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Buffer Landscaping

Image by: Robert Hastings

Slowing the flow to help protect our water.

Through the planting of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennial flowers, these gardens help to filter out sediment, pollutants, and excess nutrients before rainfall carries them into our lake and the surrounding streams that feed it.


No doubt, if you own waterfront property, you're familiar with this concept and the effect it can have in protecting the quality of our water. But for those of us who are off-water, can our planting practices still make a difference? Sue Becker, Bedford Extension Master Gardener, and part of the Smith Mountain Lake Association's Buffer Landscape Advisory Support Team (BLAST), reminds us that: 


“Everyone lives downstream from someone else.”


What if you're not a gardener or need help knowing where to begin? That's where BLAST can help! After calling the SMLA office and filling out a request form, you'll be contacted by a member of the team who will set up a time to come out and assess your property. They will ask about your goals and particular problem areas, make recommendations for drainage control, point you in the direction of any permits that you might need to apply for (if your area lies within the 800-foot contour), suggest some AEP-approved plants (that might do well in your particular conditions), guide you toward some tried and true deer and weed control methods, and more!


Buffer Landscaping Committee chair John Rupnik emphasizes that the SMLA teams are here to be educators, not landscapers. BLAST teams do not design, and the grunt work will be your responsibility (or you can hire it out!). But they will definitely get you pointed confidently in the right direction.


The encouraging thing to note here is that anything is better than nothing. Creating a lush and highly effective garden can take years and significant monetary investment. But making a plan, starting small, and taking the project in manageable steps will indeed make a difference. Imagine if we all committed to plant 3-5 ornamental grasses this year? How much filtering power could that collectively add up to?!


The best time to plant a buffer garden was 20 years ago. The second-best time is NOW!


With spring knocking at our door, it's time to start in on your gardening gameplan for the year, if you haven't already. April is an ideal time to plant, and area nurseries will soon be flooded with a beautiful selection of native vegetation that would love a home in your yard!


There is wealth of information on the SMLA website regarding planning and executing your buffer garden - including helpful local sourcing lists. Additionally, Sue suggests A Guide to Gardening with SWVA Natives compiled by the Roanoke Master Gardeners.


The utilitarian workhorse role that proper landscaping and buffer gardens play in the health of our lake shouldn't be eclipsed by the pure delight that nurturing living things brings into our lives. 

These include: 

  • Beautifying our property

  • Providing stimulating exercise as we participate in its upkeep

  • Providing habitats and food sources for our bees, birds, and butterflies

  • Supplying us with lovely blooms to cut, bring indoors, and share with our neighbors

    If you're interested in requesting a free consultation and follow-up report from one of the BLAST teams consisting of local Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists, give the office a call at:



John also mentioned that at SMLA's second annual Day at the Lake (which is going to be June 8th this year - mark your calendars), members of the BLAST teams will be on hand to chat and answer your questions, share a beautiful array of native plants that perform wonderfully in a buffer, and demonstrate a simple deer fencing system that has, thus far, been 100% effective in keeping our hungry hoofed friends out of large spaces we are trying to protect.


Water quality has historically been the #1 concern for lake area residents, and this is one very practical way that you can do your part to help it to remain as healthy and balanced as possible! 


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