LakeWise healthy shorelines

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Discover the Benefits of Healthy Shorelines

Healthy shorelines are simply lake edges planted with shrubs, trees or perennials instead of lawn to the water's edge. These plants have lots of benefits over lawn because they:

  • have deeper roots that trap and filter up to nine times more phosphorus
  • stabilize the shoreline, preventing erosion
  • provide great habitat and food for birds, turtles, frogs and other beneficial aquatic life
  • can add beauty to your shoreline and potentially increase property values
  • need little maintenance once established

Make your shoreline healthy

Everyone can create a healthy shoreline that is good for the lake. You can start small by simply not mowing your shoreline lawn or planting a few new shrubs along the lake's edge. You can also create a whole new shoreline border by following the five steps below.

FREE northwest native plants for your shoreline

You can create a healthy, attractive shoreline that is also good for the lake by replacing some of your shrubs, perennials, or trees while still preserving your views and lake access. Interested shoreline owners can receive FREE northwest native plants to help improve their residential shoreline. The County will provide free native plants suitable for lakeshore edges. Landowners then agree to maintain them. See our Shoreline Planting Flyer for more information.

LakeWise Shoreline Planting Flyer

This opportunity is available to all qualifying County lake landowners willing to create a 15-feet deep shoreline planting. Properties with permit-required shoreline mitigation do not qualify, yet are still eligible for a free LakeWise visit and guidance on successful shoreline plantings. 

LakeWise Shoreline

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Step 1: Dream your shoreline

Making your shoreline work for your lifestyle is important. Start by thinking about how you use your shoreline and what plants can do for you. Strategic landscaping can define outdoor spaces, attract wildlife, provide privacy and much more. Look around your lake, through the resources on this page or on the internet for ideas. Things to consider might be:

  • Lake access. Key entry areas for lake recreation.
  • Views. Identify areas to accentuate or block.
  • Privacy. Are there areas where plants can provide desired privacy?
  • Wildlife. Are there certain birds, butterflies, turtles or other beneficial species you want to attract?
Chairs Facing Towards Lake
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Step 2: Create a planting plan

The next step is to come up with a planting plan that accomplishes your goals with plants that will thrive at your site with minimal care. Start by making a simple map of your shoreline and note the following:

  • Light. Identify which areas are sunny, partly sunny or shaded.
  • Soil moisture. Note areas that are soggy or difficult to mow at times. Take a shovel and dig a few holes to see how wet the soil is.
  • Problem areas. Identify areas with steep slopes or compacted soils that may need additional site preparation or hardier plants to succeed.

Once you know your site, you're ready to start selecting plants. We have created a list of plants (PDF) that thrive on lake shorelines. 

LakeWise Plant Guide Opens in new window

You can refer to the list and select your favorites that fit the conditions of your yard. We have also provided some sample shoreline design plans to give you ideas on how to lay out your selected plants for different conditions.

Planting Resources

LakeWise Planting Guide (PDF)

A guide to plants best suited for your lake shoreline.

Shoreline Planting Flyer (PDF)

Information about FREE native plants for qualifying lake landowners

King County Native Plant Program Great resource for native plants

Raingarden Handbook - more plant choices and maintenance tips

Local sources of native plants (PDF)

Landscaping Design for Wildlife

Full Sun Plan

Full Sun Shoreline Planting Plan

Pollinator/Wildlife Plan

Pollinator Shoreline Planting Plan

Part Sun/Shade Plan

Part Sun - Part Shade

Shade Plan

Shaded Shoreline Planting Plan
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Step 3: Prepare your site

You can convert your lawn to a landscape bed with minimal effort and without using herbicides. The process is called sheet mulching. Sheet mulching smothers the turf grass with a layer of cardboard covered by wood chips. Not only do you avoid having to dig out turf, but sheet mulching leaves you with rich, fertile soil with minimal weeds. Simply follow these easy steps:

  • Mow the lawn short.
  • Cover the area with overlapping layers of thick cardboard or used coffee bags (sometimes available for free from local companies)
  • Cover the area with 3 to 4 inches of wood chips.

For best results, wait three to four months before planting. For each planting hole, pull aside the wood chips before digging each plant in and then rake the wood chips back around each plant. Refer to the "Growing Healthy Soils (PDF)" publication for more information on compost, mulch and sheet mulching.

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Step 4: Plant your shoreline

Set up your shoreline landscape for success by planting right from the outset. Here's how:

  • Dig a wide hole deep enough so that the plant, when set in the hole, will be at the level it was in the pot.
  • Gently remove the plant from the pot and shake loose the potting soil to expose the roots (except for smaller herbaceous plants which don't need to have the soil shaken loose).
  • Pull loose roots outward and cut roots that are encircling the rootball.
  • Place the plant in the hole and spread the roots, making sure the plant is at its original depth.
  • Back fill the hole with the original soil (not the potting soil).

Interested shoreline owners can receive FREE northwest native plants to help improve their residential shoreline. The County will provide free native plants suitable for lakeshore edges. Landowners then agree to maintain them. See our Shoreline Planting Flyer for more information.

Planting Diagram
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Step 5: Maintain your shoreline

Over time, your new shoreline buffer will be fairly low maintenance. However, for the first two to three years your new planting will require some watering, mulching and weed control while the plants establish.

  • Watering. For one to three years, your plants will need deep but infrequent watering during the dry season that will help the plants establish their roots.
  • Mulching. Replenishing mulch helps prevent erosion, controls weeds, retains moisture and feeds your plants. Every year, check the mulch layer to maintain a depth of 2 to 3 inches, especially before the dry season.
  • Weed control. More weeding will need to happen in the first few years before your plants reach maturity. Most weeding can be done by hand and should be easy to pull when are small and the soil is moist. A few invasive species might need some extra effort -- see more about how to control and dispose of invasives in our maintenance guide.
LakeWise Certification Sign

Landscaping book resources

Read up on these authors' ideas for landscaping:

  • "Ann Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design School," by Ann Lovejoy; Rodale, 2004.
  • "Grow Your Own Native Landscape," by Michael Leigh; MISC0273, Washington State University Extension, 2013. (copies available - contact the LakeWise program)
  • "Northwest Home Landscaping," by Roger Holmes & Don Marshall; Creative Homeowner, 2011.
  • "Right Plant, Right Place," by Nicola Ferguson; Fireside, 2005.
  • "The New Sunset Western Garden Book," edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel; Sunset Publishing Corp., 2012

Contact Us

  1. Alex Pittman

    LakeWise Site Visit Lead

    Ph: 425-262-2466

    Marisa Burghdoff

    LakeWise Project Manager

    Ph: 425-388-3204

    email us at

Plant Diagram