Buffer options can be used separately or in any combination


Once you’ve assessed your site characteristics and available resources, as well as your goals for the project, you can start planning what your buffer will look like. The options below can each be implemented on their own, but it’s likely that you’ll use some combination of the three. 

No Mow                        Seeding                      Planting 

Even a smaller, low budget buffer project in your backyard can make a difference. Simply stopping mowing near a waterbody can save you money and labor, and also protect water quality

No Mow

Creating a “no mow” buffer is the simplest option for buffer restoration. By stopping mowing of the area nearest the water body, you allow natural plants and grasses to take over. Invasives can be managed by “mowing” (or trimming) to a height of 6-8” inches once or twice a year. Installing “no mow” signage is recommended.

No Mow_Paradise Valley Park


Conservation seed mixes are often a mix of native grasses, forbs (flowering perennials) and even shrubs, and can be tailored for specific planting goals such as reducing erosion or attracting birds and pollinators. Planting a conservation seed mix is a bit more work (initially) than the “no mow” option, but can result in a more aesthetically pleasing buffer that accomplishes multiple goals.


The ideal buffer will have a “layered” mix of trees, shrubs, plants and grasses. Studies show that buffers containing a mix of trees, shrubs and grasses are much more effective at capturing a wide range of pollutants than a buffer that is solely trees or grass. Planting a combination of vegetation also gives you greatest control over the final look of the site, and is a great way to build a more established and diverse buffer without waiting for seeds to mature. This option is slightly more expensive and labor intensive than the “no mow” or seeding options.


You’ve considered the benefits; assessed your site and the goals for your project; and come up with a preferred design and plans. Before you put that shovel in the ground, there are a few more things to consider…

Take advantage of any plants you already have in place, as the vegetation already growing in your buffer area is obviously well-suited to and likely to thrive in that location. 

Smaller buffer areas can be cleared with hand tools, but if you’re working in a larger area, you may want to use some power equipment like a rototiller. If you’re planting new perennials, shrubs or trees, you’ll need to clear spaces for them to go by removing existing vegetation or turf.

While invasives can always come back, this is a good time to remove as many of them as possible, either by manual removal or spot treating with herbicides.

Use of herbicides in or around waterbodies is generally not recommended, if not prohibited. Be sure to check state and local regulations regarding herbicide use.

Budget timing, human resources and other factors may require you to consider a phased installation. You may decide to divide your buffer area into sections, and complete one or two sections in the first year, and others in the following years. Be aware that your new buffer may go through an unattractive “transition period” as plants become established and mature, so be patient.

For municipalities planning to restore a riparian or coastal buffer on public land, it is important to consider both the current and potential future uses of the site, and how your improved buffer will either enhance or detract from those public uses. Parks and open spaces are very important to a variety of users, and it is important to incorporate stakeholder engagement into your planning and design process. 

If your goals for the project include improved water quality, erosion control, habitat enhancement or improved aesthetics, be sure to communicate those goals to the public. Unfortunately, letting nature “take over” in a buffer area can be seen by some as an eyesore if they don’t understand the purpose and goals of your project. This can be accomplished through a combination of public presentations (such as at a city or town council meeting,) earned media, surveys and signage at the site.

If you’re restoring a buffer in a public space, be mindful of any walking paths and distance from vegetation for visibility and public safety.

Buffer restoration projects may involve activities subject to the regulatory review and/or approval of state and/or local agencies. Be sure to check with applicable authorities before proceeding with your buffer restoration project. In Massachusetts, contact your community’s conservation agent or commission and, in Rhode Island, contact the RIDEM Office of Customer and Technical Assistance and/or RI Coastal Resources Management Council. See the Resources page below for links to the regulations. 

  • Assessing WQ Benefits – Resources:
    • Pollutant Removal Credits for Restored or Constructed Buffers in MS4 Permits. “Technical Memorandum.” www.bit.ly/3h5hIy

Smaller size plants are easier to plant, cause less soil disturbance and require less watering to get established. Look for shrubs and trees that are 1 gallon in size. 

Planting is generally a spring activity, with mid-fall also being an acceptable time to plant. Summer planting is not recommended as planting during hot, dry conditions could delay seed germination and plant growth, and require extensive watering for new plants to survive. As with any planting, watering may be necessary while plants are becoming established and developing roots, especially during a drought or heat wave. Adding a mulch of dead leaves or compost will help maintain soil moisture for young plants. 

Native plants have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to the geography, hydrology, and climate of a particular region. As a result, native plants form communities with other plants that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species, such as songbirds and butterflies. Because native plants are adapted to local conditions, they provide a beautiful, hardy, drought-resistant, low-maintenance landscape option while also benefiting the environment. Once established, they often save time and money by eliminating the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and watering.

When selecting plants, keep in mind the amount of light and water that the restoration location receives, as well as the type of soil. A sunny, dry location with sandy soil will need different plants than a shady, wet one with acid soil. Also, keep in mind plants that provide natural foods for wildlife such as plants that have fruits, seeds, nuts, and/or nectar.


Maintenance should begin immediately after the buffer has been planted, and can be performed by staff, volunteers, professionals, or a combination of all three. The following steps are recommended to improve the survivability of your buffer, (although this may not be an all-inclusive list):

Use of herbicides in or around waterbodies is generally not recommended, if not prohibited. Be sure to check state and local regulations regarding herbicide use.


Visually inspect the buffer annually and after major storm events to see if any damage or problems have occurred.


Control weeds and invasives as soon as possible, before they grow out of control. Weed control techniques will vary, but may include mowing or selective use of herbicides.


Replant/reseed any areas where your plants have died or been washed away by flood waters. Empty soil spaces are invitations to weeds and invasive plants.


Ensure that any planted trees or shrubs are properly cared for, including watering during dry spells in the first year.


Maintenance will need to be budgeted for through the life of the buffer, which will be decades. Maintenance will be more intense in the early years, as new plants are established. Once the trees are mature, they will shade out many of the competing weeds.


If invasive plants start to take over your buffer, it may be necessary to hire a certified invasives manager to properly manage them. 

Be Safe

If applying herbicides to control invasives, use aquatic-safe herbicides to protect nearby waterbodies. Check state and local regulations.

Help the Pollinators

If you absolutely must use herbicides, apply in the spring or fall to avoid harming pollinators or other beneficial insects.


In later years, prune and thin trees and shrubs periodically to keep them healthy and ensure adequate growing space.