IntroductionShore LoreSteps and TechniquesPlant GuideReferences and ResourcesWave line
Restore Your Shore

Steps & Techniques: Designing Your Shoreline


person on bench overlooking lake

Developing a Planting Plan

If you have decided that the best approach for your circumstances is to plant native species, you need to identify what plants you will use and where you wish to establish the plants.

Begin your Plan by identifying the native plant community types appropriate to your shoreline zones:

  • Aquatic
  • Transitional
  • Upland
canoer with paddles standing near canoe on lakeshore

Identifying Target Plant Communities

In "Reading Your Shoreline" you surveyed your own lake as well as lakes in your region, and you identified plant communities native to your area.

As you refer to this information to develop your planting plan, keep in mind the particular shoreline zone for your lake as well as the characteristics of your property that you identified earlier, such as sandy soil.

Native Plant Communities are the plant communities that would naturally have occurred on your property. Use these communities as benchmarks for designing each shoreline zone and selecting the species that grow in those zones.

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Creating Your Personal Plant List

The Native Plant Encyclopedia is an excellent source to learn about the planting and growing characteristics of different plants. A powerful feature of the encyclopedia is the capability to create and customize your own Personal Plant List.

painted turtle on log

The Native Plant Encyclopedia contains photographs and profiles of native plants suited to your site. This allows you to choose native species that are ecologically appropriate to your shoreline zone, are adapted to your area, and meet your aesthetic requirements.

Make your selections, add them to your Personal Plant List, and print out the list. You can use it for estimating costs and quantities of plants and materials.

Consider these factors when you develop your Personal Plant List:

  • Select only native species that are recommended for the county in which your property occurs
  • Think about bloom time, height, etc. (With some planning, you can have a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes blooming at different times throughout the growing season).
  • Consider plant availability
  • Strive for "plant community restoration"
  • Establish project goals such as attracting wildlife
illustration of lake lot with shoreline zones

Estimating Materials & Costs

Measuring areas - Measure the planting areas for the various types of zones. Determine the square footage of each zone for calculating the plants and materials that you will need.

This can be as simple as counting squares on the graph paper where your plan is drawn and converting this figure based on the scale of the plan. For more accurate area measurements, remembering your high school geometry would be helpful. When you're done with your calculations you should have rough areas determined for your different planting zones.

Calculate the number of plants needed
1) Determine the spacing of the plants: 1) Then multiply the number of squares by:
6" 4.50
12" 1.10
18" 0.50
24" 0.29
30" 0.18
36" 0.13
Example: For a 20X20 foot (400 square feet) area with a plant spacing of 24 inches would require about 116 plants (400 x .29). It wouldn't hurt to add 10% more to allow for a few unhealthy plants and difficulty in accurately spacing the plants while planting.

Chart adapted from Native Vegetation in Restored and Created Wetlands by Daniel Shaw (BWSR Publication, September 2000)

Spacing - To determine how many plants are needed, you'll need to know how far apart to space the plants. For trees and shrubs, allow adequate room for them at maturity. Some overlap is good. A rule of thumb for most shoreline plants is to estimate a spacing of about 1.5 to 2 feet. Plants can be spaced 6 inches to 4 feet apart, depending on how quickly they spread and how large or densely they grow. Here's where observing how they grow in nature is helpful.

Planting patterns - A more natural pattern is to plant species in groupings of 3-5, rather than planting single species all in one row or in regular intervals along rows (such as every 6th plant in a row). Again, paying close attention to color patterns and spatial arrangements of species in native communities can provide a model for planting patterns on your shoreline.

Note that costs for plants can vary zone by zone (e.g., planting small plugs in transition zone, seeding in upland zone, or planting larger potted plants by a path, etc.). You can always combine the different planting options:

  • Live Plants: in pots, plugs, flats, containers or bare-root seedlings
  • Seeds
  • Live stakes/Wattles
cost estimate worksheet

Calculator time! We begin by developing estimates for the materials that will be needed:

  • Seeds
  • Plants
  • Erosion control blankets & staking
  • Shredded wood mulch
  • Wavebreakers & anchors

For an idea of the range of costs and labor associated with different approaches, visit the Shore Lore Section.

An easy way to estimate your costs is with the Cost Estimate Worksheet This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it.. It is designed for your personal project. Just print out the worksheet and add it to your Project Folder.

person mowing large lawn

Management Timeframe

As the Project Manager, you want to know what your on-going commitment to the project requires.

While the time and money needed for the project are less than that required for installing and maintaining lawns, weeding and watering are still necessary.

You will need to allow adequate time to:

  • Plan your project
  • Obtain necessary permits
  • Browse nursery catalogs
  • Select plants
  • Arrange for contract growing
  • Control nuisance species
  • Order all your supplies
  • Prepare the site

Shoreline restoration is an on-going process, not a one-time event. PATIENCE is the key. It took a long time for the lakeshore to develop naturally. It will also take some time for the shoreline to naturally recover.


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