Shoreline Plants: Prepping for Spring

It is officially Spring. It's time to think about gardens. If you're a riparian, now is a great time to plan your shoreline garden to protect your property from erosion and the water from runoff. Read on to learn how to encourage existing native plants in your yard to grow and how to choose new ones to add to your shoreline garden to protect Lake Leelanau's water quality.

Why naturalize your shoreline with native plants?

Natural shorelines are the most effective way to maintain the lake's water quality, which is the anchor of your lakefront home investment. Naturalizing your shoreline offers you the opportunity to enhance curb appeal for the most unique aspect of your property as well as protect the lake, control erosion and access by pesky waterfowl, and provide habitat for beneficial wildlife.

Natural shoreline installations are gaining popularity versus artificial shoreline treatments such as rip rap and sea walls primarily because they afford easy access and smooth transition to the lake, while at the same time providing essential ecosystem services. Best of all, native plants are resistant to the elements, low maintenance, and it is easy to get started!

 See what grows

It is common to already have a variety of desirable native plants mixed in with your lawn or growing on your beach. To get started naturalizing your shoreline, start with a No Mow Zone and allow parts of your beach to grow. You will be getting a head start with native plants already there. It may be that planting just a few additional native plants will give you the look you want. Become familiar with invasive species and check your property for them. Information on how to handle terrestrial invasive species properly for removal and disposal can be found on our website.

 Plants will thrive when placed where they like to grow

Consider excursions to view native plants in natural environments similar to your yard throughout the growing season.  In general, if plants are thriving in a similar environment to yours, you too should have good results.

The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP) website is an excellent source for discovering how to evaluate your planting site zones for the habitat conditions that will help with your plant selection.  Planting conditions to keep in mind include:

  • How much sun do you get through the growing season?
  • What is your soil type (sand, clay, topsoil)? Sandy soil does not hold moisture even right next to the lake.
  • What is the slope? Slope can affect the ability of the soil to retain moisture and may be best serviced with plants of a greater root depth.
  • What is the depth of the water table and how does it fluctuate? Water tables are often highest in the spring. Check it throughout the growing season.
  • High and low lake levels and wave patterns relative to your high-water mark may influence your plant selection decisions.

Sourcing and plant selection research

There are several local nurseries that specialize in providing native plants. We've compiled a list of native plants and where to buy them here. You can often get knowledgeable advice at the nurseries, especially if you bring in pictures of your proposed site.

The Lake Leelanau Lake Association provides complimentary shoreline consultations with volunteers trained to evaluate shoreline environments according to MNSP Best Management Practices. A consultation with one of our Shoreline Ambassadors can help you naturalize your shoreline by discussing plant selection and placement viability and identifying resources for your specific project. For more information or to schedule a consultation this spring, email us at [email protected].

You may also choose to work with a Bio-Engineering landscape firm. They provide turnkey solutions, especially for sophisticated projects and challenging locations involving erosion, slope, and high wave energy. Their offering would include native plant recommendations and placement as well. Recommendations for certified shoreline contractors can be provided by our Shoreline Ambassadors during a Shoreline Consultation.

Plant books and nursery catalogs (such as Prairie Nursery) have detailed information regarding plant characteristics and recommended habitat along with pictures.

County Extension offices have annual sales where you can obtain a quantity of native plants at very reasonable prices. The Nature Conservancy also has an annual sale of native wildflower “rescue plants” each spring.

Naturalized Shoreline Example: Before and After

Originally, the grass reached the water

The shoreline was vulnerable to erosion

Adding a strip of native plants protected the shoreline from erosion

And the garden is now a beautiful part of the landscape attracting butterflies and beneficials to the yard

The garden doesn't have to eat into your entire lawn

Photos from the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership.

A satisfying investment

Even a modest investment in naturalizing your shoreline can begin to protect lake water quality, and enhance your property aesthetics. Whether you plan to hire a professional or do it yourself, spending a little time getting to know the native plants that thrive along your shoreline is a great first step. Using the resources available will provide a little knowledge that will go a long way. Add your creative vision, your love of your shoreline, and enjoy.


Native Vegetation for Shorelines

Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership - Why native plants?

Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy's Shoreline Best Management Practices 


Feature image courtesy of Mark Bugnaski Photography.

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