Living on the Edge

If you are lucky enough to live on property that backs up to a park or a stream, you are in the position of being able to enhance the value of the park or stream corridor by adding plants that support the ecosystem and that keep stormwater runoff from eroding the land and stream banks.


It is illegal to plant, mow, build, or do anything else to disturb the land within the park boundaries! Your help is invaluable in protecting these lands.

Enjoying your woods

Natural forests consist mostly of deep woods, and not of edges. But when we cut down trees for buildings or roads, we create a tremendous amount of edge, which is prime territory for invasive introduced plants. This is why we often see the edge of woods being swallowed by invasive vines. If you are the steward of that edge property, you can protect the woods by removing invasive plants and planting native plants to extend the benefits of the natural area.

What not to plant: Invasive introduced plants are problematic anywhere, as birds often carry their seeds into our natural areas, but it is particularly important to avoid using them right next to parks, where they can creep right in and take over. Examples include English Ivy, Japanese Pachysandra, Periwinkle, and many other groundcovers; some ornamental grasses such as Chinese Silvergrass (Miscanthus); vines such as Chinese Wisteria; trees such as Norway Maple and Callery Pear;  and shrubs such as Japanese Barberry, Chinese Privet, and Burning Bush. Click here for a more detailed list.

Do woods need "cleaning?"

It is not only unnecessary to remove dead leaves and trees, it is harmful to the ecosystem. 90% of the energy transfer from plants to animals in the woods is from detritus. Removing it deprives numerous species of their food source and shelter and degrades the soil.

Great plants for forest edges

Forest edges often come with deer. Grasses and ferns are not bothered by deer, and taller shrubs and trees can be protected with wire fence-cloth cages until they grow high enough. Flowering perennials and short shrubs struggle, though, so listed here are perennials that are relatively unpalatable to deer, and shrubs that either grow tall or that are relatively deer resistant. All the listed plants can tolerate part shade and dry soil. For more details and additional options, search our native plant app.


Flowering perennials: Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis), Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Lyre-leaved Sage (Salvia lyrata), Blue-stemmed, Zigzag, Grass-leaved, Field, and Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago caesia, flexicaulis, graminifolia, nemoralis, and odora), Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotricum cordifolium)  


Ferns: Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)


Grasses & grasslike: Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), Deertongue Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum), Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix), Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Purpletop (Tridens flavus).

Shrubs: False indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbuitfolia), Allegheny chinquapin (Castanea pumila), Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli), Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Shrubby St. Johns Wort (Hypericum prolificum), Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum), Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia), Arrow-wood (Viburnum dentatum), Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

Understory trees: Downy or Allegheny Serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea or laevis), Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), American Wild Plum (Prunus americana), Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia), Sassafras (Sassafras albidum).

Vines: Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana)

Protecting our streams

Properties that include streams are the last bulwark against the damage inflicted by runoff from impervious surfaces. This “riparian buffer” captures and cleans stormwater runoff that can erode the banks and flood the streams. That floodwater carries tons of sediment down to the Chesapeake Bay, where it buries the sea grasses that are the basis of the ecosystem there. In addition, healthy streams need to be lined with trees to keep the water temperature cool and to provide leaves to feed the underwater ecosystem.  The Commonwealth has a brochure on this subject.


Land-disturbing activities are prohibited within floodplains or within 100 feet of a stream, shore, or wetland, whether the land is publicly or privately owned, unless you obtain a permit. (“Land-disturbing” includes removal of vegetation and planting new plants.)  Maps of these “Resource Protection Areas” can be found here. But if you need to restore lands that have already been disturbed, here are some plants that do well in that setting and that are found together in nature, again chosen with deer browsing in mind.

Great plants for stream banks and floodplains

Perennials: Common Wild Ginger (Asarum canadensis), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinium), Flat-top Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Southern Blueflag (Iris virginica), Allegheny Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)


Grass & grasslike: Bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), Soft Rush (Juncus effusus), Shallow Sedge (Carex lurida), Fringed Sedge (Carex crinata)


Ferns: Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)

Shrubs: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Possum-haw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum)

Trees: Red Maple (Acer rubrum), River Birch (Betula nigra), American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis), Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor),  Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), Black Willow (Salix nigra), Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)

Fairfax County has a suggested list of plants for RPAs.

Looking for design ideas?

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources has posted planting plans for 24 “buffer” gardens, from small to large.

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