Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Don't Let Your Property Go Down The Stream... Streamscape!

By Mary Wilson, Penn State Extension

Enjoying the stream or pond on your property doesn’t mean you have to mow to the edge of the bank. You can protect your property and the water and still have a manicured landscape look. 

All too often we see situations where the owner has mowed the lawn to the very edge of the stream adjacent to or through their property and significant erosion is literally washing their property away as a result. 

That is because turf grasses' roots only grow a few inches deep and can’t hold soil in place below that depth.

Natural "riparian buffers" are heavily vegetated areas along lakes, rivers, and streams that are very important in protecting the quality of the water body in several ways.  

Among the many benefits buffers offer are that they:

-- Hold earth in place with roots which prevents erosion

-- Trap dirt, fertilizers, and other chemicals that might be washed off the land by rain or melting snow

-- Provide food and shelter for many species of birds and wildlife

-- Shade the water and keep it cool as fish and other water-dwelling creatures prefer.

While we don’t advocate removing an existing natural buffer, we recognize that not everyone finds them palatable. 

If you prefer a more tidy, manicured look, consider "streamscaping" along the stream on your property.  This approach provides a compromise that holds the soil in place by using attractively positioned plants with deeper and varying root depths. 

This prevents erosion, while providing an aesthetically pleasing landscape. 

This strategy was proposed by Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward Allegheny program coordinator Mary W. Wilson and developed by volunteers Marc Ford, Ken Yonek, and Gwen Wisniewski.

The "after" picture of a commercial property with this article (before picture is inset) shows some possibilities for plantings.

All the plants included in this design are native species that would thrive in a streamside environment while helping hold the soil in place. There are a number of factors that can be considered in developing a streamscape. 

Some key points to think about are:

-- How deeply rooted the plants will become

-- Pipes or infrastructure that should be avoided

-- Benefits to birds or other wildlife you’d like to provide

-- Seasonal interest the plant offers such as flowers or bark appearance

-- The plants' tolerance of conditions near a stream.

To maintain a view of the stream, 'windows' can be designed into the planting design that will frame the stream. 

The use of native plants is always encouraged by the Master Watershed Steward program since they are adapted to local climate conditions and birds and wildlife recognize them for food and resting sites.  

Lists of plants suitable for streamscaping and their benefits and growth habits are available upon request by sending an email to

While a streamscape requires a bit of maintenance as it gets established, it will require less care as it matures, just like most landscape projects. It will also reduce mowing demands. 

This strategy is suitable for residential, public, or commercial properties.

Streamscaping provides a great alternative to having your property washed downstream by erosion or having an area that feels too unwieldy and wild along the edge of a lake, pond, or stream. 

For more information about this, or other strategies for preventing erosion on your property, contact or any Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward program near you.

Additional Extension resources on Backyard Stream Repair can be found on the Extension website. 

(Reprinted from the latest Penn State Extension Watershed Winds newsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy.)

Related Articles:

-- At The Side Of Spring Creek In Dauphin County: An Introduction

-- Private Water Supply Study Completed In 6 Counties By Master Well Owner Network: 48% Failed Health-Based Standards 

-- Extension: What To Do If You Think Your Well Is Contaminated With Giardia

-- Extension: Sanitary Well Caps

-- Penn State Extension - September 7 - Backyard Stream Repair Webinar 2:00 p.m.

-- Penn State Extension - August 4, 25, Sept. 15 - Addressing Nuisance Aquatic Plant And Algae Problems Through Pond Water Quality Testing Webinars. Various times.

[Posted: July 21, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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