Stormwater Blues
Benefits of Riparian Areas

Sizing Your Buffer
Steps for Riparian Planting

Special Considerations
Buffers- Not a Cure-All

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Steps for riparian buffer planting

Get outside, walk your property, and develop a sketch of your property. Include property boundaries, the location of the shoreline, buildings, utilities and existing vegetation.

Make a survey of the existing vegetation on your site. Identify any plants and trees that you may want to work into your revegetation scheme. Look at existing vegetation along the stream or lake for ideas.

Consider the slope of your property. A slope of 45% or less should be suitable for planting. If your slope is steeper than 45% and eroding, you may need a more engineered solution. Seek professional assistance to avoid creating or increasing an erosion problem. Also, permits are generally required when you work below the ordinary high water mark.

Determine the sun exposure of your property. This will determine what plants will thrive in your yard. South-facing slopes generally receive more sun and dry out faster than north-facing slopes.
Examine the way your yard and soil drain. Figure out where water enters and exits your yard. Identify areas that are continually wet or eroding. Dig a 6"-12" square test pit, add water, and watch how fast the water soaks in. Pooling water indicates poorly draining soil.Native Plants Found in Riparian Areas

Since some plants are better suited to wet places and others to well-drained locations, figure out what kind of soil you have. Put some in your hand, add enough water to moisten it, and try rolling it into a ribbon. If the soil doesn't hold together, it's mostly sand. If it forms a ribbon but falls apart, it's mostly silt. If it makes a long ribbon that stays together, the soil is predominantly clay.

You may also want to take a soil sample to be analyzed by a lab. A soil sample can tell you a great deal about the fertility and pH of your soil at the start of the project. Sometimes soil amendments may be needed to bring things back to a productive level.

Develop a Plan
Revegetating your shoreline sounds like a big job, but it doesn't have to be. One approach is to plan your work in phases. Divide the planting area into small, manageable sections. This will help you focus your resources. The section next to the shoreline is the most critical so it should be the first phase. (See Figure 1.)Divide your project into several phases

Consider how you currently use your yard. How much lawn do you really use for recreation? Where are the utilities located? What places do you need access to that can't be blocked by vegetation?

Size matters when deciding how much of your yard to convert to shoreland vegetation. A buffer should be as large as possible to provide the most protection to the shoreline and improvement to water quality. The steeper the slope, the wider the buffer needed to provide protection.

First, think about how much less lawn you will have to maintain-feels good, doesn't it? Second, use stakes and flagging to mark out a tentative border. Think about it for a while so that you are comfortable with your decision. If your neighbor already has an established buffer, you can blend yours with theirs to increase vegetative cover for wildlife.

Choose the Plants
Choose plants with an eye to their growth potential and suitability for your site. Native plant species are often good choices, but remember that there may only be a small number that are truly suitable for your site. To determine the most appropriate plants for your property, use your site characteristics and a comprehensive plant guide to develop a list of likely candidates. Next, check out the types of plants that are growing on undisturbed shorelines near your property. Use books and local resources to narrow the list to the most appropriate species for your area.

Start looking early on for sources of appropriate plant stock. For example, there are several native plant nurseries in the area, but their stock may be limited. Ultimately, availability will determine your choices. You can always thin your plantings and add other appropriate species as they become available.Planting advice

A plan view sketch of your buffer is very useful to determine where and how much to plant (see Figure 1). In general, shrubs and small trees should be planted on four-foot centers. Think about how the plants will look when grown-a common mistake is planting too closely. Some fastgrowing plants will out compete shade intolerant species. A nursery will be able to provide advice on planting densities, location, and maintenance.

Site Preparation
Before you "clear the slate" to begin planting, decide how to handle any riparian-suited plants that may be living there already. Either leave them alone and protect their root areas, or salvage them to be replanted later. If you choose to salvage them, special care must be used to avoid excess stress to the plants. The roots must remain covered with soil or mulch and kept moist while they await their new home. If stored properly, plants can wait up to a year before planting. Removal of unwanted plants and turf can be done by mechanical or manual means. If you decide to use chemicals, apply them only to specific plants, follow the label to the letter, and keep the herbicide away from the water.

When new home sites are cleared, the native topsoil is often removed and sold. This practice makes it easier to prepare the foundation but it removes all of the organic matter from the site. A soil test will indicate what vital nutrients may be missing.

Maintain Your Plants
Once your plants are in the ground, make sure not to neglect them while they're getting established. Learn their water and nutrient requirements to promote root growth. If you need help, contact WSU Master Gardeners at (360) 676-6736.

For more information about planting riparian areas please visit Washington's Water web site (

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For more information, contact Scarlet Tang or Todd Murray
WSU Cooperative Extension (360) 676-6736

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