Do you have a stream or drainage ditch on or next to your property? Wondering what kind of plantings would look good there, while preventing erosion and protecting water quality? Here are some helpful tips.
The key to protecting water resources is to create a buffer zone, sometimes called a riparian buffer, as a transition between the water and human land use. Plants in this zone will help stabilize the soil to reduce erosion, slow surface water runoff, and filter sediment and pollutants from runoff.
The best plant choices for your stream buffer are species native to your area. Just be sure you don’t plant anything that won’t tolerate moist soil. Wider buffers with trees and shrubs are more effective than narrow, grassy buffers because trees and shrubs are not easily smothered by sediment and they have larger, deeper root systems to resist erosion.
Evergreen trees provide good visual screening along streams and ditches. Attractive evergreen species for the transition zone include the Eastern red cedar, wax myrtle, and Carolina cherry laurel. Deciduous trees in the stream buffer provide summer shade to help regulate water temperatures. The Eastern redbud, river birch, and red maple are attractive choices.
Evergreen and deciduous shrubs make effective plantings for stream buffers, either combined with trees or on their own. The red osier dogwood, winterberry, and ninebark are shrubs that will grow well in this environment, help provide a good habitat for wildlife, and look good all year.
Good maintenance practices will also help protect water quality in nearby streams and drainage ditches. For instance, you should not dump grass clippings or other yard waste in the buffer zone. Also try to keep waste from pets or grazing animals out of the area. When maintaining a lawn adjacent to a stream buffer, follow recommended guidelines to prevent runoff.