Lakes in Indiana are a reflection of their watersheds – anything that happens on the land around a lake will eventually affect the quality of the water in that lake. As more and more seasonal lake cottages have been converted to year-round residences over the years, previously natural lakeshore properties have often been converted into the “turf and trees” landscape that’s more typical of a suburban setting. While attempting to be good neighbors by showing they care about maintaining an immaculate lawn, homeowners often unwittingly end up having a negative impact on the lake they so love. As natural shorelines are lost, so too are the benefits that they provide: fish and wildlife habitat, stable shorelines, natural filtering of pollutants in runoff, and privacy screening.
What’s the solution? One alternative is something called “lakescaping.” This involves creating a natural buffer between your lawn and the lake. Ideally this is an unmowed strip of native vegetation extending lakeward and onshore over at least 50% of the shoreline frontage and at least 25-50 feet deep, but even 10-15 feet provides benefits. Of course, if you have a natural shoreline to begin with, an easy way to start is to leave the native vegetation in place. Natural buffers can incorporate a variety of colorful wildflowers, native grasses, shrubs and trees, and can be designed to suit your personal sense of aesthetics, whether it’s a manicured garden or more on the wild side.
Maintaining or creating a natural buffer improves water quality by filtering runoff, preventing erosion, providing valuable natural habitat, and eliminating the need for mowing and fertilization next to the lake. Another important benefit is that a buffer of vegetation greater than 3 feet tall along the shoreline can effectively deter nuisance geese from hanging out on your lawn – they prefer the security of an unobstructed view from lawn to lake.
Interested in making your shoreline into something more than another lawn? The Indiana Dept of Natural Resources recently completed an Indiana Addendum to the popular Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality handbook created by Minnesota Dept of Natural Resources. The MN Lakescaping handbook can be purchased online from Minnesota’s Bookstore (www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/pubs_restoration.html). The Indiana Addendum to the Lakescaping handbook can be downloaded for free from the IDNR Lake and River Enhancement Program’s website (www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3302.htm). Additional information on lakescaping and shoreland restoration can be found here (www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakescaping/index.html).