It is often forgotten that creeks drain the East Bay and help manage rain storms and surface runoff that otherwise will flood our local streets. In my neighborhood in El Cerrito, many homeowners live with creeks in their backyard and often do not know how to be a good neighbor to a creek.
Homeowners can make a great difference in the life of a creek. They are responsible for the stewardship of the section of the creek that serves as their property boundary all the way to the middle of the creek and share the responsibility with their neighbors across the creek for their creek section. It is a powerful image to think about all the hands that could help foster a healthy creek if we work together with our local municipalities to make sure that the creeks serve as an important ecological habitat for the many wildlife species that call the East Bay their home.
As fall brings new scents and the anticipated rains, here are some tips to be a good creek neighbor and steward:
Plant ground cover: There are several native groundcover plants that will minimize soil erosion, protect your creek banks, and replace invasive species. Some good examples for the East Bay are: Red fescue (Festuca rubra), California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) and Meadow Barley (Hordeum brachyantherum).
Remove large vegetation that may obstruct water flow: You should remove vegetation, except low ground cover, from the creek banks up to the top of the bank (flood line), including shrubs, tules, pampas grass, cattails, and bamboo. Leave all root systems in place. Remove hanging vines that may create an obstruction to the natural flow of water in the creek. If you have berry vines, trim these back to the bank. Also, remove any tree limbs that hang within two feet of the top of the bank. Do not clear-cut the slopes. (see diagram)
Create wildlife habitat by clustering native vegetation along the top of the bank: Habitat gardens bring the color, motion, and excitement of local wildlife species such as birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other beneficial insects into the urban environment. Use drought tolerant California native plants to create your own habitat gardens. Some of my favorite species are toyon, sticky monkey flower and pink flowering currant. Here is a complete list of species and their wildlife value.
Prevent invasive plants such as arundo or blackberry from being established along creek banks. But be careful not to use herbicides to control this species. Avoid routine perimeter spraying for ant control; use integrated pest management (IPM) practices.
Check back on our resources pages for more tips about creek care and gardening for wildlife resources.
Photos: Native Plants of the Wildcat & San Pablo Creek Watersheds and Martha Berthelsen
Diagram: Brad Phillips