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Lake-Friendly Living Guide: Go Native! Install Vegetative Buffers and Rain Gardens

Mount Arlington Rain Garden

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LHF | By Holly Odgers:We are introducing a series of posts that make up a Lake-Friendly Living Guide to engage the public in action-oriented ways to protect Lake Hopatcong.

All property owners in the Lake Hopatcong watershed, not just lakefront property owners, can make a difference. The second post in our Lake-Friendly Living Guide series focuses on vegetative buffers and rain gardens and how you can use native plants to reduce stormwater runoff and protect Lake Hopatcong. Check in each week to learn more about what you can do for our lake!

In your own backyard

Protecting Lake Hopatcong can literally start right in your own backyard. Using native plants to create vegetative buffers and rain gardens in your landscaping is beneficial to the water quality of Lake Hopatcong and wallet friendly at the same time!  Both buffers and rain gardens utilize vegetation to collect water and prevent or slow runoff from reaching our lake and other water sources.  They also protect biodiversity by providing habitat for local wildlife and pollinators.

Vegetative Buffers

A vegetative buffer is a section of natural vegetation along the shoreline of a body of water intended to intercept and slow stormwater runoff and groundwater moving through the root zone of the trees. Planted vegetative buffers, or simply allowing your landscape along the shoreline to return to its natural state, are vital for lakefront properties as they help prevent sediments, pesticides, and large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the lake. Ideally, the vegetation should cover at least 50-75% of your property’s lake frontage. By restoring the shoreline with native plants, you restore the ecological functions of the lakeshore.

Benefits of vegetative buffers include:

  • Stabilized soil and reduced erosion

  • Filtration of pollutants and sediments

  • Absorption of nutrients

  • Privacy from lake users

  • Save time and money in maintenance

  • Food and shelter for local wildlife

  • Deterrence of nuisance species – Canada geese avoid tall plants and grasses!

Selecting plants for vegetative buffers:

The best vegetation management strategy for buffers includes a mix of aquatic grasses, sedges, rushes, and other beneficial flowering species along with upland plants growing on shore.

Native plant options:

  • Native sedges and rushes

  • Pickerelweed

  • Blueflag Iris

  • Swamp Milkweed

  • Lizard’s Tail

  • Cardinal Flower

More information on recommended plants for vegetative buffers can be found on this post by Solitude Lake Management: https://www.solitudelakemanagement.com/plants-to-use-and-avoid-when-establishing-a-vegetative-buffer

Rain gardens

A rain garden is a vegetated depression that collects rainwater. The collection of this water allows the rain that falls on rooftops, driveways, patios, and more to infiltrate the ground thus reducing stormwater runoff and the amount of pollution that reaches the lake or other bodies of water.

Benefits of a rain garden include:

  • Filtration of stormwater runoff before it enters the lake

  • Alleviation of problems with flooding and drainage

  • Enhancement of the beauty of yards and communities

  • Habitat and food for wildlife like birds and butterflies

  • Reduction of the need for expensive stormwater treatment structures in your community

Things to remember when building a rain garden:

  • Place your rain garden at least 10 feet from the house to protect your foundation from seepage

  • Do not place your rain garden directly over a septic system

  • Do not put your rain garden in places where water already pools

  • Place your rain garden in full or partial sunlight if possible

  • Avoid large tree roots

Selecting native plants for your rain garden:

Since a rain garden is flooded periodically, you will need plants that can live in both wet and dry conditions. Consider how much sun or shade you will have when selecting plants. You might want a variety of height, color, and blooming period so your rain garden will not only be stopping stormwater runoff but will also provide a beautiful landscape to enjoy all summer long.

Native plants options:

  • Cinnamon Fern

  • Winterberry

  • Broomsedge

  • Spicebush

  • Hackberry

  • Marsh Mallow

  • Buttonbush

  • Swamp Milkweed

  • Silky Dogwood

  • Northern Arrowwood

  • Sweet Pepperbush

  • Elderberry

  • Highbush Blueberry

  • Spatterdock

  • Tussock Sedge

Detailed information on planning, installing, and maintaining a rain garden can be found on the Native Plant Society of New Jersey’s rain garden page: https://www.npsnj.org/pages/nativeplants_Rain_Gardens.html

Why use native plants?

Native plants are low maintenance, drought tolerant, and environmentally friendly.  Native plants require less maintenance than lawns and mulched tree, shrub, and perennial plantings.  They require minimal watering (except during establishment and drought periods) and they need no pesticides or fertilizers, a common source the pollution for Lake Hopatcong.  Native plants are deep-rooted to help infiltrate water and provide important habitat to native songbirds, insects, and other fauna.

More information about Jersey-friendly yards and landscaping for a healthy environment can be found at: www.jerseyyards.org

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