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Plants For Riparian Areas – Tips For Planning A Riparian Garden

Plants For Riparian Areas – Tips For Planning A Riparian Garden


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By: Teo Spengler

If you are lucky enough to live by a lake or stream you’ll need to fill your backyard garden with plants for riparian areas. A riparian area is an ecosystem found along the edge of a water course or body of water. A well-planned riparian garden creates a refuge for wildlife and prevents bank erosion. Let’s learn more.

What is a Riparian Garden?

The word riparian comes from the Latin word for river bank. Due to the proximity of water, riparian ecosystems contain moister soil than upland areas, soil that has been built in variegated layers of sediment.

Plants for riparian areas are very important in preventing erosion of the soil, but that’s not all. The trees and shrubs planted in riparian ecosystems influence both the quality of the water in the river or lake and the health of the area’s fish and wildlife. If your garden is blooming and healthy, it will abound in birds, frogs, pollinating insects, and other wildlife.

Riparian Ecosystems

A key to keeping a riparian ecosystem healthy is planning a riparian garden of native plants that require neither pesticide nor fertilizer. Both products can wash into the waterway and pollute it, killing fish and insects.

You’ll want to include a variety of plants for riparian areas, mixing trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Selecting plants that are native to your riparian ecosystems makes riparian garden care a snap. Take the time to dig out invasive species that edge out native plants.

Riparian Garden Care

Riparian garden care is much easier if you select plants that require the amount of sunlight and type of soil your riparian ecosystem has to offer. When planting, place the seedlings carefully in the moist soil. Layer organic mulch over the soil to regulate the soil temperature and hold onto moisture.

Your riparian ecosystem varies from water’s edge to upslope, and you must select plants for riparian areas accordingly. The five levels of soil moisture are:

  • Wet
  • Medium wet
  • Mesic (medium)
  • Medium dry
  • Dry

You may have sections of all types in your garden. Each support different types of plants. Your local extension office can help with locating suitable plants.

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Riparian Garden Care: Information About Riparian Ecosystems - garden

United States Department of Agriculture

Riparian research and management: Past, present, future: Volume 2

Details for Deborah M. Finch

Featured Publications

Titles contained within Riparian research and management: Past, present, future: Volume 2

Understanding gains and losses of riparian habitat: Interpreting change, its causes and consequences [Chapter 1]

A naturalized riparian ecosystem: Consequences of Tamarisk leaf beetle (Diorhabda spp.) biocontrol [Chapter 2]

Vanishing riparian mesquite bosques: Their uniqueness and recovery potential [Chapter 3]

Using the Southwest Experimental Garden Array to enhance riparian restoration in response to global environmental change: Identifying and deploying genotypes and populations for current and future environments [Chapter 4]

The Watershed Continuum: A conceptual model of fluvial-riparian ecosystems [Chapter 5]

It’s not all bad news - riparian areas in the Anthropocene [Chapter 6]

The development of riparian ecosystem restoration in California [Chapter 7]

Sacramento-San Joaquin System [Chapter 8]

Recreation habitat versus ecological habitat in riparian areas: Can we manage for both? [Chapter 9]

Intended versus unintended effects during riparian restoration create high quality recreation habitat [Chapter 10]


Trees

There are so many benefits to planting trees, and the more trees our communities have, the better. This is equally true regarding trees planted in vegetated areas alongside streams, rivers and other waterways. These areas are called riparian zones or buffers. Native trees and other vegetation planted in these areas play a key role in improving water quality. With the help of partners and volunteers, we’ve helped restore waterways by planting more than 40,000 riparian trees along waterways since 2001.

Riparian buffers filter pollutants before they enter waterways, help to stabilize eroding stream banks, and provide many other benefits to aquatic ecosystems. These water pollutants most often come from stormwater runoff from roads, roofs and parking lots, or runoff from over-fertilized lawns, pesticides, herbicides, over-grazed pastures and livestock waste, to name a few.

Tree plantings in riparian areas make a direct impact on reducing nitrogen and sediment levels in our rivers, creeks and streams. Trees increase the infiltration capacity of soils. As a result, trees slow the flow of surface water, absorb water into the ground, filter sediment and allow any remaining sediment to settle. The cleaner our region’s waterways are, the cleaner our drinking water sources become, too.

Trees are also effective in absorbing excess nitrogen from waterways. A study of 16 streams in Eastern Pennsylvania found 200-800 times more nitrogen reached streams in non-forested areas than those in forested areas.

Our watershed conservation staff regularly undertakes riparian restoration projects. Read more about other watershed restoration and conservation methods or volunteer for an upcoming planting.

For More Information:

Watershed Conservation Program
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
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Indiana, PA 15701

724-471-7202 [email protected]
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Bird distribution in riparian vegetation in the extensive natural landscape of Australia’s tropical savanna: a broad‐scale survey and analysis of a distributional data base

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

J. C. Z. Woinarski, Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia.Search for more papers by this author

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

J. C. Z. Woinarski, Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia.Search for more papers by this author

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT, 0831, Australia

Abstract

Abstract

(a) To characterize the riparian bird assemblage, and its variation, in a large area of northern Australia (b) to examine the distinctiveness of this assemblage in relation to the broader landscape (c) to consider the influence of disturbance on this assemblage (d) to examine temporal variability in the riparian assemblage, and especially evidence for seasonal movements between riparian and non‐riparian areas.

Location

c. 620,000 km 2 of the seasonal tropics of the Northern Territory, Australia.

Methods

(a) Synchronous sampling of birds in riparian and adjacent non‐riparian areas at 100 sites stratified across 13 catchments and an extensive rainfall gradient. (b) Repeat visits to 13 of these sites at contrasting seasons. (c) Analysis of a larger distributional database to assess the relative occurrence of records in riparian areas relative to non‐riparian areas.

Results

Species richness and the total abundance of birds was significantly greater in riparian zones than in matched non‐riparian areas, especially where the riparian zones contained extensive cover of rain forest plants and Melaleuca. Similarity in bird species composition between riparian zones and adjacent non‐riparian areas was generally low, and this distinction was greatest in lower reaches of the rivers and where the riparian zone contained no eucalypts. Bird species composition varied gradationally from riparian zones in high rainfall areas, through riparian zones in low rainfall areas and non‐riparian zones in high rainfall areas, to non‐riparian zones in low rainfall areas. Many species occurred widely across the riparian sites sampled. Of ninety‐four species recorded from more than five sites, forty‐five species were significantly more abundant in riparian zones than in matched non‐riparian zones, whereas this pattern was reversed for only twelve species. There was little association between foraging group and preference for riparian zones. Species had highly idiosyncratic distributions across the riparian samples, with the most common trend being an association with mean annual rainfall. Many species were significantly more closely associated with riparian zones in lower rainfall areas than in higher rainfall areas. Indeed, many species typical of higher rainfall areas extended into lower rainfall areas only, or mainly, along riparian strips. There was some temporal fluidity in bird species composition of riparian zones, suggesting seasonal movements between riparian zones and the surrounding landscape. There was little evidence that disturbance was a major factor influencing the distribution of riparian birds, probably because other major geographical and environmental gradients probably dwarfed the influence of the relatively minor variation between samples in disturbance.

Main conclusions

The bird fauna of riparian areas is distinct from that of the surrounding savannas, and especially so in lower rainfall areas. Riparian vegetation allows many species to extend their distributions into lower rainfall areas. The riparian assemblage is loosely structured, in that most species have idiosyncratic distributions. As at least some bird species move seasonally between riparian and non‐riparian areas, conservation management must ensure that these connections are maintained.


UNH Extension

Introduction

In recent years we’ve shifted our focus from single species, single stand management to an emphasis on larger ecological communities - ecosystems, watersheds, and landscapes. All these scales are important. We need to understand the complexities of ecological systems, as we apply management strategies to specific habitats, stands, and species.

Riparian areas can help us incorporate larger landscape concerns into forest management planning and activities. Riparian areas and their associated water courses often cross ownership boundaries. This provides a unique opportunity for adjoining landowners to work together on mutual management objectives.

What Are Riparian Areas?

Riparian areas are those lands located next to and are influenced by or have an influence on a stream or water body. They support many different functions: removing sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen stabilizing shorelines reducing flood waters moderating water temperatures affording wildlife travel corridors supporting in-stream and terrestrial habitat and providing recreational opportunities.

Riparian Areas as Wildlife Habitat

Several features in riparian areas make them attractive to a wide diversity of wildlife. The stream course creates a natural opening in the forest, allowing sunlight to reach the ground. The greater warmth and light allows multiple layers of vegetation to develop along the shoreline. Mosses, lichens, ferns, and flowers take hold on the ground. A variety of shrubs, vines and trees create a layering of vegetation up to the forest canopy. This vertical diversity of vegetation supports a diversity of wildlife from salamanders, beetles, and weasels on the forest floor to songbirds, bats, and raptors in the overstory.

Riparian areas tend to have an abundance of cavity trees and woody debris. Dead, dying and downed woody material is important for many of New Hampshire’s wildlife species. Bats roost under the loose bark of dying trees, while flycatchers, kingfishers, osprey, and other birds use snags along the water as feeding perches.

The presence of water adds diversity to the forested environment. Some species (e.g., salamanders, beaver, otter, trout) depend on both the forest and the water for food and shelter. Leaves, twigs, and other organic matter from streamside vegetation is a major food source for in-stream invertebrates, the foundation of the aquatic food web.

Riparian areas are used by birds and mammals as travel corridors. In northern New Hampshire, riparian forests link areas of suitable pine marten habitat, enabling this species to expand its range. Other mammals routinely hunt along streams. Songbirds use riparian forests as rest stops during migration. Other wildlife use riparian corridors as they disperse from their birthplace.

Riparian forests often support unique micro-climates, critical for some wildlife. Deer wintering areas are often associated with softwood stands in riparian areas. The prevalence of fallen logs and cool shade creates a moist, micro-climate for salamanders.

How Wide is a Riparian Area?

The width of a riparian area depends, in part, on the functions and values that are being protected. A stream that serves as the headwaters of a drinking water supply may need a large buffer to protect water quality. Riparian area dimensions are also influenced by the unique site conditions such as stream size, soil type, bank slope, and associated vegetation.

To protect multiple values, including fish and wildlife habitat, riparian areas should encompass adjacent spring seeps, wetlands, riparian vegetation, and wet or highly erodible soils. Therefore, riparian areas will vary in width up and down the length of a water body. Riparian areas should be large enough to protect the designated values and to maintain their ecological functions. Forested buffers of 100 feet along a stream may be sufficient to protect water quality. Larger buffers are often required to maintain suitable habitat for invertebrates and fish (>100 feet) and birds and mammals (200-600 feet).

It is nearly impossible to set a width that applies to all riparian areas and that protects all the values. A set width may be too narrow in some areas and too wide in others. Ideally the width is determined by the site conditions and in the context of its surroundings.

Forest Management in Riparian Areas

In New Hampshire, the Basal Area Law allows no more than 50% of the basal area of trees to be cut within 50 feet of a stream. In addition, Best Management Practices for Erosion Control has recommendations for filter strip widths based on slope. Beyond these provisions, forest managers can follow some general principles within riparian areas that will help maintain the ecological integrity of these ecosystems:

1. Use small scale harvesting - single tree or group cuts no whole tree harvesting in riparian area.

2. Use long rotations, allowing older aged stands to develop.

3. Leave all cavity trees, dead or alive, and fallen logs.

4. Operate timber harvests in late summer or during frozen ground periods to minimize disturbance to the forest floor and understory vegetation. This will also avoid conflicts with wildlife breeding periods (typically April-June).

5. Incorporate riparian areas in land cover maps, showing their clients the link between uplands, wetlands, and water bodies and their location within the watershed.

6. Locate log landings and haul roads outside the riparian area or at least 200 feet from the stream, whichever is greater.

These recommendations will help protect in-stream and riparian fish and wildlife habitat. By using these management practices in riparian areas, landowners will be protecting these unique ecosystems for multiple benefits. For additional information about the management of wetlands and riparian areas consult Good Forestry in the Granite State, available from the UNH Cooperative Extension Publications, Nesmith Hall, Durham, NH 03824.


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