Opportunities / Science

Lake Wise Practices Benefit Lake and Property

In mid-February, in the heart of ski season in Vermont, colorful nursery catalogues and landscaping advertisements start showing up, inspiring plans for spring projects. Spring will soon be here and thinking about plants for gardening and landscaping is one way to warm a cold winter’s day.  As anticipation for spring and summer grow, here are a few important considerations for shaping your shoreland property into a Lake Wise one.

The Vermont Lake Wise Program teaches lakescaping practices for protecting and restoring natural shorelands for water quality and wildlife.  The lake science shows that Vermont’s shorelands are highly cleared of native vegetation, which along with camps, decks, driveways and other impervious man-made surfaces, has ranked Vermont worse than the nation in degraded shallow water habitat conditions. Through Lake Wise practices and the Shoreland Protection Act, shoreland owners are encouraged to restore their shore for the long-term protection of their lake.

Gardening Tips for Making Your Shore Lake Wise


2017 Shoreland Restoration with Native Plantings and Meandering Pathways Lake Iroquois, Williston

1. Always Plant and Protect Native Plant Species.
Native plants feed the birds by hosting native insects.  Ninety-six percent of birds survive by feeding their brood insect larva and this vital “baby bird food” can only exist if native plant hosts are growing close by.  One black cherry tree is host to over 456 insect larvae, which in turn makes it one of the most important wildlife plant species. Native plants also provide the insects that account for up to 60% of protein in fresh water fish, protect water quality, and provide dozens of other benefits to lakes.  For help deciding what to plant, visit these sites:

Bests Bets: What to Plant (Doug Tallamy’s native plants and values)

Establishing and Re-Naturalizing Areas (VT Lake Wise Fact Sheet)

A Guide to Healthy Lakes Using Lakeshore Landscaping (Federation of Vermont Lakes and Ponds)


2017 No-mow Zone Native Cardinal Flower Grows Back Echo Lake, Charleston

2. Minimize Lawn Areas.
Lawn grasses are non-native, creating sterile habitat. Grass has shallow roots which do not hold soils in place on slopes, nor does grass filter runoff.  Today, across the continental US, lawns take up more than 40,000 million acres or eight times the size of New Jersey. Limiting your lawn to pathways allows for native species to grow and do their part in absorbing and filtering stormwater, stabilizing the shores, providing canopy for shade and storm interception, food for wildlife, clean air and many other property, human health and ecosystem benefits.  In general, lawns are not a healthy landscape feature, but especially not a good fit along sensitive shorelands.


2017 Raised Sand Filter Septic System Lake Willoughby, Westmore

3. Septic Upgrades.
It’s probably time.  Thirty years is about when leach fields and septic systems reach capacity, so know your septic system and plan now (it could take a few years) for upgrading it.  Today, there are more options for septic system designs, such as raised sand filter systems. Although no woody plants should grow on top of a leach field, planting wildflowers for pollinator species does not threaten the functions of the leach field.  The Vermont Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division  has more information on alternative septic systems on their web site. Ernst Seeds sells wildflower seed native to Vermont, but be careful to select individual plant seeds and not a mix from their site because unfortunately, all the mixes contain at least one non-native species.

4. Control Driveway Erosion by Directing Turnouts and Waterbars to Vegetated Areas. Even rock lined ditches end somewhere, and ending with a vegetated area, like a rain garden, helps treat driveway runoff in a creative, beautiful, natural way. Now is a good time to select a combination of native woody shrubs and herbaceous plants to fill in areas that receive driveway runoff.lakewise_driveways



2017 Lake Wise Award Exemplary Shoreland Stewardship

5. Lead by Example.
Teach a neighbor about the values of native plantings. Enjoy a cup of tea together while browsing through the spring plant catalogues or by watching a gripping presentation from the “terrestrial Jacques Cousteau,” Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware Entomologist, on how you, as a gardener, can protect your lake and save the planet (!) by simply choosing to protect and grow native plants.

For more information about Vermont Lake Wise, visit the Vermont Watershed Management Division’s web site or contact Amy Picotte at Amy.Picotte@Vermont.gov

Helpful Resources:

Listing of Native Plant Nurseries in Vermont

List of Certified Professionals Trained in Natural Shoreland Erosion Control Practices

2017 Spring Plant Orders Start Now, Close Mid-April at Vermont Natural Resources Conservation Districts

The Winooski NRCD

For Landscape Design Ideas, check out free monthly Friday open house at: Linden L.A.N.D Group and Nectar Design Studio in Shelburne.