From gradual erosion to sudden, violent rainstorms, there are many factors that contribute to stream bank restoration. Each year, state and federal governments spend thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars on man made structures to restore eroding stream banks. But one solution, which is much more cost-effective and sometimes overlooked, is using plants to restore damaged stream banks. Although the ideal plants used for restoration projects vary from one part of the country to the next, they all provide some relief in curtailing erosion.
The Benefits of Plants for Stream bank Restoration
Streams often “jump their banks” and cause damage, including extensive flooding, because they are not properly equipped to handle large quantities of rain. Sometimes, successive storms strip stream banks of the natural, native vegetation that lines their shores and makes them resilient to flooding. When streams lose their native layer of protection, they often experience more frequent and more severe flooding. Without strong root systems, they lose vital particles and the ability to control water flow.
There are many methods available to curtail stream erosion. One of those is called “live staking.” Live staking refers to the practice of taking stem cuttings from native and local trees and plants and planting them in the soil alongside a flood-prone riverbed.Live stakes are derived from tip cuttings off native plants. This process essentially transplants the roots of healthy, live vegetation. It takes some time to become effective, but eventually, the cuttings grow into the mature versions of trees and plants that they were originally sourced from. Furthermore, their roots deepen as they grow, which creates a more substantial and more resilient root system to combat future rains. You can sometimes purchase live stakes from your local plant store or nursery. However, you can also extract them from your own yard. Among the most popular species for cuttings are Red Osier Dogwood and Black Willow.
Vegetated Stream banks
Of all the erosion control methods available, one of the most effective is stream bank restoration using native vegetation. Native plants are adapted to handle local temperatures, rainfall, and soil conditions. They are more likely to withstand flooding, wash-outs, and erosion than non-native species. This means that they can be a very effective and less costly means of controlling and mitigating soil erosion. If you need an “anchor” to use for planting vegetation in a wash-out or erosion-prone area, there are some strategies you can try that should make your plantings more successful. Ideally, you should use dormant woody cuttings or stakes as stabilizers for your plantings. Whatever plantings you choose, make sure to plant them alongside existing plants with a deep root system. This will prevent erosion from happening or becoming worse in the surrounding area. Native shrubs, small trees, and grasses that are between 2-3 feet tall create a uniform, more aesthetically-pleasing look along a river bank. This is good to know if you are concerned with making your restoration project look appealing, too. Sprinkling in some colorful flowering plants to the mix adds to its appeal.
From natural events like strong storms to gradual erosion and even human causes like development and agricultural production, stream beds and river banks can take a beating. While you might not be able to stop the root cause, you can at least take action to stop erosion in the future or keep it from getting worse. Choosing the right plants, trees, and shrubs for your area, and using the right staking techniques, can create a more resilient and even more attractive backyard river bed in the future.