Planning Your Riparian Buffer

Published 2012
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Conservation buffers are planted for environmental, aesthetic, recreational, and economic reasons. Grass filter strips, grassed waterways, field borders, and field windbreaks are examples of conservation buffers. A conservation buffer also may be a streamside or riparian forest buffer and include trees, shrubs, and grasses.

Riparian buffers are a best management practice to protect stream water quality, reduce streambank erosion, and provide wildlife habitat. Buffers also can provide income through payments from federal, state and local cost-share programs or through production and sale of specialty crops. This NebGuide provides instructions on riparian buffer planning, design and selection of tree and grass species appropriate for riparian buffers. It compliments the instructional video Streamside Conservation: Installing and Maintaining Your Riparian Buffer, available from University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension. (To order the video, contact the University of Nebraska CIT, P.O. Box 830918, Lincoln, NE 68583-0918 or call 800-755- 7765.)

Planning is the first step in buffer installation. First, identify your goals for the buffer, then select a design and plant materials to achieve your goals.

Consider what you want to accomplish with your buffer. Do you want to protect surface water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, stabilize streambanks, and/or generate income? Buffers can be used to meet one or more of these goals.
Select a buffer design based on your goals. In the eastern United States, riparian forest buffers provide streambank stabilization, shade streams, and absorb nutrients from shallow groundwater. These buffers typically consist of three zones: trees near the stream, then shrubs, and then 30 feet or more of grasses adjacent to the cropland.

In the Great Plains producers as well as government officials, have been reluctant to have trees planted next to streams because fallen trunks and limbs may block streams, ditches and culverts. An alternative design, with shrubs and small trees planted next to the stream followed by taller trees and then grasses next to the cropland, may be more suitable in this region.

Use your goals and plans for your Riparian Buffer to:

-- select the Appropriate Buffer Design
-- select Appropriate Plant Materials, including trees and shrubs and grasses.

Publication Details


Amanda Fox

Thomas G. Franti

Scott J. Josiah

Michael Kucera


Natural Resources

Water Management

Publication Date February 01, 2005
Last Revision Date March 20, 2012
Language English



Series NebGuide