Streamside planting helps form habitats for birds, fish and insects. It also restores the natural appearance of the waterway and protects from soil erosion or other naturally occurring habitat threats. Any vegetation planted streamside in what is known as the "riparian zone" will aid the ecosystem and improve the overall quality of the water.
Stream Flow Consideration
When planting along a stream, take care to study the natural cycle of the water. Does heavy flooding occur during the springtime or does the stream dry up during the late summer or early fall? The yearly activity will dictate what plant types will grow well in the area. A stream that does not change its yearly flow will require plants that do not mind having a moist root system.
Trees offer shade to fish and other wildlife, and their root systems help stabilize the stream bank and can even catch unwanted sediments flowing in the water. Consider which trees do not mind wet roots before planting. Trees with exceptionally aggressive roots should be avoided; over time, the root system could block the stream's flow. Deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall, which limits their year-round shade ability. Conifers remain the same no matter what time of year it is, so the aquatic life within the stream always has shade, which also provides fish with moderate water temperature fluctuations. Cool water produces more oxygen for aquatic life.
Streamside planting can help to catch the runoff of fertilizer from fields or other unwanted chemicals into the stream. The plants will also help to absorb excrement produced by livestock in nearby fields, which can liquefy during irrigation or rainfall and run into the stream. The added nutrients help plants grow, and in exchange, the plants keep the unwanted substances out of the stream.
Food and Water Source
Ample vegetation along a streamside helps raise the population of insects, which are readily consumed by fish and frogs. Added streamside plant life also helps wildlife feel safe when they come to the stream to drink, and they will quickly form corridors of safety through the thick vegetation. The filtering properties of vegetation also creates fresh, clean water for wildlife.
Wildlife Vegetation Uses
Wildlife uses streamside vegetation for a variety of purposes. Birds nest within its safe confines and the grass feeds foraging herbivores. Beavers move into areas where there is ample vegetation to build homes. They benefit the stream by backing water up in areas and allowing it to slowly trickle forth, slowing erosion and storing water for periods of drought.
Planting a Riparian Area
When planting a riparian area, choose a wide variety of plant life. A healthy riparian area will consist of deciduous trees, conifers, various shrubs, several grass species and native wildflowers. Vines, such as the vine maple, can aid in stabilizing the bank.