August 27, 2010 Vol. 12, No. 12

Summertime in the Belgrades

August 27


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The Final 2010 "Buffer Story"

by Dale Finseth

For those still around camp, now might be the time to build a buffer so it is ready to do its job next spring and summer. It will even be helpful in this fall's rain. Honest, we will be getting some rain! Remember to keep in mind that the primary object of the riparian buffer is to intercept and treat the water flowing off your property and into the lake or stream. If you want it to look pretty or become a landscaping feature of your property, that is only secondary. It's all about water quality!

In some cases it may not require planting anything. Use the existing trees, shrubs and ground cover. Determine where the water is flowing off buildings, parking areas and pathways. Create some erosion control mulch berms and maybe add some stonework and divert the runoff through some filter areas of vegetation out into the woods.

Perhaps you have a pathway to the shore which also serves as the primary route for the water runoff cutting through your property. This is a very common scenario. Move the pathway and construct a thick garden or large mulched area to intercept the water.

But . . . it is a camp and people still take the shortest route from the porch/patio to the water. Create a mulched area and garden with thick and wide erosion control mulch. Then create a bridge or other defined walkway over the top. Make it a landscaping element. You still have the shortest pathway, but it will not become a ditch.

The raised berm can serve to intercept the water and seem to create a landscaping feature. Add some plants with thorns and you can force people to stay on the path and not trample the water runoff interceptor. I am a big advocate of thorny plants to control the human penchant for trampling and compacting the soils.

So, maybe you want to plant something and create a garden. It takes some work by either you or someone else. Use hardy spreading shrubs that match the soils you have. Or, you may need to add soil and compost to your area to support plants. Select plants that like our weather. Just because you only summer in Maine, remember the plants need to live here all year. Use plants that do not require much maintenance and care unless you are prepared to do gardening. Use plants that do not need regular watering. If you are not around camp for a week or two, you don't want them to die.

Create your garden buffer so it catches the water running towards the shoreline. That may mean creating a crescent shape that catches the water coming off the area. Stabilize the soils and then protect your planting from getting washed away in rainstorms or next spring's freshet.

A good looking garden doesn't protect water quality if it isn't located properly. Remember the goal!!! The buffers need to intercept and filter the water.

Contact your local lake association or the Kennebec Soil & Water Conservation District for assistance or information on buffers. Check out the Maine Department of Environmental Protection website for excellent information about buffers, plant selection, and designing gardens and other landscape features that will help you protect water quality. They have great reference material that is relatively easy to understand and helpful for the homeowner. Visit a nursery that may have examples of plantings. If you plan to have others do the work, these reference materials will help you understand your options. It also helps you understand how those options may get installed and how they will impact the way you use your property.

Dale Finseth, Art Grindle, and Josh Platt work for the the Kennebec County Soil & Water Conservation District in Augusta. For more information about the district and its projects, one may call them at 622-7847, X 3 or visit

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