Woody plants to prevent beach erosion

Asked February 3, 2020, 9:50 PM EST

We live on Lake Michigan, East Bay. Because of high water levels and storms we have lost beach. We were told woody plants could help prevent some erosion. Could I have a list of such plants that withstand full sun, sandy soil, high winds and waves. Thank you

Antrim County Michigan

1 Response


I'm sorry to hear that your home has been negatively effected by the high water levels. Thank you for your question about erosion prevention. Woody plants can help prevent erosion, but they are not usually successful when planted in an open dune environment. It takes years for the soil to be stable enough and have enough nutrients to support most woody species. Keeping woody species around that have already established themselves is a good erosion control practice. Some woody species that can have success in stabilizing dunes are dune willows, sand cherry, and choke cherry.

Dune-adapted species, especially dune grasses are often planted as a erosion prevention on open dunes themselves. Great Lakes dune grasses include: marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata), sand dune wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus subsp. psammophilus), sand reed (Calamovilfa longifolia), crinkled hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa), and Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis). Over time, larger, woodier plants will establish themselves from a nearby source when conditions are right.

Beware, there are some grasses that are marketed as dune grasses that are invasive species. Avoid Lyme grass (Leymus arenarius aka Elymus arenarius).

I'm including a link to a .pdf document that may be helpful: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-wrd-greatlakes-Living_on_the_Coast_USACE-SeaGrant_615753_... The chapter on "Protecting Your Coastal Investment" has a section starting on page 18-20 discussing "Restoration of a Natural Shoreline", including re-vegetating the shore. I think this will be of most interest to you. A more recent document was released by the Wisconsin SeaGrant Program that includes much of the same information, but is a little easier to read: https://publications.aqua.wisc.edu/product/stabilizing-coastal-slopes-on-the-great-lakes/.

Any kind of shoreline erosion prevention installation on the Great Lakes requires permits from both the US Army Corps of Engineers and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). This is to make sure that practices will not negatively affect you and others in the community or the Lake as a whole, either when being installed or as a result of the action. For additional resources, check out EGLE's Great Lakes High Waters page: https://www.michigan.gov/egle/0,9429,7-135-3313_3677_3702-511151--,00.html