By Ryan Neuman, Upstream Conservation Leader
During the winter of 2021, TTF harvested cuttings from several species of shrubs at restoration sites across our watershed. We then drove these cuttings into creek banks where erosion is occurring.
This process is called live staking, and is a low-cost, low-maintenance method to reduce creek bank erosion. Another advantage of live stakes versus planting containerized shrubs is that these stakes are less likely to be swept away from the bank before they become established. You can learn more about the process here.
Erosion is caused by the large volume of water entering our creeks during rain and storms. It’s made worse by the lack of riparian vegetation, such as native trees and shrubs that hold the creek bank in place with their network of interlocking roots. Erosion is detrimental to our watershed not only because of the loss of streambanks, but also because the dirt that is swept away from the creek banks becomes a pollutant in our waterways. Live staking is a way to curb this, by establishing a network of root systems along the creek to hold the bank in place.
In late March of 2021, we inserted about 20 live stakes into two different sites with significant erosion. This is typically a small amount to put in place, and we hope to do much more live staking this year. However, we wanted to monitor stake survival, and identify more shrubs at our restoration sites from which we could harvest.
Periodically, throughout the spring, summer, and fall, we monitored them to see how many stakes were alive and still in place. The best way to check on the success of the stakes is to tug them a little, to see if there is some resistance– which indicates that they are alive and growing some roots. One of the big challenges to the live stakes last year was some of the extreme rainfalls that occurred, sweeping away sections of streambank.
Out of the original stakes that were installed, 60% are still alive and have grown roots to hold the bank. One of the sites has a survival rate of 90%! In the photo, you can see some root growth at the base of the live stake.
This is a perfect example of what a live stake may look like after the first year. There’s a little bit of growth on the actual stake, but most of the growth is taking place underground in the root system.
As a follow-up to our 2021 live staking successes, we implemented additional sites in 2022. In mid-March, we worked with Abington Friends School students to harvest about 100 live stakes from red osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum). These natives were planted as part of a riparian buffer restoration project several years ago. Students learned about the process and purpose of live staking and then harvested the stakes themselves. We also received donations of another 150 live stakes from other sources.
As part of our work with the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, we worked with citizen science volunteers from the suburban Philadelphia area to install a number of these stakes above our restoration work at the Conklin Pool in Cheltenham. This site has experienced new streambank erosion, in areas where the concrete-lined channel was removed.
This volunteer project included a two-part training. The first was a virtual presentation that walked through what live staking is and how it works, then how to harvest live stakes and install them into a creek bank. The second training included an in-person demonstration at which volunteers practiced installing live stakes. Volunteers installed about 150 live stakes along this Jenkintown Creek tributary.
Additional live stakes were installed at a few sites along the Jenkintown Creek, for a total of about 250 live stakes installed this spring. These sites included the Conklin Pool, Ethel Jordan Park, and McKinley Elementary School. We will continue to monitor these stakes throughout the year, and hope to see positive survival rates and reductions in streambank erosion. We anticipate undertaking more harvesting and staking in the Spring of 2023 at numerous sites.
View more photos of these live stakings here.
Interested in learning more about live staking? Interested in donating plant material? Contact Ryan@ttfwatershed.org.