Gardening for a Healthy Lake

Capturing pollutant-laden rain water run-off from lawns and impervious surfaces before it enters our waterways is an important step toward lake (and rivers and streams) health. To this end, planting native plant gardens are an ideal way to improve your yard and our lakes.  In addition to improving water quality, native gardens provide local habitats for a diverse population of indigenous fauna at a time when their global habitats are disappearing. Rain gardens are particularly effective in achieving these goals of function and beauty.  Our garden, planted in 2016, consists of four species of sedge to form its backbone, interplanted with 12 wildflower species that provide blooms for pollinators throughout the flight season. The rain garden survives yearly spring flooding, and occasional temporary flooding, as well as drought, throughout the growing season. It is successful in water filtration and erosion control. The plants we chose, diverse in growth form below and above ground, act in unison to capture and filter run-off.  

Lakeshore buffer gardens are another option for lake lovers. They can include and complement mature trees, native shrubs, grasses, and wild flowers, while filtering water runoff, controlling erosion and  providing essential food and shelter for wildlife. In contrast to the rain garden, the lakeshore garden is an “open system” with one uncontrollable boundary being the ebb and flow of the lake itself (because we simply could not resist planting in the fertile riparian muck!) Plantings range from emergents at the shoreline who like their feet wet to upland species at the boundary of the garden with our lawn.  Our native plant gardens and the fascinating creatures we observe within have brought us much joy and lots to photograph.  Demonstration lakeshore and rain gardens may be viewed in the growing season at the Fox Lake Town Park on Blackhawk Trail. Wisconsin DNR factsheets for lakeshore and rain garden instructions are attached. Check with your local lake or river association to see if Wisconsin DNR Healthy Lakes and Rivers grants are available in your area.

Winter is an ideal time to plan and prepare for your gardens. Plot out the garden location(s), size and plants needed to beautify your yard and improve your lake, river or stream. The annual Horicon Marsh native plant sale is an excellent source for good quality, reasonably priced native plants. That sale is usually the weekend after Mother’s Day.  Information and order forms may be found on the Horicon Marsh and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge websites.