What is a Watershed??

Watershed Awareness

A watershed is described by the US Geological Survey as a “precipitation collector.” It is, by definition, a geographical area within which all flows to a common point. For example, each of the Great Lakes is the drainage destination of their own watersheds, which in turn combine to form the Great Lakes Basin watershed, draining into the St. Lawrence Seaway and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. Essentially, all but the smallest watersheds are connected. Click on the images below for links to examples of NBN’s local watersheds.

Every household within a watershed has the potential to influence the quality of water flowing out of it. Storm-water runoff from roofs, across driveways, and into sewers is often discharged straight into water bodies, carrying pollutants picked up along the way. Small actions such as reducing fertilizer and pesticide use on lawns, installing rain gardens, and planting buffer strips along shorelines can have big impacts on water quality.

Our many inland lakes and rivers are the precipitation collectors and a point of heavy activity throughout the year. Shoreline habitats are critical to the health of the entire lake yet this is where the pollutants concentrate and cause the most harm. What we lakeshore homeowners do while “fixing up” our lakeshore property can add to the end result of destroying one of our states invaluable resources, the fragile habitat along lakeshores.

Some changes we make that may damage the habitat are:


  • Trucking in sand used to make a beach may end up covering natural gravel which is used by frogs for laying eggs, fish for spawning and by various insects for hatching.
  • Removing aquatic vegetation for boating and swimming can create an unstable habitat that is needed for bass to spawn, loons to nest, waterfowl to eat and insects use to live underwater in! Songbirds use shoreline shrubs for nesting while ducks use shoreline grasses for laying eggs.
  • Removal of dead fallen trees along the waters edge where bass and various pan fish love to hide also makes it difficult for the turtles and other wildlife who sit atop the tree to sun themselves and take a break from the water.

Do what you can to minimize use of toxic chemicals and fertilizers on your property. Make the switch from traditional mowed lawn to native grasses and wildflowers that require less maintenance. Avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and limit the use of organic ones.

In fact, your property may have enough space for a lightly developed shoreline and a stunning buffer garden such as the one pictured below. The lush plantings on the right were installed two-three years prior to the plantings on the left. Keep in mind that it will take a few seasons to grow your garden. A skilled gardener experienced in native plants is important to keeping unwanted weeds out while the natives become established. See our previous “Sound Up” post to view pollinators enjoying the late summer Asters and Goldenrod seen here.

This Walloon Lake buffer garden is populated with native perennials, grasses and sedges aiding in the reduction of potential runoff from the lawn.

It may sound counter-intuitive: the idea that a “clean” lawn and shoreline may make a “dirty” lake but complicated things are often that way. The experts at North by Nature Landscapes specialize in natural shorelines and landscapes using native plants and materials to stop erosion and replace lost natural shoreline habitats. Call Bret at 231-340-0446: we would be happy to do our part in helping enhance and preserve your property.


Sound Up! Shoreline Pollinator Garden Sound Effects.

Shoreline Pollinator Garden featuring New England Asters. Seed grown native species are crucial for the health of our landscapes and ecosystems. They are also visually stunning and are the last flowers to bloom – often into October when all others have faded. We have combined them with Stiff Goldenrod, Mountain Mint, Swamp Milkweed, native Hibiscus, Blue Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, and Tussock Sedge in a shoreline buffer garden replacing an unmowable and swampy lawn. Background audio is the real deal so turn it up to enjoy fully.

New England Aster and Stiff Goldenrod, October 2021, Walloon Lake, MI

New England Aster and Stiff Goldenrod

Shoreline Buffer Garden with Michigan Native Plants



Little Traverse Bay Cottage

We first met these clients on a cold winter day in 2017. Sipping coffee around the dining-room table we looked out over the frozen shoreline. As you can see in the first images, all vegetation had been removed, truly presenting a blank slate. We spent the morning learning about our clients’ aesthetic preferences and discussing North By Nature’s mission and methods. Their primary goal was to re-establish the lake-side landscape with low-growing, native perennials and grasses that would attract pollinators and require little long-term maintenance.

Based on the conversation that day, a concept was developed and, in the following weeks, presented to the clients, along with a draft plant list. Images that conveyed a sense of what we envisioned were included and showed scenes of native rock gardens and coneflower medleys.

After working through the concept phase, we moved on to material selection and plant procurement. Our client was concerned about also attracting nuisance pests like ticks, so finer sedges replaced the proposed grasses and we suggested planting lavender as a deterrent. The woodland fringes were planted with a few multi-stemmed paper birch trees and bayberry and nanny berry shrubs to enhance and frame the view. Temporary irrigation was used to establish plants, but there should be little need to water once established. A variety of straight native species were combined with selected cultivars for a broad palette of color displayed from June through October.

Please take a moment to peruse the slideshow. The captions have been written to guide you through the first two growing seasons and help identify these native beauties. If you have any questions about this project, please feel free to call or email Bret.