Creeks are the lifeblood of the ecosystem. They are a source of enjoyment and a necessity for the wildlife that inhabits the area. A healthy creek flowing along your property is a wonderful amenity, and generally increases your property’s monetary value. You and your neighbors share responsibility for keeping the creek and its corridor healthy, both for people’s enjoyment and for the wildlife that depend upon the fragile waterway. Since so much of creekside property is in private ownership, much of the responsibility for the health of creeks and the survival of creek-dependent wildlife lies with you, the creekside residents. Mismanagement of the creek can often lead to drainage problems. This in turn can cause erosion, property damage and a decrease in property value.
Creekside property in most cases utilizes the nominal creek center line as the property line (despite the perception that a fence at the top of the creek bank defines a property). Ownership of the creekside property carries special responsibilities and risks. It is important to consider how your actions near or in the creek will affect your neighbors upstream and downstream. Any changes you make to the creek banks can have far-reaching and unintended consequences.
MAINTAIN HEALTHY CREEKSIDE VEGETATION
See our new tip sheet on removing ivy at the end of this document!
Preserve the existing native creekside vegetation. Creek vegetation provides shelter for fish and wildlife. Overhanging trees offer shade that keeps the water temperatures cool. Cooler temperatures are good for fish and deter unsightly algae growth.
Use native riparian trees and shrubs when landscaping creek slopes. Native plants require less water, fertilizers, and are better adapted to California’s environment. In addition, creekside native plants stabilize creek banks, and protect slopes from erosion.
Non-native plants should be removed. The invasive plants described in the Gardening section above create special problems when they are near a creek. German, Algerian and English ivy may look like they are preventing erosion, but that is not the case. Water flowing beneath the vegetation may erode and destabilize the creek bank. And plant segments may be carried downstream to invade another area.
Before clearing a large area, however, take measures to prevent erosion. Large-scale clearing along creek banks requires a permit from the California Department of Fish and Game.
Soil erosion can be a natural process. However, increased volumes of water runoff from land development, loss of natural vegetation, and upstream changes to the creek channel may lead to eroded creek beds. Improper construction of decks and structures along the creek may cause the creekside to be unstable. This may lead to the loss of clean water and creekside vegetation. Severe property damage may also be the result.
BEFORE YOU WORK IN OR NEAR THE CREEK
There are state, county, and city regulations that govern both the building of structures and other activities which may affect a creek. Consult your city or county permit department before you plan a project.
IVY REMOVAL TIP SHEET
1. Start with the Trees: Since ivy does not flower and produce seeds until it can climb up on a tree or fence, it is best to start by removing it from trees, thereby eliminating the seed bank. Cut out a 3 – 6 inch chunk of the vines at the base of the tree using clippers or a hand saw. Take care not to damage the bark of the tree. At this point, leave it on the tree to dry out and shrink so as not to damage the tree further.
2. Divide and Conquer: Divide your area to be cleared into manageable sections so as not to get overwhelmed. Completely clear the ivy and roots, going through all steps, from one section at a time.
3. Roll it Up: When a large area is blanketed with ivy, a team of people can work from one end to another, pulling and digging ivy out and rolling it into a tight bundle. The bundle can be left to decompose on site. If you are working on a slope, let gravity work for you by starting at the top, and rolling the ivy down like a carpet. Make sure you are pulling the plant out by its roots. It’s easiest to work in the spring, or after rains have loosened the soil.
4. Cover with Mulch: Sheet mulch the area after all the ivy has been removed. First lay down 10+ layers of wet newspaper, overlapping the sheets 6 – 8 inches. You can also use cardboard, either alone or in addition to newspaper. It is important not to leave even the smallest gap. Then cover the cardboard with 3 – 5 inches of wood chips. Be aware that chips from tree companies can contain weed seeds; avoid chips from acacia or eucalyptus. Keep mulch well away from existing tree trunks. It is best not to disturb the mulch for at least a year to eliminate ivy, roots and all. Two years is even better. When you do decide to re-plant the area, try to choose native plants that will grow quickly.
5. Pluck the Seedlings: When new ivy seedlings sprout up, pluck them right away. They are easy to pull out by hand, or you can use a hula hoe (also called a scuffle hoe) for larger areas of seedlings.
6. Don’t give up: It IS possible to eliminate ivy, but in most cases it is a multi-year project. Ivy removal requires continued diligence to eliminate any seedlings planted by birds that have eaten the berries of your neighbor’s ivy. Imagine an ivy-free future!