The Beauty of a Buffer

By Whitney Gleason, CWC Water Quality Program Manager

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and volunteer residents, with financial support from the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, were able to get out and plant three beautiful demonstration buffer gardens a couple weeks ago. We are so thankful to have been able to partner with Heritage Ministries, Winchester Dock Association, and the Village of Mayville to create these examples of how easy and beautiful protecting our lakes and streams can be. Throughout the planning and planting process we realized that people have a lot of questions about buffers. Today I hope to help answer some of those questions and encourage you all to get out and visit these beautiful gardens to learn more.   

What is a buffer? A buffer is simply a growth of trees, shrubs, or perennials that acts as a filter for runoff. As water falls on a mowed area, it runs off. If you have a buffer growing, that water will hit the taller plants of the buffer which will slow it down, giving it time to soak into the ground where extra nutrients and pollutants can be absorbed by those same plants before the water continues on to our streams and lakes.

Does it matter what typeof plants you have in your buffer? The short answer is no – any buffer is better than no buffer at all. Any buffer will help prevent runoff and erosion and will help filter out extra nutrients and pollutants. That being said, using native plants in your buffer will add a lot of extra benefits! Native plants are built for our area and will be hardier and more resilient. They have stronger and longer root systems that do a better job of catching and filtering runoff and preventing erosion. Native plants also provide food that is needed for the wildlife in our area that only feed on specific foods – such as the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail which only feeds on Pawpaw.   

What if I want to help protect our lakes and streams but don’t have time to plant a garden? The great news is that you don’t have to do any planting at all if you don’t want to! Growing a buffer can be as simple as choosing a strategically located ten-foot-wide area not to mow. At Waldmer Park where the Winchester Dock Association’s buffer garden was planted, the other homeowners along the shore decided to work with CWC to create this type of no-mow buffer along the remaining waterfront of the park. As you can see in the photo above (of the Winchester Dock Association's demonstration buffer garden and Waldmer Park homeowners' no-mow buffer), this can be just as beautiful as a landscaped garden and will provide the same benefits for our waterways. 

Can I help protect our lakes and streams even if I don’t live on the water? Absolutely! Every mowed yard has runoff – whether it’s located on a lake, stream, pond, or not. By planting a buffer or letting a no-mow buffer grow, you will help slow that runoff down so that it can be filtered before making its way into our waterways or the groundwater system. Whether your yard is big or small, lakefront or not, you too can help protect the health of our community by creating a beautiful filter in your yard.    

I hope these answers have been helpful, but if you still have questions or would like personal help creating a buffer on your own property, CWC is here for you! Through our free LakeScapes program, our Conservationist will schedule a time with you to come out to your home or business and work with you to create a buffer that’s beautiful for you and for the health of our waters. Simply email her at or call our office and leave a message at 716.664.2166. Together we can build a healthy community – one yard at a time!

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