Lake UpDate – July 28, 2017 – Swales

Contributed by Matt Veridrame

Lake Heritage is a swale community to live in. But why do we have swales? Swales are man-made or natural channels which are designed to guide, slow, filter, and absorb storm water runoff. They hold water during and immediately after a storm but are usually dry at other times. Just about every property in Lake Heritage has a swale in the front yard.

For a long time buried drainage systems were considered the most effective way to move water in the landscape. But this thinking has changed, landscape architects and engineers now recommend “daylighting” water runoff where possible. Daylighting is keeping water on the surface so it can be managed, just like we do with Lake Heritage’s open swales. The most beneficial type of day-lighted swales are those planted with vegetation.

Bee- Balm : Perennial plant suggested for consistently wet or moist swales


Swales planted with grass, flowers, and small shrubbery are a natural solution for our community to use in improving lake quality. Vegetation is a major part of best practices. Planted swales benefit our community by reducing pollutants entering the lake, minimizing erosion, and providing an appealing, easily maintained landscape especially near driveways, parking areas, and roads.

Best management practices are sometimes referred to as Green Infrastructure. Here are some actions that every property owner can do to help keep the lake healthy.

+ Clean debris from your swales (especially after trash day!) Remove leaves and grass clippings from swales.
+ Address standing water which has been in place for more than 72 hours. All swales should be graded to facilitate water flow.
+ Maintain grass is swales to a minimum of 7 inches.
+ Plant native plants only (no invasive or exotic plants.)
+ Do not apply fertilizers, weed killers, or bug killers in or near your swale.
+ Do not park in swales.

To go along with these guidelines you may have noticed that the maintenance crew is no longer cutting the grass in many swales. This is being done to help slow down runoff and reduce pollutants entering the lake.

Planting Your Swale

Visualize the roads and shores of Lake Heritage bordered by beautiful flowers, shrubbery, and grasses. Planted swales and lakefronts will not only be pretty, but they will discourage weeds, improve the soil, slow water runoff, and discourage geese and ducks from getting onto your lawns. Native plants have the benefit of longer, deeper roots which serve as a sponge to hold and filter water. And additionally, once established they do not require additional watering or fertilization.

Recommendations for planting swales:

+ The recommended height of the plants will depend on the depth of the swale.
+ Grass should be maintained at about seven inches or above.
+ Find the right plants for the wetness of your swale.
+ Avoid invasive plants that are not native to Pennsylvania, and noxious plants such as loosestrife which are harmful to natural ecosystems.
+ Do not use fertilizers or weed killers in swales.
+ Plant colorful flowers that you would like to see in your swale.

Virginia Blue Bells

Perennial plants suggested for consistently wet or moist swales:

+ Bee-balm
+ Black-eyed Susan
+ Cardinal Flower
+ False Solomon’s Seal
+ Great blue lobelia
+ Little Bluestem grass
+ Pickerel weed
+ Summer Phlox
+ Virginia Bluebells
+ Wild geranium, Cranesbill


Suggested perennial plants for swales that are dry most of the time:

+ Bee Balm
+ Black-eyed Susan
+ Blazing Star
+ Butterfly Weed
+ Coneflower
+ Coreopsis
+ Goldenrod
+ Little bluestem grass
+ Penstemon
+ Turtlehead