Buffer strips, typically made up of native flowers and grasses, are invaluable to any lake ecosystem, but especially to those surrounded by high density residential land. It’s normal for most of us to want a well manicured lawn surrounding our house. It’s what we grew up with. It’s what we see around us. But, if you are a lakeshore homeowner, you need to re-evaluate what a “normal” lawn looks like.
The presence of a manicured lawn all the way down to the shoreline is undesirable, and erosion will eventually occur along this property. This is because the roots of turf grass, such as Kentucky bluegrass, are only a few inches long. As a result, they only hold the top few inches of soil along the shoreline and do not stand up to wave action. Additionally, these shallow roots will not filter any nutrients or sediment entering the lake from overland stormwater flow and the grass itself provides little to no wildlife habitat. They also do not provide for infiltration of water into the soil.
Instead, lakeshore homeowners should establish a minimum 10-20 foot wide buffer strip along their shorelines. The buffer strip could include native wildflowers, native grasses, native wetland plants or a combination of all three.
Buffer strips benefit lakes in many ways. Shoreland and upland plants provide food and cover for birds, amphibians, insects and mammals, stabilize lake-bank soils against wave action, hold soil in place against the eroding forces of water running over the ground, and absorb nutrients found in fertilizers and animal waste, which can cause algae blooms and excessive plant growth in lakes.
Many people oppose establishing buffer strips because they think that they look bland or messy or because they believe the plants will block their view of the lake. This does not have to be the case. Many colorful, low-growing plants can be incorporated in a buffer strip and will provide all of the benefits described above just as well as some of the taller prairie and wetland plants, such as prairie cord grass or cattails. The pros and cons of buffer strips (and other shoreline types that can be established for erosion-control along shorelines) are discussed in greater detail in many of our reports.
Below are just a few examples of effective buffer strip plants recommended by the LMU. An extensive list of recommended upland, wetland, emergent and submersed plants, as well as a list of nurseries in the area that sell these plants can be obtained from the LMU by calling 847-377-8030 and asking for an LMU staff member.