Installing Your Riparian Buffer

Published 2012
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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 installation and maintenance for farmers and landowners. 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.)

Installing Trees and Shrubs
Preparing the Site. Adequate site preparation and proper planting of seedlings and seeds is required for successful establishment of trees and shrubs. Prepare the site for optimal tree growth by removing weeds and past vegetation with burn-down herbicides and/or tilling just prior to the tree or shrub planting. If the site is a grass pasture or an alfalfa field, the vegetation should be killed in the fall prior to spring planting. If desirable native grasses are present, they can be maintained between the tree rows.

Planting Seeds. Tree seeds can be planted by hand or machine. When hand seeding, place the seeds no deeper than two to three times the diameter of the seed. For example, a one-inch diameter black walnut seed should be planted two to three inches deep. Broadcast seeds by hand or machine evenly over the planting area and cover the seeds with soil using a disk or other implement. After seeds are covered, the soil should be packed to ensure good seed to soil contact.

Installing Grasses
Preparing the Site. It is essential to manage weeds and erosion before, during and after planting grasses. In general, weeds are controlled with chemicals, mowing, or hand picking. An effective approach is to plant Roundup Ready? soybeans the year before the grass buffer is installed. Although soybeans don?t provide as much residue as corn, grass can be easily planted into the residue. Weed control can be improved by using a glyphosate herbicide the year before grass planting.

Postplanting Care of Trees and Shrubs
Weed Control. Although weeds were destroyed before planting, they will reappear and compete with the plants for water and nutrients and need to be controlled. Weeds growing between tree rows can be left to protect small trees from hot desiccating winds and to provide wildlife habitat, but care needs to be taken to ensure that weeds, and grasses, don?t excessively compete with young trees. If grass is planted between tree rows, remove weeds to ensure that the grass can get established (see the following section on grasses).
Watering. Water newly planted trees one or two times per week, depending on rainfall. If no rain occurs, apply two to five gallons of water per plant per watering, depending on plant size. Providing water during dry periods for the first year or two is as important as site preparation and weed control. If you plant in a dry year, provide water throughout the growing season. If it doesn?t rain for several weeks and the soil is dry two to three inches below the ground, provide water, but if the soil is moist two to three inches down, water later.

Generally, deep less frequent watering is better than shallow frequent watering. Water is commonly supplied manually from a water tank on the back of a truck or trailer. A five-gallon bucket with a small hole in the side also can be used to water seedlings. Fill the bucket with water and set it next to a seedling. The bucket will slowly release water into the soil and can keep the seedling moist for several weeks, depending on the weather.

Topics also convered:
Post-establisment maintenance of trees and grasses
Limiting wildelife damage
Long-term buffer maintenance

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