Michigan Shoreline Plants For Erosion Control

Michigan Shoreline Plants For Erosion Control

Erosion control has been a hot topic surrounding Michigan lakes over the past decade. With both rising and falling lake levels, erosion has wreaked havoc on the sandy shores of some Michigan lakes.

Shoreline plants can offer protection from changing water levels and eroding sand. In this article, we’ll review how you can use Michigan’s native plants to protect your shoreline and prevent erosion.

(Featured Image: Lake Michigan Shore Erosion by https://www.flickr.com/photos/28682774@N00)

What Causes Shoreline Erosion?

Shoreline erosion is a significant issue in many areas of Michigan, particularly along the Great Lakes coastline. Several factors have contributed to shoreline erosion in Michigan:

  1. Waves: Strong waves generated by wind and storms can erode the shoreline over time. The Great Lakes are known for their powerful waves, which can cause significant erosion during storms.
  2. Water Level Fluctuations: The water levels of the Great Lakes can vary greatly from year to year. Periods of high water levels can exacerbate shoreline erosion as waves reach farther inland.
  3. Ice Formation and Ice Shoves: During winter, the formation of ice along the shoreline can further contribute to erosion. When ice accumulates and then breaks up or is pushed by wind, it can cause damage to the shoreline.
  4. Human Activities: Human activities, such lake shore construction projects and shoreline development, can disrupt sediment transport and exacerbate erosion.

Shoreline erosion in Michigan can cause loss of property, damage to homes, and threats to ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Additionally, erosion can lead to increased sand and nutrient runoff into the lakes, affecting water quality.

Natural Shorelines To Prevent Erosion

A natural shoreline refers to the boundary between land and water in its undisturbed by humans. Natural shorelines often have a variety of native plants including grasses, shrubs, trees, and perennials.

The Benefits Of Michigan Natural Shorelines

Natural shorelines are important ecological features as they provide various benefits and functions:

  1. Erosion Control: The vegetation along natural shorelines helps stabilize the soil, preventing erosion caused by water currents, waves, and storms.
  2. Water Filter: Native plants in natural shorelines act as natural filters, trapping debris from runoff before they enter the water.
  3. Habitat Preservation: Natural shorelines provide essential habitats for a diverse range of wildlife, including fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals. The vegetation and varied topography offer nesting sites, food sources, and shelter for these species.
  4. Biodiversity: Natural shorelines can encourage a larger variety of native birds, mammals, and insects to visit the region. This is very important to the local ecosystem.
  5. Flood Control: Natural shorelines with healthy vegetation can absorb and store excess water like a sponge. This decreases the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rain.
Tall, purple blooms on top of a blazing star liatris flower planted along a lakeshore in Michigan.

Blazing Star, Lakeshore Plant by D. Avery

Michigan Native Plants For Shoreline Protection

Native plants are an important part of our natural ecosystem. They play an essential role in erosion control and shoreline protection. Native plants have deeper root systems than non native ornamental species and are often use for shoreline protection measures.

The Advantages Of Using Michigan Native Plants Around Lakes

Native plants are highly beneficial to our local region. Michigan’s native plants that grow along our natural lakeshores help prevent erosion and provide essential structure to the sandy lake shores. Some of the advantages of using Michigan native plants include:

  • Low Maintenance: Native plants have evolved and adapted to our local environment. They are naturally suited to withstand the challenges posed by wind, waves, and fluctuating water levels. Their deep root systems help stabilize the soil, reducing erosion and providing resilience against storms.
  • Erosion Control: Native plants have extensive root systems that bind the soil together, creating a strong network that helps prevent erosion. These roots help hold the soil in place, even during high water levels and wave action.
  • Soil Stabilization: The root systems of native plants enhance soil stability by improving soil structure and preventing excessive runoff. They enhance water infiltration and retention, reducing the amount of sediment and nutrients that enter the water and contribute to erosion.
  • Wildlife Habitat: Native plants provide essential habitats and food sources for a wide range of wildlife species, including birds, insects, amphibians, and mammals. These species contribute to the overall ecological balance and biodiversity of the shoreline ecosystem. Native plants also support pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, which are crucial for the reproduction of many plant species.
  • Resistance to Invasive Species: Native plants are better adapted to compete with and resist invasive plant species. Invasive species can outcompete native vegetation, reducing biodiversity and altering ecosystem dynamics, including shoreline stability.
Blue flag iris grows along the shoreline of a lake in Michigan.

Blue Flag Iris Along The Lake Shore by A. Carlson

How To Plant A Natural Shoreline In Michigan

When planning a shoreline plant arrangement in Michigan, it is essential to consider the specific characteristics of your property. This includes soil type, water levels, exposure to waves, and sunlight conditions. Here are some steps to help you plan a shoreline plant arrangement:

1. Assess Your Site

Observe your shoreline at different times of the day and assess its unique characteristics, including soil conditions, water levels, and exposure to waves. Take note of areas prone to erosion or areas that require additional stabilization.

2. Research Native Plants

Identify native plant species that are well-suited for shoreline conditions in Michigan. Consider plants that are adapted to sandy or loamy soils, as these plants can tolerate occasional flooding or high water levels and withstand wave action. Consult with local plant nurseries, online resources, or seek advice from local gardening or conservation organizations for recommendations.

3. Identify Planting Zones

Divide the shoreline into planting zones based on the site’s characteristics. Consider different planting areas such as the upper shoreline, middle shoreline, and areas closer to the water’s edge. Each zone may have different moisture levels and exposure to waves, allowing you to select appropriate plant species for each zone.

4. Choose A Variety Of Plants

Aim for a diverse selection of plant species to enhance biodiversity and provide greater stability to the shoreline. Include a mix of grasses, sedges, flowering plants, and a few native trees or shrubs to create a more resilient and visually appealing arrangement. Consider including plants with deep root systems for soil stabilization and those with dense foliage to help dissipate wave energy.

5. Create Planting Patterns

When arranging plants, consider planting in clusters or groups rather than scattering them randomly. Clusters of plants provide better protection against erosion and create a more cohesive and natural look. Place taller plants towards the back of the arrangement to provide a windbreak and create a layered effect.

6. Plan For Plant Growth

Research the growth habits and sizes of the selected plants and plan for adequate spacing to allow for healthy growth and prevent overcrowding. Consider the mature height and spread of each plant and leave enough space between them to avoid competition for resources.

7. Maintenance And Long-Term Care

Plan for regular maintenance, including watering during establishment, removing invasive species, and monitoring plant health. Native plants generally require less maintenance once established, but it’s important to monitor their growth, weed out unwanted species, and occasionally trim or prune as needed.

Remember to check local regulations or permits that may be required for shoreline planting or modification. Engaging with local conservation organizations or seeking advice from landscape professionals with experience in shoreline restoration can also provide valuable insights and guidance specific to your area.

Shop For Native Shoreline Plants

Do you want to plant native plants along your shoreline? Seek out a plant nursery that can help you choose the best plants for your region. Bright Lane Gardens specializes in plants that are native to the Northern Michigan region and can help you choose the right plants for your lake shore.

Located just 15 minutes West of Traverse City, Bright Lane Gardens is situated conveniently among the region’s inland lakes. Carrying numerous species of native shoreline plants, we can help you create a natural shoreline that can help prevent the erosion of your property.

Sawmp milkweed grows along Lake Michigan's lake shore.

Milkweed Along Lake Michigan by USFWS Midwest Region