What is a Vegetated Buffer?

Vegetated Buffers are one of the simplest and lowest maintenance Best Management Practices (BMPs) you can implement on your lake property. A fully vegetated shoreline is the natural state of a lakeside ecosystem, so having a buffer mimics how nature manages stormwater and erosion. Vegetated buffers are trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants that catch sediment and other pollution before it reaches lakes or streams. Taller trees and shrubs intercept raindrops and reduce their impact on the soil. Low growing plants and the “duff” layer (leaves, pine needles, etc) on the ground filter runoff and slow it down enough to prevent erosion. Root systems hold soil in place and absorb water and nutrients. In addition, buffers can enhance privacy, filter noise and wind, and attract birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

By contrast, mowing down to the water’s edge allows water to flow into the lake freely, and the lack of a significant root structure at the water’s edge makes it easier for waves to erode the shoreline. Bank erosion and “undercutting” are common issues associated with unvegetated shorelines. Geese also prefer mowed areas and tend to congregate on lakeside lawns, even having a buffer 5 feet wide will deter geese from dwelling on your shoreline.

Artwork showing a vegetated buffer

A vegetated buffer can be manicured and landscaped with perennial shrubs, flowers, and trees, or it can simply be an unmowed area where the natural vegetation is allowed to grow. Establishing a “No-Mow” zone within 5-10’ of the lake is the easiest and cheapest way to protect the shoreline and the water. Even having a buffer on some or most of your shoreline, while leaving an opening for water access, makes a big difference. Anyone can implement this on their property and the more vegetated shoreline there is in a watershed, the more resilient it is to pollution.

Here are some great resources for planning and planting a vegetative buffer:

John Balanoff – Executive Director
Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance