native, invasive plants that may be growing in your area; many of these are causing very serious damage to our natural environment. Check for these alien invaders, and take appropriate steps to remove them, substituting native plants in their place. You can join a local naturalist club to learn more or consult with a local naturalist for advice.
- Restore or plant deep-rooted vegetation along the strip leading to the retaining wall; this will help buffer surface water from runoff and reduce the risk of erosion by holding the soil together.
- Plant overhanging native shrubs to help keep water cool. You can also drill planting holes from the side and plant cuttings or container plants.
- In rip rap, plant shrubs in open spaces among the rocks.
- Anchor a log or two at the base of a retaining wall to improve wildlife habitat and help break the force of water. This will help reduce the scouring action of waves breaking against the wall.
- With approvals, you can add rock rip rap to the base of a retaining wall at a 45 degree angle, to help break the force of waves and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. Gradually sediment may start to deposit amongst the rocks, and aquatic plants may grow.
- Shore “ladders” of rip rap from the base of the wall to the top may be feasible for some walls, again with appropriate approvals from DFO or relevant ministries in your province. These will help provide wildlife (such as amphibians) access from the water to the land.
If your retaining wall is beginning to crumble, consider replacing it with a more shore-friendly structure. However, this must be done without causing further disturbance to your shoreline. Obtain professional advice and obtain approvals from DFO and relevant ministries in your province. Here are the basic steps to “retiring” a retaining wall:
- Dig it out: Get in behind the wall to remove the supporting backfill and then grade to a new slope of 25◦ or less.
- Clothe it: Lay geotextile filter cloth on the slope to hold the soil in place.
- Remove the wall: Ideally, the wall would be physically removed; however, if this is infeasible, break the wall into pieces to lie on the slope. Finally, smash it into smaller pieces of concrete rubble.
- Add more rip rap. This will help aesthetically, and fill in spaces left by the concrete.
- Revegetate: Plant woody vines or shrubs over the top. Gradually, these will grow and look more like a natural shoreline than the vertical structure that was there.
The new structure dissipates the energy of waves and currents.
- Their extensive root systems anchor soil together along fragile banks and withstand the forces of ice drift in lakes and rivers, and flood waters. Willows can root in slopes with up to a 2:1 gradient.
- Their stems help slow flood waters and winds, thus reducing soil erosion.
- They thrive in damp, boggy soil common along riverbanks, lakeshores, and flood plains.
- They can be grown inexpensively from cuttings taken from existing plants.
- They grow quickly (most willows are mature enough to reproduce in only four years).
- Their flexible branches bend under the pressure of water or ice and continue to protect soil.
- Willows survive broken branches and will send out new shoots easily.
- They provide food, shelter and a place to live for birds and other wildlife.
- There are a wide variety of native species to choose from, from tree-size to shrub-size.
Avoid weeping willows which are non-native.
- Learn what invasive species are a problem in your area, what they look like, and monitor for their presence. Learning the difference between invasive non-native plants and native plants is the first step to managing vegetation on your property.
- Consult with resource people before you try to control or eradicate an invasive species.
- Be on your guard! Even areas that are considered “wild” may have invasive plants move into them. Walk your property regularly, and keep an eye out for invaders.
- Avoid disturbing ground unnecessarily. Once ground is disturbed, invasive plants can get a foothold and out-compete native species.
- Plant ground cover immediately after construction or other disturbance of your soil, before weed seeds can get started.
- Watch out for other common garden and landscaping plants which may be aggressive in your area. Most invasive plants were introduced as landscaping plants.
- Before you plant a new flowering plant – do you know what it is and what its characteristics are?
- Before you bring your mower from home to the cottage, clean or hose down the blades. You don’t want to bring weeds from the city!
- Be careful! It is easy to inadvertently do more harm than good when working with alien invaders. For example, watch that your shoelaces don’t pick up seeds.
- Plants are easiest to pull when young, before their root systems strengthen.
- If you are hand pulling, choose a day when the soil is damp from recent rainfall but not soggy. Loosen the plant around the roots and pull carefully. Minimize soil disturbance; don’t leave it turned over and exposed. Instead, gently tread it back down the way a golfer replaces divots.
- If you are trying to control established plants, make sure that you prevent them from flowering and going to seed. You may need to mow or weedeat twice during the growing season; however, if you choose your timing carefully, they may not flower again for the rest of the season.
- For plants like thistles which have roots which break off and then form new plants, cut off the plant at the ground, then pour boiling water from a thermos over the exposed cut main root stem. This will set the plant back substantially. Repeat it when the plant resurfaces, and you’ll find you gradually weaken the plant.
- Watch seed heads! If you have pulled a weed which has seeds forming, put it head first into a large sturdy plastic bag to prevent further spread. CAUTION: The flowers of some plants will continue to form into seed heads even after pulling (thistles, for example).
- Methods for combatting invasive plant species are always changing. For the latest options, contact your local ministry of environment or agriculture. Many methods involve the use of pesticides; because of your proximity to surface water, try to avoid this option.
Dealing with the waste
Make sure you prevent the spread of any invasive plants by carefully managing the waste.
- NEVER compost the plants. Improper composting will only help to spread invasives.
- If you live in an area where burning is permitted, the waste can be burned.
- If burning is not an option, place all the waste in sturdy plastic garbage bags and dispose of it in a landfill. This may seem like an anti-environmental option, but invasives are better off in a landfill than filling the land!
Devote an area in your yard to providing a variety of habitat features, including a diversity of vegetation – evergreen and deciduous, young and old, and tall and short.
Create a number of edges (places where one type of vegetation meets another); remember, jagged edges are preferably to straight lines!
Create a corridor to provide safe travel paths for wildlife.Use leftover materials from building or landscaping projects (like rock or wood)to create wildlife habitat.
Do not use old railway ties or telephone poles, or pressure treated wood.Protect downed trees which help provide hiding places, feeding grounds, and spawning areas for fish, as well as aquatic insects, birds and mammals. Downed trees also help keep shorelines and streamsides intact by reducing the erosive impact of waves and currents on soil.
Leave wildlife trees: decaying or dead trees (that are still standing) are wildlife havens.Build a brush pile: instead of hauling branches away, or burning them, pile them in the style of a beaver-lodge to provide an instant wildlife sanctuary.
Don’t disturb the pile between early spring to early fall when birds may be nesting and using the pile as a safe place to raise their young.Diversify habitat with a log pile. If you have logs left over from clearing, or if you bring in wood for a fireplace, consider using a few pieces to create a log pile.Build a rock pile: If you have boulders on your property, build a small rock pile in a corner.Build a nest box for birds or bats.
Protect wetlands.Consider a water based project: Water-based projects to protect shorelines and create wildlife habitat are feasible, but require approvals from DFO and other local agencies. Projects include half logs; brush shelters and log cribs; boulder clusters and rock piles; root wads and brush bundles; artificial reefs; in-stream structures; planting aquatic vegetation like rushes.
7. Deep rooted vegetation such as tall grasses, shrubs, and trees, and aquatic vegetation such as reeds or cattails (freshwater) and eelgrass (saltwater), help “buffer” the shoreline. By reducing the energy of waves and currents, the buffer zone protects your shoreline from erosion.
Vegetation covering your property, including in the buffer zone, provides protection from erosion damage caused by surface drainage. Because shoreline properties are on the receiving end of uphill drainage, this is a common problem; the more cover, the better for you.
If properly established and maintained, a buffer zone can:
- remove up to 50 percent or more of fertilizer chemicals and pesticides.
- remove up to 60 percent or more of some bacteria
- remove up to 75 percent or more of sediment (soil particles)
Vegetation, logs and rocks along the shoreline also slow down flood waters, reducing damage to your property. In addition, these shoreline plants increase the soil’s ability to absorb water, which reduces the negative impact of flooding.
8. An invasive species is an organism which has been introduced into areas where it is not native and competes with native species for foods, nutrients, and habitat. Invasive species often have no natural enemies and can grow out of control. Invasive plants can make your shoreline or streamside less attractive for wildlife.They can also cause problems for you.
9. Riparian areas are the narrow strips of land located along marine and freshwater shorelines, whether they are located along oceans, estuaries, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, ponds, canals, sloughs, wooded draws, rivers, streams, creeks. They also include the sides of dry-bottomed gullies where sub-surface moisture is present, and even human-made drainage ditches. These areas are also often transition zones - the “vital edges” where land and water meet to create unique and often highly productive ecosystems.
10. Cuttings or live stakes are pieces of carefully selected plant material taken from stems or branches, cut into lengths and inserted into the ground. If this is done properly, most of these cuttings will take root and grow.
Some types of trees and shrubs can be established inexpensively by using this method. The easiest plants to propagate from cuttings are native willows (Salix sp.) and cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa, P. balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa). Poplar (Populus balsamifera, P. balsamifera ssp. balsamifera, P. tremuloides) and native dogwoods (Cornus sp.) are also good candidates.
Take cuttings using a sharp knife or pruners, during late winter while plants are fully dormant - January or February in most areas. Collect them from over a wide area to ensure genetic variety in your stock and avoid stressing any one plant. Ask permission from neighbours or the provincial or regional government but please do not take cuttings unless you have received permission. Cut the shoots approx. 20 cm long. Identify the tops of your cuttings by making a horizontal cut at the top, cutting 0.5 cm above a node (the place where a leaf or side branch would join the stem). Make a slanted cut (roughly 45°) at the bottom end, angling it down from a point approx. 0.5 cm below a node. This ensures the best success and makes it easier to insert the cutting into the ground. While you work, put the shoots in a plastic bag that contains a moist piece of paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Store the cuttings in a dark, cool, moist place until you are ready to plant them in the early spring. You can store them in your refrigerator in plastic bags with a small moist piece of paper towel. Don’t worry if the cuttings sprout roots or shoots in storage, they should be okay but do plant them as soon as is practical.
The best time to plant is during the spring, after the ground has thawed but while the shoots are still dormant. Consult a local nursery, or obtain advice from a local conservation group, to determine the recommended spacing and other planting requirements for the particular plant(s) you are using. Soak the cuttings in water for a day or two before planting. Poke a hole in the ground using a pencil or sharp stick roughly the same diameter as your cuttings. Try to make the depth of the hole match the length of the in-ground portion of the cutting; you don’t want an air pocket underneath your cutting. Gently insert the cutting into the hole so that at least 70% of the cutting is in the soil, leaving 30% above ground.
This is very important as it encourages the cutting to produce plenty of roots. Be sure to fill any gaps around the cutting with soil, water well, and add more soil as required so that no air pockets remain around the cutting. Use your fingers to gently firm the soil around the cutting. To protect them from being trampled, you may want to mark the cuttings with a stake. To provide protection from animals, you can surround them with a small cylinder of fine screening (such as a ¼ inch hardware cloth) anchored to the ground.The planting pattern you choose will depend on the species you are planting, the number of cuttings you have, the size of the area you want to plant, and the landscape you envision. Keep in mind that most likely not all cuttings will survive and you can always thin them out later. Generally, it is advisable to arrange your cuttings randomly rather than in rows, spacing willows and dogwoods approx. 30 to 90 cm apart. Because of their size, trees such as cottonwoods and poplars should be planted further apart. Keep an eye on the soil and water the cuttings if necessary; it is critical that the soil stays moist while they grow roots and become established. If a lot of the cuttings survive, you will probably need to thin them out as they grow or they will start crowding each other or shade the water too much. You can weed them out, or ideally, transplant them to another area, perhaps offering any extras to your neighbour(s).
11. If your shoreline has been substantially changed from its original vegetation, then you may be contributing to deteriorating water quality without realizing it! Plus, your shoreline may be at risk for erosion problems. Consider restoring it by planting some native shrubs or trees.
Before you start planting, do some planning:
- Make a brief sketch plan of your property, noting locations of roads and buildings; shoreline features; slopes; vegetation areas, and any other special natural features. A sketch plan helps you identify where you feel comfortable introducing native shrubs and trees.
- Look at the site conditions on your property
- aspect (which direction it faces), type of soil, light, moisture, and degree of slope. These will all influence your planning.
- Identify how much of your shoreline you will feel comfortable letting revert to nature. Even a small area is a good start. Identify what you need for recreation; are there other ways of meeting your recreational needs with less use of the shoreline? A good rule of thumb is to let 80% of the shoreline revert to nature, leaving 20% for human use – dock, swimming area, etc.
- If you are planting in an established lawn, consider how you are going to handle the turf. You can either remove just enough to plant your shrubs and trees, or you can remove (by covering with black plastic or carpet pieces) larger sections and seed or replant with a variety of native grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees.
- If a manicured landscaped look is very important to you, consider hiring a landscape architect who specializes in native plants. There are many native plants which can look attractive.
- Aim for the layered look; you’ll help protect your shoreline – and you’ll help wildlife too! Incorporate low lying ground cover, tall grass and wildflowers, shrubs, small trees and vines and, finally, tall trees. This way, you will create a more interesting landscape with a variety of shrubs and trees with different root masses to help bind your soil and hold your shoreline together. You will also create homes for a variety of wildlife.
- Remember to protect the vegetation that grows in water – this is critical for helping protect your shoreline, as well as for many forms of wildlife.
12. A buffer zone of native plants is one of the best ways to protect shorelines from erosion or stabilize the shoreline if it is already eroding. The wider the buffer zone (measured from the high water mark) the better: preferably, a minimum of 15 metres and ideally at least 30 metres wide. Preferably, the buffer zone is made up of a variety of native vegetation that normally would grow in your area – trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. It also includes plants that might naturally grow below the high water mark, either along the shoreline or in the water (for example: cattails, rushes, and aquatic plants in freshwater; saltgrass and eelgrass in coastal settings). Be sure to leave the native aquatic plants in place as they help to absorb waves and reduce erosion. In addition to controlling erosion, materials like driftwood, logs, native plants, and aquatic vegetation also provide food and habitat for wildlife.
13. The easiest way to tell whether or not your shoreline harbours native plants is to carefully inspect an area which you think has not been altered or disturbed and compare it to your shoreline. However, do keep in mind that some non-native, invasive plants have become wide spread and common and you may think they are native to your area. The next step is to consult a comprehensive native plant guide to identify the plants growing on your property. It is also important to learn about non-native, invasive plants that may be growing in your area; many of these are causing very serious damage to our natural environment. Check for these alien invaders, and take appropriate steps to remove them, substituting native plants in their place. You can join a local naturalist club to learn more or consult with a local naturalist for advice.
14. An invasive species is an organism which has been introduced into areas where it is not native and competes with native species for foods, nutrients, and habitat. Invasive species often have no natural enemies and can grow out of control. Invasive plants can make your shoreline or streamside less attractive for wildlife. They can also cause problems for you.