A native Michigan shoreline: We did it, so can you! Part 2

A lakefront property owner describes next steps in restoring his typical lakeshore into a native lakescape that protects the lake and provides a home for birds and butterflies.

The Gallagher’s natural shoreline on Gull Lake (Kalamazoo County) in its second season (July 2015).
The Gallagher’s natural shoreline on Gull Lake (Kalamazoo County) in its second season (July 2015).

In part 1 of this Michigan State University Extension article, Mike Gallagher describes steps taken to planning his natural shoreline project. Please read on to learn how it all came together in the spring of 2014.

Step three: Prepare the shoreline. We underestimated the time it would take to prepare the shoreline for planting and realized we should have done more prep work prior to picking up the plants. The previous weekend we had staked out the area to be planted and used an herbicide to kill the turf grass and non-native flowers. For this water’s edge project, we had been advised to use a glyphosate product that is labeled for aquatic use. It worked well, but pulling up the dead plants and preparing the soil took most of the day. We left the dead turf grass undisturbed as we planned to plant directly into the thatch. For a better kill, we probably should have done two glyphosate treatments – one four weeks out from planting and another a week prior to planting. The second treatment would have caught any regrowth of the turf grass and non-natives before we planted.

Step four: Plant the plants. We spent most of the next day planting about 150 little plants. We wished we had labeled each one before bringing them home. Many of those very young plants tend to look the same and our planting mistakes were not noticed until later in the summer. Our small shoreline is just over 50 feet wide and only about 25 feet between the lake and our home. So we filled the five feet closest to the lake with the new plants. Planting was the easiest part of the project.

Step five: Weed, water and watch. That first summer was pretty dry and we watered our new plants frequently. Some unwanted plants found their way into our new beds and after a few weeks we found it necessary to do some weeding. At first the plants were tiny and not as spectacular to look at as the colorful annuals we had planted in previous years. However, with each week we saw new growth and new beauty. We also noticed a return of frogs and butterflies and there were probably also a bunch of new native tiny critters that had not been there for years.

Step six: Low, but continual, maintenance. Each year we expect the native plants to fill in our shoreline and flower throughout the spring, summer and fall. The variety of plants selected should let us see some new blooms and colors every couple of weeks. If a plant dies we know where to buy a replacement. Although pretty low maintenance once established, a natural shoreline is definitely not a no maintenance landscape and we remain watchful for invasive plants that would try take over our project. We understand and accept that we’ll have to keep up the Three W’s (Weed, Water and Watch) just as we would with a perennial bed. We also understand that the threat of invasive shoreline plants never goes away.

It’s been a fun project and it cost around $500 for the design and the plants. We will trim out some of the old growth each spring, rake out the leaves and then let nature take its course – always keeping an eye out for invasive plants. With each passing year the shoreline plants should get more abundant and beautiful while providing a great habitat for the native critters and protecting the lake from harmful runoff. That guilt complex is gone too! 

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