Ongoing Riparian Buffer Study Plots Planted with Native Tree Species

By Stever Bartlett, Graduate Student
June 07, 2021

The clayplain forests of the Lake Champlain basin prior to European colonization were expansive in acreage and extensive in the ecological services they provided. Restoring functioning clayplain forests in and around current wetlands, shorelines, and river riparian areas is a long sought after goal. In an effort to reach that goal, continued research is happening in the Lake Champlain basin to determine best management practices for planting trees in riparian areas that are dominated by reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea).

As a University of Vermont (UVM) graduate student in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, I am continuing my research this summer which is funded by a Pollution Prevention and Habitat Conservation grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. It is the first applied research project of the new Watershed Forestry Partnership, a collaboration of UVM ExtensionLake Champlain Sea Grant and various partnering organizations.

My research objective is to learn how best to control reed canary grass by planting adjacent treatment (herbicide-free management) and control (standard herbicide management) plots of native tree seedlings at eight Addison County Lake Champlain basin sites. I will assess the survival of the seedlings over time. The sites are located in the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Dead Creek, Lemon Fair, Little Otter Creek, Lower Otter Creek and Whitney/Hospital Creek Wildlife Management Areas.

A common and current standard treatment in the Lake Champlain basin of Vermont is the application of glyphosate as a primary management practice to control reed canary grass. Herbicide-free management techniques, such as tilling and mowing, have been studied with varying results. The herbicide-free management technique in this study incorporates tilling the treatment plot prior to planting and then mowing sites at set intervals during the first two years of growth.

The tilling and preparation of the plots was completed in the late summer and early fall of 2020. With the help of volunteers, we planted 1,440 tree stems (seedlings) in April and early May of 2021 across the eight sites. Each site was planted with 90 stems in the control plot and 90 stems in the treatment plot. Tree stems ranged in height from three to five feet and included species native to Lake Champlain basin floodplains.

Some of the species planted were swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa), grey dogwood (Cornus racemose), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), red maple (Acer rubra), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), arrowhead (Viburnum dentatum), and American basswood (Tilia americana).  Rain and wet soils made the planting muddy and messy, but otherwise conducive to helping the stems live and become established. 

In the first week of June, I collected data at each site and performed the first plot maintenance in the form of manual weed control (weed eating). Counting live and dead stems as a part of the monthly data collection indicated the planting was successful with only a handful of stems showing catastrophic demise.

Square PVC pipe frame on grass I also collected data to estimate percent cover of reed canary grass in the control and treatment plots using a 1 meter x 1 meter quadrat. Data collection and plot maintenance will be conducted three more times this summer and another four times in the summer of 2022.  In the fall of 2022, after the data compilation and analysis is wrapped up, I will prepare a scientific paper and share results of the project with the scientific community and stakeholders. Study findings should provide data-based information for landowners and practitioners when deciding what management methods to use for future riparian planting projects.


Stever Bartlett is a master's student advised by Dr. Kris Stepenuck, Lake Champlain Sea Grant Extension leader. He is carrying out his research project in collaboration with Alison Adams, Lake Champlain Sea Grant watershed forestry coordinator, and Kate Forrer, UVM Extension community forestry specialist.