A guide to the tried and true workhorse native plants for shoreline restoration and protection. Examples from Big Sandy Lake and Crow Wing county.

The best plants to protect your shore – A Case Study

By Jeff Forester

On June 19, 2012 it began to rain in northern Minnesota. It poured actually. Over ten inches fell on ground that was already saturated from rainfalls the week before. 

The damage was incredible, with over 250 families displaced, zoo animals drowned, roads and infrastructure completely destroyed. Water levels on the lakes rose, and on Big Sandy Lake they rose over six feet and stayed that way for six weeks. Climatologists tell us that these mega cloud burst events are becoming more common.

Shelley Larson, a shoreland restoration professional with Hayland Woods Shoreline Consulting saw a research opportunity at Big Sandy. After the waters receded Shelley went and surveyed the shoreline of Big Sandy Lake noting the plants that had not only survived the flood, but had prevented shoreline erosion and thrived.

Some areas were completely devoid of vegetation. Areas of Kentucky bluegrass were raw soil after the flood waters receded.

This photo, taken in late spring the following year, shows that the Big Sandy shoreline dominated by kentucky bluegrass, did not recover from the six week flood.

This photo, taken after restoration from the 2012 flood, show the bank stabilization and aesthetic, and habitat benefits of native shoreline buffers.

Shelley was able to determine a partial list of native plants that showed great resilience to disturbance as well as providing beauty and wildlife habitat. The list of species persisting after the flood includes: 

Red Baneberry, 

Hog Peanut, 

Canada Anemone, 

Spreading Dogbane, 

Clasping Dogbane, 

Common Milkweed, 

Swamp Milkweed, 

Lindley’s Aster, 

Lady Fern, 

Lake Sedge, 

Woolly Sedge, 

Pennsylvania Sedge, 

Tussock Sedge, 


Black Snakeroot, 



Wild Licorice, 


False Lily of the Valley, 

Virginia Creeper, 


Smooth Wild Rose,

Sandbar Willow.

Ice not covered by snow during warm winters can melt and refreeze the shoreline acting like a bulldozer. Once again, shoreline that is in a native state, with some trees, shrubs and native plants will fare better than shoreline that has been converted to lawn.

Following a significant ice push event in Crow Wing County a few years ago, the DNR waived shoreline rules and allowed reshaping of shoreline with earth moving equipment to re-establish the original bank. Volunteers then replanted the shoreline with some natives. The results are not only lovely, but will provide bank stabilization benefits in the future.

The ice damage and erosion is clearly visible.

After the bank was repaired, Curlex and C700 erosion blankets helps prevent runoff while the plants establish. This site was planted by landowners and volunteers during an educational workshop.

The finished product requires little or no maintenance, protects both the bank and the lake, provides wildlife habitat, and looks great.

Until last year at least partial funding for this shoreline work was available through the MN DNR’s Community Partners Grants, which were eliminated last legislative session. In the 2019 Legislative session MLR will advocate and work with the legislature to restore funding to these critical programs.

Contact your local DNR, Watershed District or Soil and Water Conservation District office for advice and guidance as you work to protect the resiliency of the shoreline in your care.