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Minimizing Runoff and Erosion Along Your Lakeshore, Stream or River Property

By Donna Evans

Designing your landscape to care for your shoreline is extremely important not only for protecting the integrity of your property, but also to protect to quality of your neighboring water body. You can control sedimentation and conditions that favor algae growth with proper planning. The appropriate landscaping is also important to improve water quality.

Don’t just jump into your landscaping, begin by doing the appropriate planning. This will pay off in big dividends as you will avoid costly mistakes.

1) The first step is to prepare a site plan. Begin by conducting a site inventory on your property. Know where your water flows during heavy rains or ice melt. If your site is bare, know where the prevailing winds are from. Record all of this information on a site map of your property. Also, document existing features such as plantings, septic system, structures and anything else that might affect a site plan.

2) Using this information create your plan of action for your site. This might require attending a home landscape design course, studying books from your library or talking with a local agency such as your Soil & Water Conservation District for suggestions. That failing, it might mean hiring a landscape architect to provide a comprehensive plan.

3) Depending on your circumstances, some of the features which might be useful in preventing runoff and erosion include the following:

  • Create a “no mow zone” along your shoreline at least 40 feet back if possible. You can simply stop mowing and let your buffer return gradually to a more natural state. You can also remove the existing turf and install native plants. The benefits include reduction of runoff and improved habitat for birds and other creatures.

  • Occasionally the creation of a dry creek bed can be useful to intercept, direct and filter water during heavy rain events. Dry creek beds can be used for drainage away from homes and foundations that have insufficient slopes; they can be used to minimize washing on slopes; and they can be constructed so that they are quite attractive by creating an unusual landscape feature.

  • Evergreen trees, deciduous overstory trees and shrubs all intercept rain water, thus reducing velocity. Therefore, not all rainwater reaches the ground. If possible, preserve your native trees and shrubs and augment their numbers with additional plantings.

  • Mulch can be used effectively to minimize erosion. If you have ever looked at a home with no gutters, you have probably noticed the line where runoff from the roof has hit the ground. Installing 2” to 3” rock mulch beyond the dripline can help to minimize effects.

  • Rain gardens are another effective means to minimize runoff and erosion. A rain garden is a landscaped area that replaces an area of your lawn. As the name implies, rain gardens are designed to soak up rainwater, frequently from the roofs of buildings, parking lots and impervious surfaces. It is designed to accept water during a storm allowing it to slowly filter into the ground, rather than rapidly running off into a storm drain, lake or river.

  • If you are creating patios or entertainment areas, use materials that are not impervious. Flagstone or products such as EcoGrid will allow for the creation of a wonderful patio with gaps for the planting of grass or groundcovers. This allows rainwater and runoff to find small cracks and crevices and filter into the ground.

New home construction or extensive remodeling on a home can disturb the site and lead to damage along the shoreline. The following tips should be considered before beginning the landscaping around a home construction project:

  • Always begin by checking local codes and requirements for shoreline development. Be certain you are permitted for your activities prior to construction.

  • Install a silt fence along your shoreline to help prevent erosion and siltation from reaching your water body. Do not remove the silt fence until after all work has been completed and all shoreline areas have reached stability in slowing runoff and preventing erosion.

  • Always begin your landscape work at your shoreline and work your way out. This way you will never have to cross your work again with equipment.

  • If your site has large bare and disturbed areas and is sloped toward your shoreline, consider placing erosion control sediment logs/straw waddles at intervals to slow runoff on a temporary basis. Once your project has been completed they can be removed.

  • As you initiate your landscaping on slopes, consider using curlex erosion control blankets to aid in holding seed in place and to assist with reducing runoff and erosion. This will improve seed contact and germination. These are natural materials and will degrade so you do not have to worry about removing them.

  • Consider using hydroseeding techniques for seeding in conjunction with curlex blankets to increase germination and seed viability.

  • If you are having erosion on your shoreline from water action, consider native plantings. Riprap is rarely the answer. Consider using Shoresox,, as an alternative to minimize the effects of water action while your shoreline plants are becoming established.

  • If you establish a lawn, keep it small and never close to the water’s edge. Do not apply fertilizer, especially any that contain phosphorus. Set your mower blade as high as possible to help prevent runoff. Never rake your grass clippings or leaves into a water body or roadway. Start a home compost site and create a wonderful soil amendment for your garden.

  • Before any construction always contact your local “One Call” service or a trained specialist for locating all underground utilities.

Avoid costly mistakes by taking the time to do proper landscape planning. A small investment in time and if necessary in hiring the expertise of a landscape architect can spare your shoreline while improving the quality of your lake, stream or river.

Donna Evans is a freelance writer, website designer and landscape designer. She is co-owner of Gizmo Creations LLC, a landscape and website design firm,, located in Merrifield, Minnesota.

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