Riparian Buffer

What is a riparian buffer?

A riparian buffer is the transitional area between land and water that contains a mix of trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. This vegetated strip of land ‘buffers’ the waterbody from human impacts such as residential development and agricultural activities and is a primary defense in the protection of our waterways. These areas are critical to the biological, chemical and physical integrity of our waterways. Riparian buffer areas protect water quality by cooling water, stabilizing banks, mitigating flow rates, and providing for pollution and sediment removal by filtering overland sheet runoff before it enters the water.

Educational material

Riparian buffer application

City ordinance on Riparian Areas


  • Improves water quality
  • Reduces runoff velocities
  • Reduces flow
  • Enhances site aesthetics, habitat
  • Reduces bank erosion
  • Improves flood control
  • Reduces water temperature

The wider the buffer, the more functions it will serve and the more benefits it will provide. However, some buffer is better than no buffer at all.

Managing Vegetation

Weeds will soon begin to colonize around the seedlings and take on more of an unkempt appearance. During this time it may be helpful to ‘maintain’ the outer edge of the buffer, keeping vines and weeds from overtaking the edge trees and shrubs, and perhaps planting or sowing native wildflowers along the buffer edge.

Physical access: Any paths installed to the waterway will need to be periodically mowed or cut to keep the path open. Consider mowing to a height no less than for to six inches.

Visual access: Low-growing or open structure shrubs may be installed to create "windows" to the waterway. It is inevitable that outside seed sources will migrate in by wind or animals and that periodic removal of unwanted species will be required. By walking these areas once or twice a year, newly germinated seedlings can be identified and easily removed.

Removing Invasive Plants

Non-native, invasive plants commonly colonize riparian areas and can crowd out installed plants if not removed. It is recommended to walk the buffer area twice a year to look for unwanted plants. Consider walking on an imaginary grid to ensure the entire area is covered. When identified young, many of the invasive plants can be pulled up at the base of the stem by hand.

Additional information

University of Kentucky Extension Service – Planting a Riparian Buffer

University of Kentucky Extension Service – Central Kentucky Backyard Stream Guide