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Extension > Extension in your Community > Blue-earth > Master Gardeners > Articles > Lawns to Legumes Leads to Shoreline Renovation

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Lawns to Legumes Leads to Shoreline Renovation

Shoreline buffer. Photo by Karen Wright

Article Written by Karen Wright, Minnesota Valley Master Gardener

Photo by author

August is National Water Quality Month, so I decided to write what I’m doing to help take care of watersheds and make them healthier. My interest in this came in early 2016 after we’d purchased a cabin on Lake Washington.

Lake Washington is one of the largest lakes in southern Minnesota at 1,487 acres with 13.2 miles of shoreline. It has approximately 450 homes, with 80% of the residents living there full time, according to the Lake Washington Improvement Association.

In the spring, the water was beautiful and clear and we could see the lake bottom. However, that didn’t last for long—as the summer progressed, the lake became murky green and didn’t smell so good. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Lake Washington is classified as “impaired” and is among more than half of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams that fail to meet water-quality standards for protecting aquatic life and human health. 

I knew I wanted to do something to help “fix” the problem, but what? The answer came in December 2019, when I came across online information about a program where one could apply for a grant for the Lawns to Legumes program. It originated from the State of Minnesota which passed legislation for a cost share program to help landowners transform their turf lawn into habitat that would benefit pollinators. I applied online through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and Blue Thumb (a public/private partnership promoting native plants, raingardens, shoreline stabilization projects and turf alternatives to reduce runoff and improve water quality), to create a more eco-friendly and sustainable landscape.To cultivate a healthy water ecosystem, I planted a shoreline buffer garden which offers so much more than stabilization and erosion control. Native plants on the shoreline create a healthier aquatic environment by filtering pollutants from run-off water, while creating habitat that supports butterflies, pollinators and birds.

Nearly 8,000 Minnesotan’s applied for the Lawns to Legumes according to James Wolfin, Sustainable Landcare Manager at Metro Blooms. He said, “The funding provided by the state of Minnesota grants will be provided to approximately 700-1200 residents over the course of this grant.” Lawns to Legumes provides workshops, free planting guides and opportunities to apply for reimbursement, which enables Minnesota residents to create pollinator habitat in their yards. It aims to empower Minnesota residents to help pollinators in their own yards. “Even relatively small plantings of native flowers, or beneficial trees and shrubs, can help create valuable conditions for pollinators and build important habitat corridors,” explained Wolfin.

I qualified for a $350 grant (the max amount for an individual) for this cost-sharing program to purchase native plants, site prep, mulch, consultation, or basically whatever was needed. I was required to participate in a Blue Thumb “Resilient Yards” Webinar and connect with a coach (I had Shane Bugeja, Extension Educator for Blue Earth and Le Sueur Counties). To receive reimbursement, I am required to document my work with photos (many of which you see here), as well as provide receipts for what I’ve purchased and the amount of time spent on the project. There is a 25% match required for any funding received and it could be in the form of purchasing materials, hiring contractors, or in-kind time spent planting or maintaining plants. I have well-exceeded those parameters in time alone!

I installed a “pocket planting” which is a smaller planting of native plants and grasses. This was the practice recommended for new gardeners and could be as small as 10 square feet to make a difference for Minnesota pollinators. My pocket planting is considerably larger and encompasses about 55 feet of lakeshore by three feet wide. To create my pollinator shoreline, I removed the turf grass along the shoreline with a shovel and considerable elbow grease! After it was planted, I used a bucket and got the water directly from the lake to maintain moisture levels to ensure the plants got well-established. I used grass clippings for mulch to keep the weeds down.

I watered it with water from the lake. I purchased native pollinator plants that are particularly attractive to our state bee, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, which is on the endangered list. The pre-planned garden I bought online from Prairie Nursery (I highly recommend) includes flowers that bloom from early in the spring through the fall which is critical to survival of the Rusty Patched Bumblebee. Native plants are the best thing that could happen to my shoreline. They have roots that can grow down to 16 feet, so they can retain and infiltrate more water, decrease soil compaction, filter out pollution and sequester carbon according to the University of Minnesota Extension. In addition, they are easier to grow and require fewer inputs (less mowing and watering, no fertilizer or pesticides), which leads to lower costs. And, of course, they also provide habitat for the pollinators. 

Had it not been for the grant, I’m not sure I’d have had the motivation to complete the project this year, and who knows when I would have gotten around to improving the shoreline for water health and for our pollinators! I hope to continue to plant the remaining shoreline to cover all 125 feet to enhance my efforts for clean water and pollinators.

To learn how you can apply for a Lawn to Legumes grant, go to: https://bwsr.state.mn.us/l2l

I hope to expand my native planting to the entire 125 feet of shoreline and hope my neighbors will follow suit.

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