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Riparian Zones and How to Care for them

Along with our last article on lakeshore planting, we thought we’d bring more attention to these specific areas with a more generalized guide. Areas along lakeshores, riverbanks, ponds, and so on are more respectfully known as “riparian zones”, which happens to be one of the terrestrial biomes classified on our planet (there are 15 specific types of biomes, by the way). And, as mentioned in the last article about lakeshore planting and gardening, these areas are unique, critical to environmental diversity and health, and require special attention.


Gardening and landscaping in riparian zones should be approached with extra care. This is especially important because development tends to happen heavily in riparian zones, which usually destroys them. Destroying riparian zones creates a lot of problems- not just for the animals and plants- but for people too. Water filtration and redirection, soil conservation, habitat biodiversity, and many other important issues rely on the care of riparian zones.


One of the best things you can do if you have a riparian zone is to work on transforming it back to what it naturally was- or at least do so in a way that resembles it. Native plant communities in riparian zones will re-establish the natural community that was once there. These plants have adapted to living in this special area and will stop soil erosion, filter and purify the water as it’s slowed down before it reaches the waterway helping to combat flooding and pollution, and encourage the dwindling wildlife back so it can thrive.


 Many authorities on the subject recommend hiring a landscaping company that specializes in native plantings and restoration. You can of course, do this yourself as well. A good start would involve planting some trees that enjoy living in riparian zones. Water Oak is one of our favorites for southern growers. Long lived, beautiful, and very adapted to living in riparian zones, water oak (Quercus nigra)is a perfect tree for this application. For those in colder areas (and most other areas as well), Pin oak fills this need too. Pin oak is really fast growing- remarkably fast for any tree, but for an oak tree they are a breed apart. And even though pin oaks grow quickly, they are still long lived and beautiful, like any oak tree. Oaks are especially valuable in riparian zones because they offer a bounty of food for wildlife- especially for waterfowl with their acorns. Because of riparian development across the United States, many types of migrating waterfowl are in danger. Planting a few oak trees along your lakeshore can help them.


Planting a few native shoreline loving trees is a great start for riparian restoration. To go even further, take a look at what is happening along shorelines and riparian zones in your area that are in state parks and wildlife areas, where development isn’t happening. Copy what you see there. Removing strips of riprap, maybe leaving fallen logs, adding native irises, and installing a wood duck house or two on a big tree should be on your to-do list. These are all great beginnings to a beautiful and restored riparian zone that is healthy, alive, and most of all, very enjoyable. 


Read our previous article on What to Plant Along the Lakeshore.