10 Swoon-Worthy Shoreline Landscaping Ideas for Your Waterfront Property

Amber Guetebier
Written by Amber Guetebier
Updated February 21, 2022
uninterrupted shoreline view
Photo: Dana Hoff Photo

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Watching the sunset across the water from your own little patch of land is a dream come true for many homeowners. Functional and beautiful landscape design can transform your property, but shoreline landscape design has challenges. The good news is, with the right design and the right contractor, it’s possible to have a waterfront paradise all of your own. From beachfront to lakeside, here are ten ideas to enhance your shoreline.

1. Lakeside Lounge

 lakeside landscaping lounge area
Photo: Joe Palumbo / Lakeshore Guys

One of the challenges with shoreline landscaping is erosion. To combat this, shoreline restoration contractors employ riprap, a layer of heavy-duty aquatic filter fabric that is first secured to the shoreline and then covered with stones. It’s an effective barrier against erosion and an animal deterrent. It’s also a beautiful option that can last for many years to come. Landscaping adjacent to riprap can be anything from lush lawns to native plants, but proper installation of the riprap is critical. 

“Without a doubt, the biggest mistake people make in regards to shoreline work is hiring a landscaper,” says Joe Palumbo of Lakeshore Guys, a shoreline restoration company based in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Palumbo cautions homeowners against hiring a landscaper for the job and be sure any contractor hired for the job has experience in shoreline restoration specifically. “There’s just no substitute for experience when it comes to shoreline restoration.”

2. Riverside Retreat 

riverside retreat with boat
Photo: Flaura Design

Rivers can pose their own set of unique challenges, both in terms of working with the water’s curves aesthetically and contending with the natural forces at play. The key is the right balance between landscaping and hardscaping. It’s also important for homeowners to pay attention to natural cycles, such as floods and tides, and their design accounts for that. 

Project Riverside, pictured above, looks harmonious, but it was a challenge to design. “The garden was prone to rainwater flooding from the river, which resulted in most of the space being completely unusable during wetter months,” says Maya and Rose of Flaura Design, who created this riverside garden for a client. To maximize the views, they created zones that could still be useable even when the riverbank flooded, such as the hardscaping, including a stone wall with a strip of grass between the wall and the water. 

“We specified flood-tolerant, native, and cottage-style planting for the soft landscaping,” she explains. She also chose hardscaping that complemented the formal cottage style of the home, such as the pavers and brick in a herringbone pattern, laid out to mimic the natural curves of the river. 

3. Sprawling Playground

 lakefront shoreline playground
Photo: Zsolt Frecska / Redtwig Landscaping

When considering just what you want a lakefront shoreline yard to offer, water accessibility is usually number one on the list. Having a place to launch a boat or get in and out of the water for a swim makes sense. But what about the rest of the garden?

In this lakefront property designed by Redtwig Landscaping, they included two seating areas directly on the water, including one paver patio. A series of natural paver stone and crushed gravel paths offer multiple, meandering ways to get back to the house.  

4. Wild Gardening

wooden boat with flowers
Photo: nuruddean / Adobe Stock

If your strip of waterfront property isn’t as functional for landscaping due to erosion or the natural geography, consider an alternative: a floating seasonal garden, such as the one planted here, using an old boat. Choose herbs, veggies, or even flowers that don’t mind a bit of extra moisture and like lots of sun and wind. 

Because you are gardening directly into the water table, be particularly mindful of any chemicals or fertilizers you use. Opting for low-maintenance annuals or seasonal herbs that require very little, such as mint or salad greens, is a good choice to keep the plants and the ecosystem healthy.

5. Uninterrupted View

uninterrupted shoreline view
Photo: Dana Hoff Photo

No matter what kind of seaside garden you try to grow, maximizing the view of the water is the priority. While having some type of railing is necessary for safety, minimize the barriers that might interrupt your view. 

Marnie Custom Homes designs beach-front dream homes in Delaware. Their number one request from clients is to take advantage of the view. For the exterior, she uses minimal railing options such as this classic cable railing, allowing for an unobstructed view of the Atlantic. 

6. Fire and Water 

lakeside fire patio area
Photo: Joe Palumbo / Lakeshore Guys

What could be better than warming up by a lakeside fire after a long day of swimming? Have a patio and sitting area waiting for you. Beautiful shoreline design balances hardscaping, plant materials, and natural beauty. It gives you a lakeside living room and a place to be even when the summer swimming season is over. 

But adding paving stones that close to the water’s edge should always be done by a professional. “Because the ground expands and contracts so much more near a shoreline (due to the water content in the soil combined with the freeze/thaw cycles in colder climates), extra steps need to be taken to ensure your new landscaping stays where you put it,” Palumbo of Lakeshore Guys explains.

7. Pretty Little Pond

pond property with animals
Photo: white78 / Adobe Stock

Whether it’s natural or artificial, having a pond on your property adds an eye-catching element to your yard. It’s also a natural attraction for birds, frogs, and fish. Using hardy shrubbery and water-loving native reed grasses can add texture and color variation along the shoreline. It’s important to be mindful of any chemicals used in the yard, garden, or nearby lawn, including fertilizers. Runoff directly into the water table and the habitat can damage the delicate ecosystem.

8. Natural Beauty 

two wooden chairs on shoreline during sunset
Photo: karamysh / Adobe Stock

Sometimes the best seaside landscaping is the natural environment. Constantly shifting sandy soil can be tricky to grow in, and oceanfront property comes with that ongoing ocean breeze, good for the lungs but hard on plants. 

Restoring a native plant barrier between your home and the beach will also help protect your home from erosion. And when your yard overlooks the Pacific Ocean, like this Pacific Northwest home, you don’t need much to have a stunning front yard. Making a small level area to place chairs or an outdoor table and a fire pit may be all the shoreline landscaping you need to do. 

9. Shoreline Sanctuary 

shoreline with wildlife habitat
Photo: bilanol / Adobe Stock

Turning your shoreline landscaping into a bird- and wildlife-friendly habitat place can be a rewarding investment. Because many homeowners tend to use fertilizer and chemical weed controls, consider removing all or some of your grass and replacing it with pollinator and bird-friendly plants. Adding fruiting trees and flowering plants, as well as shrubs and perennials at a variety of heights, invites nesting animals to get cozy. 

Your waterfront may also attract some unwanted visitors, such as Canada geese. If Canada geese on your property become a problem, try planting a wide barrier of reeds or native grasses as a barrier between the water and your property. Geese have a low line of sight, so taller landscaping is a natural deterrent and keeps them from finding that path from the water to your lawn.  

10. Work with Nature 

lush landscape near water
Photo: Александр Беспалый / Adobe Stock

Whether it’s a small lakeshore or a mighty riverbank, don’t fight Mother Nature. Pay attention to the native shoreline plants in your area and use these to form the basis of your landscape design. If your property doesn’t have a lot of plant life left, take a walk at a nearby preserve or sanctuary to observe the plants in their original state. Talk to the local native plant society and get a list of shoreline-friendly plants. The great news is, today, there are plenty of native hybrids to incorporate into a design to add additional color and variety. 

Making sure you also work with the water, and not against it, and working in harmony with nature is one of the most critical—and most difficult—components of shoreline landscape design.

“When designing gardens that are close to a waterfront—either along a coastline or riverside—it is important to work with the landscape and not create a design that will negatively impact the natural surroundings or ecosystems,” say Maya and Rose of Flaura Design. “A holistic approach to the client’s requirements and understanding of the natural surroundings is necessary to create clever and thoughtful waterfront landscape designs.”

How does that translate for homeowners? Making thoughtful decisions about what you plant is important, but observing how your shoreline changes throughout the seasons is a necessary component. Whether that means flooding from a riverbank, tides, or how your pond changes from winter to spring, finding inspiration from the beauty in nature, and working with local professional shoreline specialists, can help homeowners decide what kind of shoreline landscape is right for them.

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