AS SEEN IN Commonwealth Crier, Virginia Golf Course Superintendents Association, Summer 2013: Written by The experts at SOLitude Lake Management
Maintaining dense beneficial vegetation around your lake or pond is extremely beneficial for improving water quality, preventing erosion and controlling nuisance geese. This area is commonly referred to as a buffer zone and it is recommended that your landscape company leave a 3-5 foot section above the water level unmowed so that it can grow and benefit the pond. When rain water drains through parking lots and streets and then grassy areas, the water will have accumulated a significant amount of nutrients that will lead to lake and pond algae blooms. Although a short manicured buffer may look aesthetically appealing, the cultural practice that is the healthiest for lakes and ponds is to allow the native grasses and other beneficial flowering species to grow to maturity, while selectively controlling the non-beneficial and unsightly species that may also grow in these areas if left completely unmaintained.
What are some benefits of vegetative buffers?
In addition to acting as a natural filter for runoff, a buffer zone can also help prevent shoreline erosion. The plants along the shoreline help stabilize the soil and prevent large amounts of sediment from flowing into the pond. Over time, the excessive inflow of sediment can greatly reduce the depth of your lake or pond and produce significant problems as they become shallower. Sediment is typically nutrient rich, which also means additional phosphorus contamination of the pond if erosion is not prevented. The cost to correct these problems through dredging and other similar measures can be quite costly.
Geese can also be a nuisance problem around ponds, often establishing nests and becoming full time residents for many years. Geese that are born at a particular site are also genetically likely to want to return to that site, even if they do leave for a time. One of the most effective practices to reduce or eliminate geese problems on your site is to maintain a healthy buffer around your water, allowing it to grow at least thigh to waist high, if not slightly taller. Geese prefer to inhabit or congregate in areas where there is a direct line of sight to the body of water, and no barrier to their easy access in and out of the water. When you maintain a thick, tall buffer, geese are encouraged to move to another body of water, rather than deal with the difficulty of accessing a pond or lake that has an established buffer. There are also times of the year where the geese molt and lose their feathers, cannot fly for a period of time, and will not want to be anywhere that they cannot easily walk in and out of the water without obstruction or fear of predators lurking in wait.
Finally, buffers will provide habitat for numerous non-threatening species, which further leads to a more balanced and healthy aquatic ecosystem. If managed properly, buffers are very attractive to dragonflies and other natural mosquito predators. The plants that grow in the edge of the water, or hang over the edge of the water, will also provide good habitat and cover for smaller fish, which will feed on the larvae of mosquitoes. Once you have a good buffer established, the balance that you bring to the aquatic ecosystem will not only help your water quality, but will also help with mosquito control. There are several different types of natural buffers that SOLitude recommends for your lakes and ponds. Aquatic plants such as pickerelweed, sedges, and rushes often add beauty as well as provide nutrient absorption to a shallow area within a body of water that is partially wet. Pickerelweed is a low growing plant and is ideal when low borders or water views are the goal. For areas where taller plants are desired, sedges and rushes are a more likely fit as they will reach at least three feet high.
Grasses are also a preferred type of vegetation to have in the buffer, but the type of grasses can also make a huge difference. Turf grasses, or lawn grasses, are not a great selection for growing a buffer. These species are better to have than leaving bare soil, but are not as effective in stabilizing the bank, slowing nutrient runoff into the pond, or increasing the biodiversity of the environment. Additionally, these grasses are usually mowed regularly and the grass clippings end up in the pond and can cause algae problems almost immediately.
A better solution to turf grasses would be a number of warm season perennial grasses, as well as some other beneficial wildflower species. These perennials will establish their roots and come back year after year, providing the best option for bank stabilization and preventing soil erosion, as well as absorbing algae-causing nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, plant decay and other sources. They also provide diversity to your landscape, and offer interesting color and texture year round, even in the winter after everything has gone dormant. There are many plants that are beneficial in a buffer. Contact your lake and pond management professional for the best plant species for your area.
Buffer management can go a long way in helping to prevent problems for your lake or pond. Establishing buffer zones around the edge of your pond takes very little effort, requires little maintenance, and will likely reduce the costs associated with mowing and trimming along the edge of the pond on a weekly basis. In the long run, it will also reduce the likelihood of excessive algae and other water quality issues that come from nutrient loading, thereby reducing the need for constant treatments, and lowering your long term costs associated with managing your water. You will also benefit from proper buffer management with an increase in the aesthetic value of your lake or pond. With beneficial wetland plants, grasses and other beneficial species throughout the buffer, it can be a very pleasing sight that will undoubtedly increase the value of your property.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
Shannon Junior is an Aquatic Ecologist with SOLitude Lake Management. Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Services are available throughout the Eastern United States. Fisheries management consulting and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.