Buffers for Blue Lakes

How To


Vegetative shoreland buffers, located along lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and ponds are the single most effective protection for water quality, lake ecosystems, and essential wildlife habitat. These strips of ground covers, shrubs, and trees serve as transitional areas, where land and water meet to create unique and highly productive ecosystems. The canopy created by trees, shrubs, and herbaceous vegetation moderates the impact of heavy rains, shades the shoreline to reduce water temperature and produces organic matter and woody debris essential to shallow-water ecology. Root systems give soil structure, hold soil in place, direct rainfall down into the soil instead of over the soil, and can extract nutrients and contaminates from the soil. The abundance of water and the diversity of plant communities in vegetated buffers help support a variety of aquatic and terrestrial life. They also provide valuable social, economic and environmental benefits.

Why do we need them?

Some of the benefits of buffers include:

  • Protecting water quality by absorbing excess nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen) from natural and human sources.
  • Recharging groundwater and limiting flooding by absorbing stormwater runoff.
  • Filtering sediment and trapping pollutants, including fertilizer and pesticide residues, to purify drinking water.
  • Stabilizing and protecting banks from stormwater and wave action erosion.
  • Providing shade, woody debris, and nutrients to shallow-water ecosystems–the keystone of the web of aquatic life.
  • Providing wildlife habitats and wildlife corridors that are essential for many species.
  • Providing specialized habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered plants and other species.
  • Providing economic values, including private and commercial uses.
  • Providing aesthetic, recreational, educational, and research opportunities.

Natural shoreland buffers have been lost in many places. Restoring them can improve water quality, bank stability, wildlife, and aesthetics around the state’s lakes and ponds.

Download What is a buffer as PDF.

planning a blueberry buffer area imagesLow bush blueberries are native to Vermont. They thrive on lakeshores where you have several hours of sunshine each day. They can survive the weight of snow and are better able to handle wind than high bush blueberries.

Half-high and high-bush blueberries are cultivated versions that are adapted to the growing conditions in your area. They generally have larger berries and less of a “wild” taste. (A half-high blueberry is a cross between a low-bush and high-bush plant that has been developed in a plant-breeding program.)

Blueberries need soil that is acid, that is not too wet, and that has a good amount of organic matter, like compost. (Not too sandy or rocky; not too much heavy clay-like soil.)

It is easy to add what the soil needs.

  • Elmore Roots nursery has a complete soil amendment for blueberries.
  • Or you can make your own mix of (1) elemental sulfur, iron sulfate, sphagnum peat moss, or pine needles to increase acidity, and (2) compost made from manure, vegetation, or food scraps.
  • If you are planting close to evergreen trees or shrubs—or rhododendrons and azaleas—the soil may already be acid.
  • Almost all fruits do best in slightly acidic soil, somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 6.5. Blueberries prefer a soil of even greater acidity of between 4.0 and 5.0.

Blueberries need friends for pollination

  • Most fruit trees, including blueberries, have both male and female organs on the same flower, but not all are self-pollinating. The best bet for blueberries is to have different varieties of blueberries within 100 feet, so bees can travel and cross-pollinate.
  • Northcountry is one cultivar that is self-compatible and can be planted without another pollinizer cultivar. Pollination by wild or domestic bees is essential.

planting chart

Download Planning your buffer as PDF.

Find the right spot — not too wet, not too windy, not too shady

Plan where each plant will go

  • Low-bush plants that grow to 1’ x 1’ can be spaced 2’ – 3’ apart
  • Some low-bush plants grow to about 2’ x 2’ so they need a bit more space.
  • Half-high plants grow to about 3’ x 3’, and high-bush plants grow to about 5’ high x 3’ wide. Space these plants about 4-5’ apart.

Prepare a garden bed or individual holes for the plants

  • Use an edger or a knife to cut through the turf, so it can be removed.
  • Dig a hole that is about 2’ wide and 1’ deep (or a bit smaller for low-bush plants).
  • Remove about half the soil from the hole.
  • Add 1-2 quarts of Elmore Roots blueberry mix or your own mix (see Planning your blueberry buffer) and mix into the soil in the hole. If your soil is sandy, rocky, or clay-like, add extra compost.
  • If you use sphagnum moss, you need to pre-moisten it in a bucket before you mix it into the soil. Add water and mix. Make it quite moist.

Plant your blueberry plant

  • Plant your blueberry bush so that the top of the root system is about 2” below the original level of the garden bed or lawn — this will allow space for mulch and will make a water-holding area.
  • If your plant was in a pot, squeeze the pot, wiggle the plant out, and massage the roots to separate them a bit.
  • If you are planting in a lawn, keep soil away from the lawn edge of the hole – grass roots will not grow where there is no soil.
  • Add back soil to fill the hole up to 2” below the original grade (and to the top of the plant roots) – press the soil on top of the roots down firmly, so that the plant is well supported.
  • Water the plant well – the water should sit in the depression you created.
  • Add pine needles or other natural acid mulch on top of the bare soil.

Download Planting your buffer as PDF.


When first planted, blueberries like daily watering for several days. Blueberries prefer soil that is moist but not saturated.
In general, blueberries need about 1 – 3” of water per week, from blossom time to harvest. If there isn’t enough rain, you should water the plants once or twice a week. (Use a rain gauge to see how much rain has fallen each week.)

Soil and Nutrients

  • During the 1st year of your blueberry’s life, keep the area around the plant weeded to reduce competition for nutrients.
  • Some gardeners remove the plant’s blossoms in the year it is planted, to encourage root growth rather than fruit production.
  • After 1-2 years you can add compost, organic fertilizer without phosphorus, and/or pine-needle or other acid mulch around the plant.
  • After 1-2 years, if your soil is not naturally acid, you can add sulphur or a blueberry soil amendment around the plant. Consider testing the pH of your soil.


  • You do not need to prune your blueberry bush at planting time, other than removing damaged branches. However, after the plant is 5-7 years old, you can prune it in January – March, when the plant is dormant.
  • Blueberries produce fruit on 1-year-old wood. Here are some pruning tips:
    – Keep the bush fairly open. Open bushes promote better air circulation (less disease) and good light penetration to improve fruit bud set for next year’s crop.
    – After pruning, there generally should be an equal number of 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old canes. If you remove the oldest, unproductive canes, and thin to a few of the best shoots at the base (called “whips”), you will be renewing the bush each year.

Download Care for buffer PDF.

Six native plant lists – from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection

These lists are not exhaustive but include plants that are generally available at local nurseries. The lists include suggestions for small shrubs, large shrubs, and trees, as well as ground covers and perennials. Each list is tailored to the amount of sun the planting site receives, as well as whether the soil is moist or dry. A site with full sun gets more than 5 hours a day of direct sun. A partly sunny site gets 2 – 5 hours of direct sun a day, or a full day of dappled sun. A shady site gets less than 2 hours a day of direct sun.

Download Care for your buffer as PDF.