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Naturalize your shoreline

Media contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (4/19/2012) —A natural shoreline is a healthy shoreline, benefiting the water quality of lakes and streams, the surrounding wildlife, and the people who live on or near your lakeshore property.

"If your property hasn't been developed yet, you can plan ahead to leave it in its natural state," says Karen Terry, a water quality educator with University of Minnesota Extension. But what if your property is already developed?

If you have developed property with little or no natural shoreline, Terry recommends that you follow these steps:

  1. Make a sketch of your property, including buildings, decks or patios, lawn, trees, paths, dock, and swim area. Think of how you use the land now and how you'd like to use it in the future. Would it make sense to relocate your dock or reduce the size of your beach? Draw in the area you'd like to naturalize; aim to naturalize at least one-half of your shoreline frontage.
  2. Identify the three shoreland zones within your proposed naturalization area: the aquatic, which is all under water; the wet meadow, which may be seasonally flooded or near the water table; and the upland zone, which is rarely flooded.
  3. Prepare the site. If you have invasive plants, such as purple loosestrife or reed canarygrass, you may need the advice of a natural resource professional to help you get rid of them. You may also need to move a dock, realign a path, or grade slopes. If you expose or move soil near your shoreline, be sure to secure required permits and take action to prevent erosion and transport of soil to the water.
  4. Finally, get native plants established. There are two ways of doing this:
  • Do nothing. If you stop mowing, weeding, or raking your shoreland area, many native plants will likely reestablish. If your property has mucky or silty soil along the shoreline, seeds from plants that lived there in the past may still exist in the bottom sediments. Plants such as spike rush, sedges, and arrowhead have grown on some shorelines that were not planted, simply because people stopped cutting and raking.
  • Plant your shoreline. To speed the process or feature particular plants, plant seedlings. Select appropriate plants, native to your area, for each of your shoreland zones.

    More information for lake home owners—including septic system management, rain gardens, woodland and wildlife management, and more—is available on Extension's Shoreland website, and in Extension's Lake Home and Cabin Kit.

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