One of the best ways to improve the habitat along the lakeshore is to use native plants. Native plants are plants that historically occurred in a given geographic area, and they can provide a variety of ecological, functional, and aesthetic benefits. Those benefits can vary between sites and can include things such as structural stability, stormwater infiltration, specific habitat features for target species or groups (such as pollinator or game species habitat), and even aesthetics. In most cases, plants address these issues and form the foundation for lakeshore systems to flourish, function, and sustain a variety of life. From providing cover and food for wildlife to increasing soil stability, plants can do it all!
More information on native plants and natural communities can be found in the links below.
The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership has put together a list of recommended native plants for lake shorelines, which can be accessed here.
To learn more about Michigan’s natural communities, visit the Michigan Natural Features Inventory website:
For the best chances of a successful project, it is important to understand that not all plants are created equal. The use of native plants for restoration projects is essential because plants provide very specialized functions, and our native wildlife have evolved to use those plants for food, cover, and shelter. Native plants are specifically adapted to an environment and that is where they thrive.
Plant species may be chosen based on a variety of factors, and will vary based on the goals of your project. To understand what plants might be most successful at your site, one of the best things you can do is observe and identify the plants that are already growing in similar conditions nearby. Things to consider when choosing plant species may include:
Water levels or soil moisture
Sun vs. shade
Adjacent plants species
A list of native plants commonly found around Muskegon Lake can be found HERE.
Choosing Plant and Seed Stock
Native plants can be introduced to a site in a variety of ways. Seed, for example, can be used for covering fairly large and stable areas. A cover crop can be used to increase initial coverage, and therefore stability, while allowing the native seed time to establish. Additional stock types include bare roots, potted plants, and plugs. These three are great for establishing more substantially sized native vegetation in a shorter timeframe. Live stakes, which are cuttings from existing plants, can also be used to vegetate areas because of their re-rooting ability. Each one has pros and cons, and, in most cases, multiple types of stock are used to ensure success and diversity. More information on each type can be found below.
- Seed mixes can be customized based on site conditions.
- Lower cost than live plants.
- Seed is an efficient means of revegetating a large area.
- Seed has an increased likelihood of being lost due to rain/runoff.
- Seed will generally struggle to establish in standing water.
- Though cover crops establish quickly, there is no immediate root stabilization to protect soil.
- Native plants typically take 3-5 years to establish from seed.
Seed can be evenly distributed by tractors with broadcast or drop seeders, hand scattered for small sites. Prior to installation, the soil should be prepared by tilling or raking to create a seed bed.
For best results, the seed should come into direct contact with the soil and lightly raked into place. Along shorelines or on slopes, seed should be covered with straw mulch or erosion control blankets immediately after installation to minimize erosion while the plants become established.
Bare Root Plants
- Provide above and below ground cover more quickly than if growing from seed.
- Less expensive than potted plants with a similar outcome.
- Can be installed in standing water.
- Stock availability may be limited
- Since they are sold in a dormant state, bare roots will generally do better if planted in the spring or fall.
- They can be prone to failure due to animal foraging.
- Plants must be kept cool and moist to prevent dessication.
Tree bars, shovels, or augers can be used to create openings for the bare root to be planted in. The plant roots should be completely covered, and soil should be tightly packed around the roots.
When installed in standing water, the plants may need to be secured with wood pegs or wire sod staples to prevent uprooting during the establishment period.
- Introducing healthy plants with larger root systems provides the most immediate stability.
- Established root systems can increase survival rate.
- Can help plants immediately compete with undesirable species.
- May provide instant aesthetic appeal or wildlife benefits.
- Fairly labor-intensive installation process.
- Does not stabilize or cover a large portion of the area.
- Typically the most expensive plant stock.
- They can be prone to failure due of animal foraging.
- Plant diversity may be limited.
Potted plants come in a variety of sizes. Digging an appropriately sized hole can be labor intensive depending on the soil type and tools available. Augers can work great in areas with little rock, but a shovel will do the same job.
Loosen the root ball slightly before planting to encourage root development.
- Fairly inexpensive.
- A wide diversity of species are usually available.
- Easy to plant.
- Can be installed in standing water.
- Birds and small mammals occasionally disturb or completely pull plugs out of the ground while grazing. Animal exclusion fencing can be used to combat this.
- Plants may take 2-4 years to mature.
Augers or trowels can be used to create an appropriately sized hole for planting.
Be sure to loosen the root ball slightly before planting to encourage root formation and spread.
Installation of native sedge plugs and
animal exclusion fencing at Veterans Memorial Park
- Live stakes can usually be sourced on site or nearby for free (with permission).
- Plants can be installed in difficult conditions and in standing water.
- Willow and dogwood species are the most commonly used species, and may not fit with aesthetic goals
- Mortality is usually very high when plants harvested and installed outside of the dormant season
- Plants can be expensive if purchased commercially
Soil type will impact how the stakes are installed. For soft soils, the processed stakes can be gently pushed into the ground to a depth of around ½ to ¾ of the full length of the stake. For areas with rocky or more compact soils, a rod can be used to create a pilot hole for the stake to be placed into. A rubber mallet can also be used to gently tap it into place.
Live stakes are generally approximately 1 inch in diameter and 3-5 feet long. The end of the stake that was most rootward when harvested should be cut to a point with a 45-degree angle and all of the branches should be removed. The angled end of the stake should be placed into the soil.
When working in aquatic areas, on slopes, or in places where there is bare soil, erosion control measures may be needed while plants become established. These measures are usually temporary and use natural, biodegradable materials such as straw or coconut to cover seed or plantings while roots grow. Once established, these plant roots will usually bind the soil and provide long term erosion control.
Whenever possible, erosion controls should be made of 100% biodegradable material. Materials containing plastics may entrap wildlife and may not degrade.
There are many different erosion control materials available, and they may include:
- Straw mulch
- Erosion control blankets, typically constructed of straw, coconut, or wood fibers
- Manufactured products such as coir logs or coconut pillows
Erosion control blankets can be placed over seeded areas to minimize erosion while plants become established.
Snake trapped in erosion control blanket that was constructed with a plastic mesh.
Blown straw mulch will reduce soil erosion while seed gets established, and is best used on flatter slopes
Coir logs can be used in sites where wave energy may cause erosion before plants are established.