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Native Plants for Shorelines

Native plantings along a restored lakeshore act like "glue" to keep the shoreline soils from washing away and they play a critical structural role in the battle against shoreline erosion. Almost without exception, plants native to your region will provide the best assurance of plant survival -- and the consequent success of the shoreline enhancement project.

When choosing which plants to include, you will want to consider:

  • Water depth preference (for plantings below the normal water line).
  • Water inundation tolerance during floods or high water (for plantings at increasing elevations above the water line).
  • Relative resistance to overgrazing by waterfowl, muskrats, and other wildlife.
  • Soil structure and fertility preferences for the plants.

Some tips for improving the success of your shoreline planting project include:

  • Choose quality plants from a reputable vendor that specializes in native plants; the root system should be vigorous and the plant should be free of visible diseases or pests.
  • Avoid using root bound plants -- their growth rates may disappoint you. Consider plant plugs grown in square pots or circular "tubes" with ribs along the side that encourage roots to grow downward.
plant plugs
  • Take meticulous care of your new plants; apply a handful of double-shredded hardwood mulch around the base of any plants installed above the waterline to help conserve moisture and reduce watering needs, carefully remove algae and other nuisance materials from plantings below the waterline to increase oxygen levels in the shallow waters and nearshore soils, and remove unwanted plants (especially invasive weeds) as soon as they appear. Many aquatic restoration projects fail over the medium and long terms because there was inadequate attention paid to removal of invasive plants during the first few years after installation.
  • Plant a diversity of plants throughout the shoreline zone so that if a few species are especially hard hit by disease, prolonged periods of high water, or some other stress, other species not so heavily impacted can still hold the shoreline soils in place. Creative a palette of plants that includes species with a range of flower colors that spans the growing season. Consider plants with striking fall foliage colors, interesting shape and texture of leaves, and other features that will make your shoreline come alive.
shoreline plants

Profiles of shoreline plants that been used in the Chicago Botanic Garden's lakeshore restoration programs are shown as links along the left border of this page (organized alphabetically according to their taxonomic names). If you're not sure of a plant's taxonomic name, click here for a cross-reference alphabetical listing of the plants' common names.

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