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Native Plants Good for Planting Near a River

Updated July 20, 2017

Choose water-tolerant plants when landscaping near a river. Rivers rise and move swiftly, so the plants must be tough. What is planted near waterways can be detrimental or helpful to the river's ecosystem. There are several categories of native plants. Decide what your objectives are before choosing them. Regional natives are specific to your area. Many plants will be listed as North American natives, a much broader group. When restoring a river environment, it is important to use regional listings.

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Riparian Landscaping

The plants chosen along a river bank are very important. They will play role in stabilising the river bank. Trees and shrubs with deep root systems will hold the bank in place and reduce erosion. Salmon and other fish need shady areas to spawn and rest. Without the shade of trees, the water temperature rises dramatically. Birds and other wildlife congregate near water sources. These animals use native plants for shelter and food. Include berry-producing plants for wildlife.

It is helpful to go out and observe native plants in their habitat to get ideas. Find the least disturbed area and see what is growing along the river there. If your river habitat is healthy, try not to plant anything that will throw off the natural balance. Purchase a good native plant identification book. Jot down the names of native plants you want to use. Some plants are easy to find and some may need to be obtained from a mail-order nursery.

Search out a native plant organisation for your area. These groups have web sites that recommend books and nurseries. Good sources will indicate which plants are water-tolerant. Some groups have Internet sites with native plant databases. Even better, they will direct you to native plant sales near you.

Wetlands of any kind can be destroyed by invasive plants. Never purchase plants by impulse to place near a river. Invasive plants such as canary grass and purple loosestrife have already invaded the soil along waterways. Before adding any plants, first remove any invasive ones. Plants are not always listed by state but should indicate whether they are western or eastern natives.

A natural-looking river environment will have plants of all levels. Layer trees, shrubs, ground-covers and perennial plants for the best effect.

Trees to Use

There are many good native trees to plant along the river. Birch and aspen trees are found growing in thick clumps along rivers. These trees grow fast and tall and develop attractive white bark. Larger tree choices are river oak or water tolerant maples. Willows are known to thrive in standing water. Most willows are thicket-forming and will colonise quickly. Elderberry and service berry are good small trees placed just above the flood line. These are both fast-growing and will produce berries for wildlife. Other smaller trees for river banks are alder and ninebark.

Shrubs and Groundcovers

The red osier dogwood works well because it clumps and holds the soil together. Salmon and thimble berries grow naturally along rivers and are a good food source. Native ferns are always a good ground-cover and will add aesthetic value. Plant ferns in masses the way they are found in nature. Cardinal flowers are ornamental; they produce spikes of bright red flowers and thrive in wet soils. Native cat tails are very attractive and fitting for a river environment. Last but not least, delicate woodland violets can be added as the lowest layer of plants.

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About the Author

Marci Degman has been a landscape designer and horticulture writer since 1997. She has an Associate of Applied Science in landscape technology and landscape design from Portland Community College. Degman writes a newspaper column for the "Hillsboro Argus" and radio tips for KUIK. Her teaching experience for Portland Community College has set the pace for her to write online instructional articles.

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