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Maintaining Your Freshwater Shoreline

Planting a vegetative shoreline buffer, known as shorescaping, stabilizes the shoreline, slows sedimentation in ponds, and filters surface runoff. An established, healthy buffer reduces the need for fertilizer, pesticides, and mowing along the water’s edge, ultimately protecting water quality. For more on shorescaping and its benefits, visit HGIC 1855, Shorescaping Freshwater Shorelines.

The following maintenance recommendations are intended to help ensure the shorescape is a long-lasting and attractive investment.

Once Planted

Carefully inspect a newly planted buffer periodically during establishment.

  • Upland buffer plants may need to be watered until they are well established. Check the soil periodically to make sure it isn’t too wet or too dry and use a rain gauge to help track rainfall. Depending on the site’s characteristics, local weather events, and plant types, this might mean watering every other day at first, but reducing to weekly watering over time. Once plants are established, they should only need irrigation during times of drought.
  • Inspect for signs of wildlife damage, particularly from waterfowl. If damage is noted, install geese fencing to deter further impact. For more information on geese fencing, visit HGIC 1853, Resident Canada Geese: Along the Waterfront.
  • As water levels fluctuate, new plants may become dislodged. Periodically inspect the shoreline for floating plants and replant them as needed. Consider staking plants as needed.
  • Erosion control blankets or coir logs can provide quick stabilization to erosion prone areas. Follow all manufacturers’ instructions for installation.
  • Spread the word. Make sure that local businesses and nearby communities are aware of the new buffer location, its benefits, and any maintenance considerations. Communication is especially important if an outside company will be mowing, performing weed control, etc.

Once Established

Establish an inspection schedule to periodically inspect the buffer and perform routine maintenance to help keep it healthy and thriving.

Plants:

  • Ensure roots are not exposed, and that plants are still intact and upright.
  • Remove diseased leaves and dispose of them in an offsite location away from the buffer and pond.
  • Some plants may perform better than others due to varying soil conditions, sun exposure, and fluctuating water levels. Replace dead or dying plants with species that are already doing well in the buffer.

Watering:

  • Plants growing in the water and at the water’s edge do not need additional irrigation. However, monitor fluctuating water levels in the pond to ensure plants receive adequate moisture. Average rainfall should provide enough water for all other areas of the buffer. Additional irrigation may be necessary during establishment and periods of drought.

Pruning:

  • Infrequent, but regular, mowing will maintain any grassy or meadow-like areas in the buffer zone. This practice promotes the spread of desirable perennial grasses and flowering plants while controlling annual weed growth and woody vegetation. Every other year, alternate mowing these buffer zones in late spring and winter. See Life at the Water’s Edge: A shoreline resident’s guide to natural lakeshore and streamside buffers for water quality protection in South Carolina for more information (Roth, 2004).
  • Dispose of plant debris away from buffer and the waterway. Never leave trimmings in place or allow them to wash into the water where they can contribute to water quality issues or block flow.

Mulch:

  • Only apply mulch to the upland zone. Do not use mulch along the pond bank because it may wash into the water. Space plants closely at the water’s edge to reduce the potential for weeds to invade the shorescape.
  • Periodically inspect the buffer and replace mulch that has washed away as needed.

Weed Management:

  • Implement an integrated weed management plan (see http://www.clemson.edu/public/ipm/define.html). Inspect the buffer every two weeks and remove any invading weeds that will compete with desired plants.
  • If herbicides are necessary, select herbicides that are labeled for aquatic use. These herbicides pose less potential harm to aquatic life. Eliminate undesirable trees, large vines, and woody shrubs, and tall weeds using the hack and squirt herbicide application method. This method involves applying a systemic herbicide directly to the cut stem of the undesirable plants. Contact the Clemson Extension Service for assistance in weed identification and control options.

Fertilizer

  • Use native plants that are well adapted to soil and climate conditions to reduce the need for fertilizer. Avoid applying fertilizer in the buffer to eliminate the potential for runoff into the waterway.

Keep Infrastructure Clear:

  • Maintain buffers for easy maintenance access. Do not allow vegetation to overtake easements and infrastructure along the waterway. Prevent the spread and growth of woody vegetation on pond dams and spillways.
  • Carefully monitor plants to prevent them from growing over inlet pipes and outfalls, thus blocking flow. Keep vegetation at least 10-15 feet away from these structures.
  • Following storm events, inspect the buffer zone and surrounding infrastructure to remove any accumulated trash and debris.

Sources:

  1. Life at the Water’s Edge: A shoreline resident’s guide to natural lakeshore and streamside buffers for water quality protection in South Carolina. Lin Roth, editor. Clemson University. Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, 2004.
  2. SC Waterways Factsheet: HGIC 1855, Shorescaping Freshwater Shorelines, 2013. Available online.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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