The vegetation growing along our rivers and streams is vital to watery habitats. Besides providing food and shelter for wildlife, its shade cools the water in summer to just the right temperature for aquatic creatures.
Plants help to stabilize soil along shores; they prevent erosion and sediment which would otherwise muddy the water and ruin the fish habitat. Where shorelines and stream banks have been disturbed by things such as roads, bridges, docks, or grazing cattle, you can help habitats recover by planting trees and shrubs.
You'll need permission from your provincial or territorial department of the environment or natural resources to plant along waterways. Wildlife officials can also advise you on the best native species to plant in your area.
• Plan to plant in spring after the last frost.
• Choose a suitable site with sparse vegetation, where erosion is occurring along a waterway.
• Check out the site and surrounding area to see what plants already grow there. Some may be suitable to transplant, or to provide cuttings to plant in the disturbed area.
• Some good choices for easy planting are native shrubs and willow and poplar trees, which are widespread in Canada.
• It is best if you soak cuttings in water for a week or two to start them rooting, but you can plant them immediately after removing them from the parent plant. See "How to Obtain Shrub Cuttings" and "Plant Easy-to-grow Willows" for more information on planting from cuttings.
• Smaller cuttings will suffice, but large willow poles - 2 m long and 5 cm to 8 cm in diameter - will further increase the stability of eroding banks. They should be driven 1 m into the bank at or near the water’s edge. Space them in uneven rows, 0.5 to 1 m apart. Willows thrive in wet places - alongside streams and riverbanks, on bog edges, and in low-lying areas with a high water table.
• Though more expensive than cuttings, one- or two-year-old shrub seedlings from a nursery can also be used. Plant them in a zigzag pattern, 0.5 m apart.
• Black spruce and tamarack trees are also good planting choices for riparian zones. Black spruces grow in almost all kinds of soil but prefer wet, boggy conditions. Tamaracks prefer cold, wet places such as bogs and swamps. They grow alongside black spruces in open muskegs (level swamps or bogs) and alongside aspens and birches in better-drained soil.
• Hawthorn is one shrub that adapts to a wide range of soil conditions but does best in moist to wet locations. Red-osier dogwood is highly recommended for planting along the edges of ponds and streams, as its spreading roots help prevent soil erosion. As well, its thick foliage provides shade, which helps to cool water temperatures in summer. This is important for the survival of trout.
• Sow wheat and barley along shores to provide a good source of cover as well as a supply of tasty food. These seeds germinate simply by lying on top of moist soil.
• Patrol your project area regularly.
• Replace dead vegetation when necessary.
• See "Plant Project Maintenance Tips" for further suggestions.