Erosion FAQ

N.B.: Although the Board's mandate does not include erosion issues, the following article is being provided for information purposes.

How shoreline property owners can protect their investment

Q : What do most shoreline property owners consider an ideal lot?

A : A green lawn sloping easily down to a lovely beach of fine sand at the edge of a deep blue lake...

Q : What happens when natural shoreline vegetation is removed to put in a beach, or is replaced by grass?

A : Owners look on in horror as their beaches are washed away and their land and investment, for that matter, are slowly eroded year by year.

Q : How does this happen?

A : First, water erosion quickly washes away beach sand, which offers little resistance to waves and currents. Then the land itself begins to disappear, since lawn grasses do not have deep enough roots to combat erosion. And so a nightmare ensues. Centimetres and even tens of centimetres of land are eroded away each year, and this continues until, in some cases, the size of shoreline properties is reduced by more than half and buildings must be either relocated or abandoned. All because property owners would rather have a nice treeless lawn...

Q : How to avoid property erosion.

A : Putting rocks in the water or building stone walls has been found to slow erosion temporarily, but often causes erosion elsewhere. The Government of Quebec has been forced to prohibit such backfilling and modification of lakeshores and stream banks. Under the Quebec government's Politique de protection des rives, du littoral et des plaines inondables [policy for the protection of lakeshores, riverbanks, littoral zones and floodplains], only works that have been studied carefully and approved by the municipality are permitted. The establishment of a "strip of natural shoreline vegetation" is now recommended.

Q : Why is the establishment of a "strip of shoreline vegetation" advocated?

A : Naturally wooded lands along shorelines suffer little or no erosion, whereas plots of land that are covered with turf to the water's edge often suffer a great deal of damage. The type of planting therefore makes all the difference. Trees and shrubs, with their long roots, act to stabilize shorelines. In addition, the presence of a strip of natural shoreline vegetation helps to filter out pollution from fertilizers, pesticides and sediment contained in surface runoffs. The water's edge stays cleaner and is therefore more suitable for swimming and fishing.

Q : How does one go about establishing a strip of shoreline vegetation?

A : A strip of vegetation, consisting mostly of trees and shrubs, is reintroduced at damaged points along the shoreline. A width of at least 10 m is required for gently sloping shorelines and 15 m for steep shorelines, which are more subject to erosion. Leafy trees, shrubs and conifers should be used for the most part, but grasses and herbaceous plants also fit into the mix. And the good news is that this strip of shoreline vegetation is highly effective. When shoreline property owners all join together to establish such a strip, water quality can improve enough to make swimming attractive again.

Q : When and how to plant a strip of natural shoreline vegetation.

A : The best time to plant a strip of vegetation is in the fall, or in the spring after spring flooding subsides. Planting should be staggered, with shrubs spaced 1 m apart and trees spaced approximately 4 to 5 m apart. Plants such as alders, dogwoods and willows, which can tolerate flooding, should be planted at the water's edge. Trees should be planted in the last row, farthest away from the water. Each planting hole should be large enough to accommodate spread roots and deep enough for the soil to be at the same level as in the original pot. If the soil quality is very poor, it can be enriched before it is replaced by mixing in a one-third proportion of compost. In general, however, the quality of the existing soil is more than good enough. To finish planting, fill the hole with soil, tamp it down to eliminate any air pockets, then water well. In winter, place a protective sleeve around the base of young trees to protect them from rodents. These sleeves can be removed as soon as the trunks grow to more than 8 cm in diameter. Mix the selected species to obtain a variety of different heights and foliages. Varying the width of planted strips is also suggested in order to create a more natural effect.

Q : What persistent myths prevent many shoreline property owners from embracing the idea of removing their "lawns that go right up to the edge of the lake?"

A :

"I will lose my beautiful view of the lake."

The object of planting a vegetation strip is not to obstruct panoramic views. Some sections can be planted with relatively low shrubs only, with trees on either side. With proper planning, the view can actually be improved, not lost.

"I like a nice green lawn."

You do not have to sacrifice your lawn, just make sure it does not go all the way to the lake.

"Planting trees along the shore is like feeding the beavers!"

Beavers prefer alders, poplars and willows. They do not like conifers all that much. It is possible, in areas where beavers are active, to plant species to which beavers are not attracted. And even if there is a certain amount of "beaver damage," it should be only temporary and the strip of vegetation will regenerate quickly without any assistance.

"Removing sod and planting trees and shrubs is too much work."

It is not necessary to remove the existing sod. Just make holes to plant the trees and shrubs, then stop mowing: the lawn will grow out, a variety of tall grasses will appear and indigenous plants will emerge, recreating a very natural looking environment.

"Concrete and stone are more durable than a plant border."

If anything, the reverse is true. It is difficult to build artificial walls properly along the waterfront. Apart from the fact that they tend to collapse after only a few years, they sometimes actually cause currents that increase erosion. In any case, it is now illegal to build these types of structures without a special permit.

"Applying for a permit is too complicated."

No permit is required to plant trees and shrubs at the water's edge. Permits are only required for construction.

Q : How to maintain this strip of vegetation.

A : The maintenance of a strip of natural shoreline vegetation could not be simpler. Basically, plants should be watered regularly in the first year to help give them a solid head start. In later years, plants should be allowed to adapt on their own to their environment. It is even recommended that any trees and shrubs that do not survive be left in place because they provide shelter and food for several species of birds and animals. In addition to protecting your investment, you will enable future generations to enjoy your corner of paradise.

Q : What to plant.

A: Quebec's Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs [department of sustainable development, environment and parks] advocates the use of native trees, shrubs and conifers. This will help attract indigenous wildlife and create an environment that essentially requires no maintenance. Here are a few suggestions:


  • White birch (Betula papyrifera)
  • Yellow birch (Betula lutea)
  • White oak (Quercus alba)
  • Red oak (Quercus rubra)
  • White spruce (Picea glauca)
  • Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Red ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
  • Tamarack (Larix laricina)
  • American elm (Ulmus americana)
  • Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera)**
  • Trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides)**
  • American mountain ash (Sorbus americana)
  • Eastern white cedar (Thuya occidentalis)


  • Speckled alder (Alnus incana rugosa)**
  • Red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)*
  • Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
  • Sweet gale (Myrica gale)*
  • Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
  • Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa)
  • Sandbar willow (Salix interior) * **
  • Pussy willow (Salix discolor) * **
  • Large-leaved meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia)
  • American elder (Sambucus canadensis)

* Plants that tolerate flooding and can therefore be used along shorelines.
** Plants preferred by beavers.

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