Bare in mind that many areas have been cleared in the past and what is growing on them now may not constitute a well balanced riparian ecosystem, but merely reflect what got established there first! In other words, some judgment calls are necessary here.
Many species occur in natural companion groupings. A Red Alder might be surrounded with a dense stand of salmonberry, for example, or an Aspen might spring from a clump of hardhack. Such groupings can help defeat non-native invaders such as Reed-canary Grass, or Himalayan Blackberry.
Have a look at what is already growing there, then add in what native species fit local conditions and probably should be growing there but have been removed. Determine which species occur in association.Variation is the key to a healthy riparian ecosystem, so draw up your native species list with diversity in mind.
This is an important factor in designing a re-vegetation project. A newly constructed stream channel, a riprapped river bank, or a mine tailings area may well mimic the terrain left by the receding ice. If we have only a poor mineral soil to work with we may need to add organic matter and nutrients. We may have to include a higher number of nitrogen fixing species. Similarly, if the site is exposed we will only be able to plant sun tolerant species, shade loving species will have to wait a few years.
We can never hope to replace in a couple of growing seasons what nature takes hundreds to create - the best we can hope for is to give her a little headstart.
One of the main disturbances to riparian plant zones is the encroachment of livestock that browse and trample vegetation and can cause severe bank erosion. There is little point in going to the effort of revegetating a riparian zone without preventing livestock access. You will need landowner cooperation to protect the streambank area from livestock and carry out restoration work on private property.
Determine where water levels are during wet periods as extended soil saturation as well as soil type will influence what plants will survive.
Map the revegetation site. Locate any existing shrubs, trees, wet
areas, etc. Draw a cross section of the riparian area and break it
up into zones of similar conditions. (Low, wet areas, higher
banks, transition zones, etc.).
Decide which species are appropriate for each zone. Willow cuttings, for example, would work well along an unrooted cutbank where soil disturbance has to be kept to a minimum.
Use the spacing appropriate for each species. Locate your
plantings on your map. Remember that the spacings are only
averages. Nature seems to prefer associative groupings, so instead
of planting a red alder every two meters, put three close together
and intersperse with different species. No matter what you do, you
will find that it is very difficult to create a plan that
resembles a natural distribution, but you can only try - secure in
the knowledge that nature will smooth out the whole thing in the
After completing your plan, you will be able to come up with a
requirement list for the numbers of different native plant species
you will need for the project.
Collecting rooted plants from the wild is unethical. Not only is the removal of plants from undisturbed areas extremely destructive, but the survival rate is generally very low. Many rare plant species have been brought to the brink of extinction by unthinking collectors who are not aware that they are individuals among many.
A rare exception is when a site is due to be completely cleared for construction and volunteer labour is available. In such cases, the landowner is often happy to allow plant rescue to take place before the bulldozers move in. Carefully removed plants may be kept alive in capillary beds until required for restoration. Survival rates will be lower than for container grown plants.
The best alternative is to purchase rooted plants from a nursery specializing in the propagation of native plants. The root systems of container grown plants are intact and survival rates will be very high. Nutrients in the potting mix will also support the plants during the initial growout period.
It is critical that cuttings are planted the right way up. Its easy to make this mistake when handling large numbers of cuttings so its common practice to do a couple of things to keep them straight: 1) Make the bottom cut square across the whip directly below a bud (node), and the top cut about a cm. above the top bud and sloping upward at a steep angle away from the bud. 2) orient all the cuttings the same way and tie them in bundles for storage.
Cuttings must be handled carefully, kept cool, and moist. Do not expose them to sunlight. Process the whips into cuttings as soon as possible after you get back from the field. Don’t let them dry out in the back of a truck when traveling - maybe keep them covered with some wet sacks.
As soon as the cuttings are bundled, bury them completely in moist sawdust in a cool, shady place. You could also store them in plastic bags and refrigerate them. If you do this, make sure there are a couple of air holes in the bags. The idea here is to retard leaf growth as much as possible before planting out. If the cuttings leaf out before the roots have a chance to develop, they will probably die.
Cuttings should be soaked before planting. Handle carefully to
protect any new root growth and always keep cool, moist, and out
of the sun and wind. To plant your cuttings, you will need to
fabricate a few “dibblers”. These can be welded up from rebar as
shown in the diagram.
When planting, hold the dibbler by the top handle and step on the lower bar to push the tool into the ground. Try and estimate how deep you need to make the hole to insert at least half the cutting. Remove the tool and push the cutting into the ground. It should touch the bottom of the hole and still leave one or two buds exposed.
Stamp the soil beside the cutting to tighten up the earth around it. Water in. You may want to wrap the bottom of the cutting with foil or “vole guard” to protect it from rodent attack.
Dig holes half again as large in diameter as the root ball and several inches deeper. Backfill with enough loose soil so that the top of the rootball will end up several inches below ground level. Add a handful of bonemeal and mix into the loose soil. If the site is impoverished, you may also consider using a little slow release organic nitrogen source such as Canola meal. Chemical fertilisers should not be used unless there is absolutely no danger of stream contamination.
Place the plant in the hole, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Backfill with soil and water-in thoroughly, use at least one bucket of water for each plant. Prune off any damaged branches.
It is extremely important to create a ‘watering basin’ around the
plant. Make sure the plant finishes up in a depression several
inches deep. This will allow easy watering and also act to catch
ambient moisture. If the ground is slightly sloped make a ridge of
soil around the lower side to form your watering basin. When the
ground is steeply sloped, create a terrace for each plant as shown
in the illustration. Terraces create individual watering basins
and prevent the plant’s crown from becoming buried by soil washing
We recommend mulching around the plants to preserve soil moisture and slow weed competition. Newspapers, cardboard, bark mulch, etc. may be used. Bare in mind that mulch material may be carried away during high water events and wind up in the stream. Inorganic mulches, such as plastic landscape fabrics, do not biodegrade and may eventually have to be removed from the site. (For this reason it is important to refrain from using non-biodegradebale materials anywhere in the riparian zone.) Keep mulch away from the plant stem. Protect the stem from rodents with aluminum foil or “vole guard”. Do not stake the plant unless the planting site is exposed to strong winds, as this can restrict root growth. Mark the plant with a stake and protect it from traffic where necessary.
We recommend removing the burlap covering completely from the root ball, if it can be done without the rootball disintegrating. To do this, place the plant in the hole on top of the soil and bonemeal mixture, cut the strings, and have someone gently lift the root ball with both hands while another person slides out the sacking.
If the surrounding soil is much lighter than the soil in the rootball, the rootball could dry out after planting. To help prevent this, add one shovelful of ground bark mulch to three shovelfuls of your backfill soil. Water penetration into the rootball can also be helped by carefully penetrating the ball in several places with a sharp stick about 1cm thick. Keep the surrounding soil moist to allow quick root penetration from the rootball. Water in thoroughly during the planting process as outlined above.
The planting hole should be constructed so as to accommodate the roots of a bare-root plant. If the roots are spreading, you should mound the bonemeal soil mixture in the bottom of the hole so the roots will slope down and out. Water in well.
If plant survival is very poor, replanting in future years may be
Also try and find native plants that have been propagated from
parent stock located as close to your site as possible. Natural
genetic variation within a species may compromise survivability if
the parent stock is drawn from a significantly different
Douglas-fir • Pseudotsuga menziesii - To 70 meters. Full sun to part shade. Prefers drier sites. An early succession species. Giant root structures provide stability in eroding areas and are valuable in creating complex fish habitat. Large evergreens are important for wildlife, and are sources of large woody debris.
Sitka Spruce • Picea sitchensis - To 70 meters. Full sun to full shade. Well adapted to wet streamside conditions.
Western Hemlock • Tsuga heterophylla - To 60 meters. Full sun to full shade. Moist to wet sites. A climax forest species.
Western Redcedar • Thuja plicata - To 60 meters. Full sun to full shade. Usually in moist to wet soils. Grows best on seepage or alluvial sites, but also occurs in drier habitats. A common streamside large evergreen.
Red Alder • Alnus rubra - 13 to 25 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Tolerates drought, periods of flooding, or brackish soils. Ample to moderate water requirements. Thrives on a range of soils from wet clays to gravel. Red alder is an important fast growing restoration species. It’s nitrogen fixing and will help enrich impoverished soils. Plant well back of the stream edge to prevent blowdowns from opening the bank.
Bigleaf Maple • Acer macrophyllum - 25 to 30 meters. Prefers full sun. Requires ample to moderate water. Grows on free draining soils. A fast growing species important for restoration in our area. Its massive limbs and spreading habit provide good upper level stream cover in exposed locations. Can also form dense stands of tall straight trees. An excellent producer of large woody debris and leaf biomass.
Douglas Maple • Acer glabrum - Shrub or small tree to 10 meters high. Prefers sunny habitats and well drained moist soils. Occurs sporadically in our area along streambanks. A mixture of deep and lateral roots provide good anchorage and bank stabilization benefits.
Black Cottonwood • Populus trichocarpa - 50 to 65 meters. Prefers full sun and ample water. Tolerates flooding and a variety of soils. Black cottonwood is a tall, straight-trunked, extremely fast-growing tree that thrives in wet habitats. Shallow rooted and an excellent producer of large woody debris. Its rapid growth makes it a valuable restoration species where shading must be quickly established.
Trembling Aspen • Populus tremuloides - 25 to 30 meters. Prefers full sun and ample to moderate water. Does well on sandy or gravely soils. Often spreads by producing underground suckers that may form dense clonal groves of trees. Once established, its extended root structure and suckering ability enable aspen to quickly re-establish after beaver devastation. Occurs sporadically in groves along eastern Vancouver Island.
Cascara • Rhamnus purshiana - Not for sale. This plant is a host of oat
crown rust disease. The propagation, sale and movement of
all Rhamnus species susceptible to oat crown rust is
prohibited in Canada under Schedule 1 of the federal Plant
Bitter Cherry • Prunus emerginata - 2 to 15 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Loamy, sandy, or gravely soils, and drier to moist conditions. Common along streams on Vancouver Island. The little red cherries are bitter to humans, but a good food source for birds.
Pacific Crabapple • Malus fusca - 2 to 12 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Usually grows on deep moist to wet acid soils in woods, swamps, and around the edges of standing or flowing water, and along the shoreline. Can form dense thickets and is a valuable wildlife species for food and refuge - almost always found in our local riparian zones.
Black Hawthorn • Crataegus douglasii - Large shrub or small tree to 10 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Ample to moderate water. Occurs frequently on Vancouver Island usually in moist, open places, streamside areas, forest edges, and thickets. Small black fruits are a valuable food source for wildlife and dense foliage provides refuge. Extremely sharp spines up to three centimeters long have a human buffering value. Black Hawthorn is a valuable restoration species for stream areas because it is deep rooted and highly resistant to beaver damage.
Sitka Mountain-ash • Sorbus sitchensis - 1 to 4 meters. Sun. Usually along forest edges, stream banks, or open woods. Although more common at higher elevations, a few examples are usually found in our local riparian zones. Berries are a valuable food source for wildlife.
Oregon Ash • Fraxinus latifolia - To 20 meters. This is a very rare streambank species on Vancouver Island that might be used to advantage in helping to create biodiversity. A few occur naturally in the Alberni Valley.
Pacific Willow • Salix lucida, also known as S. lasiandra To about 12 meters. Full sun to partial shade. A small tree with one or more leaning crooked trunks. Often found along river banks, floodplains, streams, wet meadows. May be standing in shallow water. A valuable restoration species easily propagated by direct sticking of cuttings. Rapidly developing root systems act to bind exposed soils.
Scouler’s Willow • Salix scouleriana - 2 to 12 meters. Full sun to partial shade. An upright large shrub or small tree with a straight trunk and high foliage. Streamside areas, clearings, forest edges. Establishes easily with direct sticking of cuttings. Used for bio-engineering and slope stabilization. A valuable restoration species in our area.
Sitka Willow • Salix sitchensis - 1 to 8 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Large tree-like shrub with an open, erect form. Streamside thickets, wetland margins, forest edges, wet openings, clearings. Establishes easily from cuttings. A valuable restoration species in our area.
Hooker’s Willow • Salix hookeriana - To 6 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Sprawling shrub or cluster of trunks with dense foliage and a rounded crown. Wet places, often on the edge of standing water. A useful restoration species.
Red Elderberry • Sambucus racemosa - To 6 meters. Full sun to full shade. A fast growing erect shrub with several main arched and a rapidly developing root system. Stream banks, swampy thickets, moist clearings. This plant provides excellent food and cover for birds and mammals. An excellent riparian restoration species in our area.
Red-osier Dogwood • Cornus stolonifera also known as C. sericea 1 to 6 meters. Full sun to partial shade. A freely spreading shrub with many stems. Moist soil, streamside thickets, swamps. Also open sites and disturbed areas. A good wildlife species. Excellent for erosion control along streambanks and seepage areas. Also a beautiful landscape species with bright red stems, white berries, and fall colour.
Salal • Gaultheria shallon - To 5 meters. Full sun to partial shade. A creeping to erect shrub with hairy, branched stems. Valuable for wildlife.
Red Huckleberry • Vaccinium parvifolium - To 4 meters. Prefers partial shade. Huckleberries and blueberries provide excellent food and cover for wildlife and are often a valuable component of riparian ecosystems.
Black Twinberry • Lonicera involucrata - .5 to 3 meters. Prefers sun. Rapidly growing erect shrub. Moist forest, clearings, streamside habitats, swamps and thickets. Rapidly developing root system. Provides excellent wildlife forage and cover. A valuable riparian restoration species in our area.
Common Snowberry • Symphoricarpos albus - .5 to 2 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Dry to moist, drought tolerant. Small erect twiggy rhizomatous shrub. Rapidly spreading root system has excellent soil-binding characteristics.
Saskatoon • Amelanchier alnifolia - 1 to 5 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Shrub to small scraggly tree. Dry to moist well drained soils. Open sites, roadsides. A valuable wildlife species. Deep root systems have good stabilization value. Drought tolerant.
Indian Plum • Oemleria cerasiformis - 1.5 to 5 meters. Shrub or small tree. One of the first shrubs to flower in spring in the southern part of Vancouver Island. Full sun to partial shade. Dry to moist. Open woods and streambanks. A valuable riparian component south of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. Can spread by underground suckers. Important for wildlife.
Pacific Ninebark • Physocarpus capitatus - To 4 meters. Full sun to full shade. Erect to spreading, arching shrub. Streamside thickets, wet usually open places, edges of lakes and streams. Root system is excellent for stabilizing stream banks. A common riparian species in our area. Extremely valuable for streamside restoration.
Nootka Rose • Rosa nutkana - To 3 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Open habitats, shorelines, streamside areas, roadsides. Spread by underground suckers to form thickets. Good cover for wildlife. Good soil-binding root systems. Human buffering qualities. A good restoration species in our area.
Salmonberry • Rubus spectabilis - To 4 meters. Full sun to full shade. Branching stems form dense thickets. Aggressive rhizome system. Moist to wet soils, stream banks, swamps. A good primary colonizer of wet, swampy areas. Spreads rapidly. Salmonberry is a valuable riparian species in our region.
Thimbleberry • Rubus parviflorus - .5 to 3 meters. Full sun to light shade. Erect, unarmed; forms dense thickets through an extensive network of rhizomes. Open sites, roadsides, exposed stream areas. Invasive habit is useful for stabilizing drier slopes and stream banks.
Hardhack • Spirea douglasii - To 2 meters. Full sun to partial shade. Erect, leggy, much-branched shrub; forms dense thickets. Streambanks, swamps, fens, lake margins, and damp meadows. Provides excellent wildlife cover. Easily survives competition from grasses. Dense thickets have human buffering capability. A valuable riparian restoration species.
Devil’s Club • Oplopanax horridus - 1 to 3 meters. Erect to sprawling stems. Shade. Moist forests, wet to well-drained seepage sites. Beautiful plant with human buffering capabilities.
Black Swamp Gooseberry • Ribes lacustre - .5 to 2 meters. Part shade to full shade. Moist woods and streambanks to drier forested slopes. Excellent wildlife species with human buffering capabilities.
Stink Currant • Ribes bracteosum To 3 meters. Part shade to full shade. Moist to wet places. A valuable wildlife riparian species. Arching branches and large leaves provide good cover.
Sitka Alder • Alnus sitchensis also known as A.
sinuata - 1 to 5 meters. Coarse shrub or small tree. Full
sun to part shade. Moist sites along streams, wet meadows,
recently de-glaciated areas. Nitrogen fixing. A pioneer species
able to naturally colonize bare areas, low nutrient soils, and
disturbed sites. High flood and snow resistance. Usually
sub-alpine but also found at lower elevations. Extremely valuable
for restoration work.
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Brayshaw, T. Christopher, 1996, Trees and Shrubs of British Columbia, Victoria: Royal British Columbia Museum; Vancouver, UBC Press.
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Slaney, P.A., and D. Zaldokas, 1997, Fish Habitat Rehabilitation Procedures, Watershed Restoration Technical Circular No. 9, Vancouver: Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.
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Merchant, Chris and Jennifer Sherlock, 1984, A guide to Selection and Propagation of some Native Woody Species for Land Rehabilitation in British Columbia, Victoria: Ministry of Forests.
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Voss, Cheryl, A guide to stream corridor revegetation in
Western Washington, Olympia: Thurston Conservation District.
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