Stormwater—rain and snow melt that runs over the ground, picking up sediments and other pollutants along the way—can significantly impact coastal waters. In forests, fields, and other undeveloped areas, vegetation and natural contours slow stormwater and allow it to infiltrate into the ground. The vegetation also filters sediments and other pollutants before surface runoff reaches the nearest wetland or water body. Development disrupts this natural stormwater control when forest and field are replaced by rooftops, roads, and other impervious surfaces that prevent infiltration. Lawns also contribute to stormwater pollution. These graded and mowed surfaces increase surface runoff, particularly when the soil beneath them becomes compacted—and this runoff is typically contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides used to keep the lawn green.
Maintaining strips of natural vegetation along wetlands and waterways is one of the best ways to reduce stormwater impacts. In areas where the natural vegetation has already been replaced by lawn, growing strips of trees, shrubs, and/or tall grasses (particularly native species) can generate significant environmental benefits. These vegetated buffers effectively mimic natural systems, slowing down surface runoff, capturing stormwater to improve infiltration, and filtering contaminants. In addition to protecting surface waters, vegetated buffers improve groundwater supplies by promoting recharge and filtering contaminants. Native plants also benefit wildlife by providing food and habitat and shading rivers and streams, which helps to maintain water temperatures at appropriate levels. Because land use throughout the entire watershed affects water quality, the benefits of planting native vegetation extend beyond the wetland border. Consequently, transforming lawn to native vegetation anywhere on your property is a great way to help the environment.
The following links include excellent information on vegetated buffers.
More on Stormwater
- Information on stormwater regulations, permits, and management is available on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) website.
- MassDEP’s Massachusetts Clean Water Toolkit offers guidance about the prevention and control of nonpoint source pollution and provides links to many fact sheets, including Preserving Natural Vegetation and Tree and Shrub Planting.
- The Massachusetts Watershed Coalition offers technical assistance, planning and design services, and publications and resources for the restoration of watershed ecosystems, including the Clean Water Toolkit, a user-friendly guide for reducing nonpoint source pollution to protect and restore community streams, lakes, and water supplies.
- The University of Connecticut’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials web page has a variety of publications on stormwater. Also, see their fact sheet on stormwater impacts (PDF, 635 KB).
Benefits of Vegetated Buffers
- CZM’s Coastal Landscaping website has details on landscaping coastal areas with salt-tolerant vegetation to reduce storm damage and erosion.
- CZM’s StormSmart Properties Fact Sheet 3: Planting Vegetation to Reduce Erosion and Storm Damage gives specific information for homeowners on appropriate plants for erosion control in coastal areas.
- The Connecticut River Joint Commissions provides a helpful fact sheet on Backyard Buffers (PDF, 250 KB), which includes information on their benefits and the importance of planting different zones.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) web page titled Soak Up the Rain: The Benefits of Green Infrastructure.
How to Plant Vegetated Buffers
- See the City of Portsmouth Conservation Commissions Backyard Buffers that Work for People and Nature by Restoring Ecological Function (PDF, 3.4 MB) for landscape plans that reduce lawn area, enhance wildlife habitat, and enhance the visual appeal of riparian properties.
- See The Massachusetts Buffer Manual: Using Vegetated Buffers to Protect Our Lakes and Rivers (PDF, 2 MB) for information on the benefits of vegetated buffers and details on how to design them.
- See the Sudbury Valley Trustees Riparian Buffers web page to learn more about buffers and to find a list of appropriate native plants for the riparian landscape (PDF, 631 KB).
- Select native plants from Riparian Corridor Plants (PDF, 143 KB), a list suggested by the Connecticut SeaGrant program.
More on Native Species
- The University of Massachusetts Landscape, Nursery & Urban Forestry Program has a fact sheet on North American Plants for New England Gardens.
- The Natural Resources and Conservation Service has fact sheets on Massachusetts Native Trees and Wildflowers (PDF, 775 KB) and Massachusetts Native Shrubs and Grasses (PDF, 1 MB).
- The Native Plant Trust, a conservation organization focused on New England’s native plants, offers a wide variety of educational materials and programs on their website, as well as two nurseries where you can buy native plants.
- The Blue Stem Natives website provides descriptions of native plants, native plant resources, videos, a blog, and landscape design help for gardeners in New England.
- The Association to Preserve Cape Cod's Native Plant Initiative website includes a Cape Cod Native Plants search engine, native garden design examples, Sources for Native Plants & Seeds (PDF, 134 KB), a List of Resources About Native Plants (PDF, 88 KB), and Recommended Presentations on landscaping with native plants (PDF, 104 KB).
- The University of Connecticut Extension Program offers a Connecticut Native Plant and Sustainable Landscaping Guide (PDF, 114 MB) with comprehensive lists, descriptions, and photos of native plants (for Connecticut), including native forbs that grow easily from seed, native perennials for garden beds or rain gardens, low-growing ground covers, low-maintenance and alternative lawn options, salt tolerant and coastal plants, and much more.
Regulations that May Apply
- In Massachusetts, work within 100 feet of wetland resources is subject to the Wetlands Protection Act, and working within 200 feet of rivers is subject to the Rivers Protection Act. For copies of the regulations, see the MassDEP website.
- For more on the implementation of wetlands regulations at the local level, see the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions Electronic Resource Library.
Other Sources of Information
- Check out EPA’s Polluted Runoff (Nonpoint Source Pollution) website.
- EPA has information on greenscaping your lawn and garden.
- The Ecological Landscaping Alliance provides educational material, conference and event information, and other links to promote natural landscapes, including information on stormwater management.
- The Greenscapes website includes information on stormwater management and includes a downloadable Greenscapes Guide that details information on how to use attractive, nature-friendly landscaping practices to reduce pollution, conserve water, support wildlife, and protect against climate change.