Location: Spring Creek in Dauphin County, PA
Partners Involved: Penn State University
Type of Buffer: Agricultural
During the summer of 2020, Penn State University Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Tyler Groh, and Penn State Extension Educator, Jennifer Fetter, started collaborating on a riparian buffer proposal. This proposal sought to establish a buffer on former agricultural land, providing an opportunity for long-term soil and water research from the time of planting (time zero) as well as a location to build additional buffer educational programming through Penn State Extension. This research and educational buffer was funded through the 2020-2021 Penn State College of Agricultural Science’s Science to Practice Grant Program.
Once funded, the buffer was established along Spring Creek in Dauphin County on former corn and soybean row crop land. There are four sections to this buffer, each being roughly 66 feet wide and 330 feet long. The first section was planted as a riparian forest buffer with red maple, smooth alder, river birch, buttonbush, tulip poplar, sweetbay magnolia, and sycamore. The second section was planted with river birch, buttonbush, pawpaw, red chokeberry, persimmon, serviceberry, hazelnut, silky dogwood, witch hazel, winter berry, and pussy willow to form a multifunctional buffer in which products like fruit, nuts, and ornamentals could be harvested once the vegetation is mature. Both section one and two were planted on April 29th, 2021 as a joint effort between the Ecosystem Science and Management Department at Penn State University, Penn State Extension, the Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, Penn State Master Watershed Steward volunteers, local volunteers organized by Doc Fritchey Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and representatives from the private landowner. Between these first two sections of riparian buffers, there were 372 native woody shrubs and trees planted in one morning.
The final two sections of this research and education buffer consist of a control section which will be planted each year in corn or soybean under the same historical management practices and a meadow section that will be planted in native pollinator mix to promote monarch butterflies, honeybees, and other essential pollinators that help promote ecosystem function. This meadow section is currently being prepared for the native pollinator planting. This includes weed and reed canarygrass suppression through careful herbicide treatment. In October, this meadow section will be planted in a cereal rye cover crop to further suppress weeds for a spring planting of the pollinator seed mixture with oat cover.
Together, these four sections will allow for Tyler Groh and other Penn State researchers to monitor water quality and soil health changes over time (buffer establishment). PVC wells will help collect shallow groundwater samples and monitor the amount of water flowing through each zone. In addition, soil samples will be collected every three years to better assess soil property changes with time. The overarching goal of this work is to better understand how long it takes a riparian buffer planting to start functioning like a buffer by providing known water quality benefits like nutrient and sediment removal. Penn State Extension will also use their lessons learned from ongoing maintenance and from the water quality and soil health research as the backbone of future educational programming to assist landowners with their own riparian buffer plantings.
This post Is part of the first annual CCLC Riparian Buffer Month.
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If you would like to support professional training of landscape professionals in the design, instillation, and maintenance of riparian buffers, please donate today to the CBLP-Buffers scholarship fund. We believe that landscape professionals have a unique ability to directly affect the health of our landscapes- and your donation will directly assist a professional in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to pursue training.