Variety of planting stock available for natural shoreline landscaping

Depending on what type of project you are planning and how quickly you want it to fill in, select the planting stock that is right for your situation.

If you are planning a natural shoreline landscape along your inland lake, carefully consider the budget for your project including the cost for plant material, amount of time needed to clear and prepare the site, the time required for the planting to become established and how much maintenance will be required post-planting.

It is also important to understand the differences between the different types of planting stock available when planning, purchasing and planting a shoreline project. Here are the 5 different plant forms available for consideration:

  • Seeds. In general, this is usually the most economical source for plants if you have a small project budget and/or you are willing to wait what could be 3-5 years for the plants to become fully established. Note that seeds for native plants may be more expensive than native plants because native seeds tend to be collected by hand. Maintenance is an important consideration. Depending on the area to be planted and what is growing there, significant maintenance might be needed to prepare the site for planting. Also, while seeds are germinating and establishing, you may also have weeds growing, so maintenance needs may be higher with seeds versus another type of plant stock. You should be sure the planting area is ready for planting during the season which will provide the conditions required for the seeds to germinate.
  • Live stakes. Live stakes are relatively straight hardwood cuttings (pieces of stem without lateral branches or leaves) that are planted by being placed directly into the ground. Importantly, live stakes must be harvested and planted when they are dormant (after leaves fall off and before spring bud break). Therefore, planting time needs to be coordinated with harvest. Harvesting native shrubs off your property or elsewhere with permission should also be done as close to planting time as possible to avoid desiccation. Many woody species such as red osier dogwood and several species of willows can be harvested to create live stakes. Consult the Natural Resource Conservation Service Technical Note #1 for more guidelines on selecting plant material that will make good live stakes for use in your project. If using live stakes, extreme care should be taken to avoid introducing invasive shrubs such as buckthorn or other aggressive species into the landscape.
  • Container plants. This type of plant stock describes plants that are produced and sold in a container with soil or growing media. This includes plugs, which generally describe seedlings or rooted cuttings produced in individual cells. One issue that tends to occur in container plants is that the roots can become potbound. This requires several additional steps to encourage healthy root development and proper establishment.
  • Bare-root plants. This type of plant stock, harvested while dormant in fall or early spring, does not have soil or other growing media attached to its roots. Because it has nothing protecting its roots, damage sometimes occurs. Bare-root plants are also susceptible to desiccation, so their roots must be kept moist. When planting, it is very important to stabilize plants in the planting hole until their roots begin to regenerate, and thus staking is often done. Bare-root plants should be planted at a level that corresponds to the trunk/root collar.
  • Balled and burlapped (B&B). This type of stock is usually grown in field soils. When removed from the field, the entire soil root ball is removed intact and wrapped in burlap or other meshy material. It is very important to monitor moisture during the critical time between harvest and planting and to pay particularly close attention that the water penetrates the entire root ball rather than wetting the top portion and running off.

If you prefer to hire a certified contractor to plan and implement your shoreline planting project, consult the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership’s list of Michigan Certified Natural Shoreline Professionals.

The “Natural Shoreline Landscapes on Michigan’s Inland Lakes: Guidebook for Property Owners” (MSU Extension bulletin #E3145) is a great primer on the topic of natural shorelines and is available from the MSU Extension Bookstore.

The Michigan State University Extension article, Implementing shoreline landscaping requires pre-planning, discusses planning a natural shoreline project.

For more information about natural shorelines, read the MSU Extension article, Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership offers comprehensive inland lake shoreline information or visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership web site.

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