Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Natural Shorelines on Inland Lakes

Pollinators and Pesticides

Green Roofs

A low wave energy, eroded site with a failed retaining structure

A low wave energy, eroded site with a failed retaining structure

Newly installed coir logs, erosion blankets and native plantings

Newly installed coir logs, erosion blankets and native plantings

An established natural shoreline landscape; photo by Jim Brueck

An established natural shoreline landscape;
photo by Jim Brueck


Natural Shorelines on Inland Lakes

By Becky Smits, Master Gardener in Training

“A lake is not a swimming pool,” opened Julia Kirkwood at the April 2015 Natural Shoreline Educator Training workshop. Kirkwood, of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) spoke at the “train-the-trainer” program presented by the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP).  The Partnership’s mission is to educate those in the field about the benefits and practices of natural shoreline landscaping.

Hard vertical steel or concrete break-walls installed to ‘protect the shoreline’ are intrusive and out of place.  They are barriers to wildlife, and are prone to creating erosion problems for neighboring properties.  Alternatively, fertilized turf grass planted all the way to the water’s edge creates a shoreline vulnerable to erosion and contributes to the degradation of the lake’s water quality.  MNSP aims to alter current norms for shoreline development, and to promote healthy inland lake ecosystems while taking into account the needs of landowners. 

Workshop attendees learned the components of, and the three plant communities that comprise, a healthy shoreline. 

  • The upland zone is usually a dry area that might support a tree canopy, shrubs or other plants that cannot withstand prolonged wet soils. 
  • The area between the upland zone and the water is called the wetland zone, which will often have wet soils or standing water.  Plants in this zone must tolerate wet soils as well as periods of dryness. 
  • The third zone is in the water.  It is called the aquatic zone and supports emergent, submergent and floating leaf plants. 

The concept of “right plant, right place” is especially important along the shoreline.  Plants native to Michigan are highly recommended.  A detailed list of recommended plants for each zone can be found on the MNSP website.  These plants were chosen because they are not threatened or endangered, will adapt to a variety of site conditions, and are not invasive.

The workshop presented a step-by-step procedure to plan a natural shoreline landscape.  Step one is to determine the needs of the property owner.  What is the property use?   Areas for sitting and enjoying the view, as well as for activities such as swimming, boating and fishing can be incorporated.  The second step is to draw a base map of existing features and do a site inventory.  This would include a sketch of existing plants and structures, paths, driveways, lawn, break-walls etc…  Also, any problem areas should be noted,  such as wet areas or erosion.  From the sketch the property can be broken down into manageable areas and the design process begun.

The design goals are to increase wildlife habitat and stabilize the shoreline.  This can be as simple as creating a no-mow zone and allowing existing plants to grow to create a buffer if shoreline erosion is not an issue.  The other end of the complexity and budget spectrum would be a design for shoreline stability.  This might include “soft-armoring” or “bioengineering” of the shoreline.  Depending on the wave energy present, a variety of methods and products can be used to provide a place to establish native vegetation such as: 

  • Anchored coir logs or brush bundles which eventually will biodegrade,
  • biodegradable erosion control blankets,
  • dogwood live stakes or branch bundles that will sprout and grow where they are placed, and
  • stone or riprap

Geese love lawns along the lakeshore.  The wide open expanse makes them feel safe because they can easily spot any predators and the grass provides them a constant food source.  Their droppings are not only unsightly, but they contain E. coli bacteria and phosphorus that can get washed into the lake.  Certainly it is nice to have some lawn at your house, but it is encouraged to at least have a buffer zone of plantings along the shore to discourage the geese from coming up from the water and hanging out.  This same buffer will encourage desirable wildlife such as songbirds, frogs and butterflies.

What about existing break-walls?  They can actually be left in place and transformed to reduce the negative effects.  Riprap (rocks) can be placed in front of the hard surface of the wall to dissipate wave energy.  In some cases, coir logs or brush bundles can be placed between the riprap and the wall to create a planting zone.  The class included examples of break-walls that had been completely obscured by beautiful plantings in front of and behind, improving the shoreline habitat and the site aesthetics.   Erosion adjacent to break-walls caused by wave flanking can be stabilized using natural planting techniques.

The MNSP is comprised of several organizations such as the Michigan State University Extension, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Center, and the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association, as well as some private engineering and contractor companies.  Their website,, contains a wealth of resources such as lake facts, a map of natural shoreline demonstration sites, upcoming workshops and “before and after” project examples.

A Shoreline Educator is a volunteer who has attended the training and has access to the “MNSP Educator Toolkit” educational materials, and is willing to conduct workshops for anyone wishing to learn how to protect shorelines.  This is not to be confused with a Certified Natural Shoreline Professional (CNSP), which is an individual who has completed classroom and field training and has passed an exam to become certified.  Most CNSPs are contractors and landscape professionals who would be hired for larger scale, complex projects.  The Shoreline Educator Network and the list of CNSPs can both be found on the MNSP website.

A word of caution about modifying shorelines is in order.  Michigan’s inland lakes and streams are regulated under Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams Act, which is administered by the Water Resources Division of the MDEQ.  Most activities taking place below the ordinary high water mark will require a permit.  More information and permit instructions can be found on their website at HYPERLINK “”  The MNSP recommends contacting a professional who specializes in shoreline protection and who is familiar with state regulations to ensure the most time- and cost-effective results.  A shoreline design that does not take lakeshore conditions such as wave energy into consideration or is not properly maintained can fail, leaving behind a larger and more expensive erosion problem than originally existed.

As more people become aware of the benefits and start to create natural shoreline landscapes, the lakeshore habitat will improve. This will in turn reduce erosion and provide habitat for fish and wildlife species while improving water quality.


Natural Shoreline Landscapes on Michigan’s Inland Lakes-Guidebook for Property Owners, First Edition 2011, Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-3145

Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership Website,

Water Resources Division of the MDEQ, Inland Lakes and Streams Website,


By Tiago J. G. Fernandes from Portimão, Portugal [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tiago J. G. Fernandes from Portimão, Portugal [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Pollinators and Pesticides

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener 

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island posted recently on Facebook that a woman phoned the office that she had a tree sprayed for caterpillars (one that she also uses to hang three bird feeders) and is now upset that she has no birds to watch.

How many times a day do humans loose connection with the web of life and intentionally break it?  It appears that little can save us from ourselves….except perhaps education and mindfulness.

The decline of pollinators has been in the news often in the past several years.  First it was honey bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.  Was it mites?  An epidemic?  Pesticides?  Reading about the bee industry and the miles honey bees log annually being moved from orange groves to almond farms and across the continent makes one feel like collapsing too.  The decline of the Monarch butterfly and its consideration for threatened species designation is the most recent alarm.  Has the alarm finally reached critical mass?  Are we ready to change?

Here are facts to remember:

  • -One third of our food, 150 different plants in the United States, require pollination.  No pollinator, no food.
  • -Bugs/insects are NOT pests.  Some insects can become pests, such as when carpenter ants begin munching on your house, but that is amazingly rare in the bug world.
  • -Lots of things eat bugs.  ALL baby birds eat bugs…it is their infant formula… before they are able to dine on seeds and berries.
  • -Honey bees are not the ONLY pollinators.  Lots and lots and lots of insects pollinate and are absolutely essential to environmental health and our food industry.
  • -Some insects are generalists and can dine off many plant species.  Most bugs, however, are extremely picky eaters and dine on one species alone.  Remove that species and that insect dies.  The Monarch is a perfect example of this.  The adult butterfly can consume nectar from a wide variety of flowers.  They lay their eggs on and the larval form consumes ONLY ONE plant, the milkweed.  We have four types of Milkweed in Michigan from which to choose to host Monarchs:  Common Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Whorled Milkweed, and Swamp Milkweed.  To be a friend to pollinators, you must include host plants in your landscape.

There appears to be two key problems with human activity in relationship to bugs. 

  • -One, pesticide use.  Pesticides have one purpose and one purpose ONLY and that is to kill bugs.  While there are some pesticides that have been developed to target  specific species.  There are NO SAFE pesticides.  All pesticides kill.
  • -Bug-free plants are undesirable, regardless of what the seller says.  Incorporating non-native, foreign plants in home landscaping starves the environment. Beneficial plants poisoned with pesticides included in their seeds, leaves and nectar is a horrendous development.

Pesticides are tricky things.  People do not know they are included in seeds and plants they purchase.  An alarm has been raised recently about neonictoinoids.  Seeds and plants treated with this pesticide are deadly to insects.  This chemical has been around a while and in in many of the common pesticides sold in hardware stores and garden centers.  Neonicotinoids do not break down.  When insects eat them and birds eat the insects, every one dies.  In some cases, a plant may be labeled… ‘pest-free’.  Do not purchase such a plant!

As a first step, pledge to “do not harm”.  Turn-in pesticides to hazardous waste collection sites and be ever so educated and mindful BEFORE purchasing another pesticide or hiring a service to spray.

A second step is to incorporate essential pollinator design and bug friendly plants into your landscaping.  Pollinator gardens and Monarch Waystations are the latest trends to do this.  The National Wildlife Federation has a program where homeowners can ‘certify’ their yard as habitat friendly.


The Xerces Society,

Pollinator Partnership,

Monarch Watch,


Walled garden with Green Roof at Botanic Garden

Walled garden with Green Roof at Botanic Garden, photo by MG Trainee J. Gothard

Green roof at Botanic Garden

Green roof at Botanic Garden, photo by MG Trainee, J. Gothard


Green Roofs

Plants on the Green Roof at the Botanic Garden, photo by MG Trainee J. Gothard

Plants on the Green Roof at the Botanic Garden, photo by MG Trainee J. Gothard

Garden shed with green roof, photo by MG Trainee J. Gothard

Garden shed with green roof, photo by MG Trainee J. Gothard

By Jamie Gothard, Master Gardener in Training 

The latest trend in gardening has everyone looking up… to the rooftops. I’m referring to green roofs, which seem to be appearing on rooftops all over the Grand Traverse region recently. How did this trend begin and what are the benefits of having a green roof of your own?

Nate Griswold, owner of Inhabitect, LLC answered these very questions and the answers were pretty intriguing. Inhabitect specializes in living architecture and more specifically green roofs, also called a vegetated roof, garden roof, living roof, or eco-roof and he is behind this latest trend in the Grand Traverse area thanks to his introduction to the green roofs while living in Chicago.

Griswold worked for a Chicago company for 8 years that installed this amazing ecological technology and was part of approximately 1,000 green roof projects while there. His native roots brought him back to Traverse City and it is fair to say that he brought the green roof technology with him. According to Griswold “I’ve been running Inhabitect for two years and have helped developed a green roof market in the region. I like to think that my practical, nationwide experience has helped to shape this market and make the technology viable in Northern Michigan.”

In May 2015, Inhabitect held a Green Roof Workshop at the Botanic Gardent at Historic Barns Park to teach participants how to build a green roof. This is now visible to the public. Other upcoming projects include the new Cowell Family Cancer Center, a part of Munson Hospital, being built on 6th street in Traverse City and the Boardman River Nature Center located on Cass Road.

Green roofs were constructed in the 1960’s as a way to incorporate large areas of plantings into the design of parking structures and plazas. New technology has lightened the load which allows for a greater variety of choices of structures for green roof installation. The advantages of green roofs are numerous and include natural habitat for plants and animals, storm water retention, reduced noise transmission, improved air quality, greater biodiversity, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, increased life expectancy of the roof and a therapeutic environment as in the green roof being constructed at the Biederman Cancer Center among other advantages.

The types of plants that can be used on a green roof varies depending on the use and slope of the rooftop. For example, a lawn can be assembled on a rooftop used for concert venues and athletic facilities and an intensive garden roof can include perennials, ground cover, shrubs an even trees so the possibilities seem to be endless. The options for buildings that can host these types of roofs also seem to be endless and range from arenas and facilities to homes, garages, sheds and even dog houses and chicken coops.

With all of the benefits that result from creating a green roof one would hope that this latest new trend of gardening continues to rise. To find out more information on how to have your own green roof or to explore the green roofs in the Grand Traverse region, visit or like Inhabitect on facebook or visit