Making a change to lawn can keep geese at bay

By Mary Reid Barrow  Jul 28, 2017

Homeowners on the water love their green lawns. Canada geese do, too.

But what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gardener. Homeowners can change the way they manage their lawns and come up with landscaping that’s even prettier, and the geese will likely stay away.

After the concern that was generated by the goose round-up and slaughter in Kings Grant in Virginia Beach this month, Mimi Boseman’s experience in Birdneck Point in Virginia Beach may help other residents in geese-plagued neighborhoods. I first wrote about the transformation of Boseman’s backyard in the column titled “Native plants protect shoreline and wildlife” that published online Nov. 2, 2015.

Geese especially love tender new shoots of grass. By growing plants and tall grasses along the water’s edge in what is known as a buffer garden, Boseman discouraged geese from coming onto her property for a meal.

Geese have a natural fear of predators lurking in the bushes. So being among tall plants where they don’t have a clear sightline to the water makes them very wary.

Five years ago, Boseman’s yard on the Lynnhaven River was mostly mud and usually covered in goose poop. Now after the planting of native grasses, shrubs and wildflowers in the area, the geese rarely visit. Instead, Boseman sees flowers and grasses blowing in the breeze, and birds and insects feeding.

The geese still come to the green lawns of other property owners, Boseman said. And when it comes to hers, only one pair of geese attempted to build a nest. It was unsuccessful, she said, and was about the only visit she has had.

Boseman loves geese and actually fed them before she learned not to. Now, her yard is more the way nature intended it to be, better for the geese and other wildlife, and better for the health of the river.

“I love walking through and seeing grasshoppers, bees, butterflies and birds that call my buffer home,” she said. “I am sure there are other critters in there, too.”

Boseman said none of her neighbors that she knows of have planted a buffer garden. “But I have given several tours to folks thinking about it.”

If installing a buffer garden like Boseman’s seems overwhelming, there’s a way to start small and still deter visiting geese, said Trista Imrich, restoration coordinator for Lynnhaven River Now, the group that works to keep the Virginia Beach river clean.

“The simplest thing to do is to simply stop mowing the grass nearest the water,” Imrich said. “I would recommend at least 10-foot buffer and up to a 20-foot buffer.

“This takes away the low grassy habitat that the geese feel safe in.”

Imrich suggested also planting low-growing native shrubs and flowers among the grasses. The deeper roots of non-turf grass plants help absorb runoff and combat erosion, she explained. The plants also will provide habitat for pollinators and birds.

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The image above is what Mimi Boseman’s yard looked like at the beginning of her buffer restoration in May 2013. Coir logs stabilize the water’s edge and salt tolerant native grasses are planted near the water’s edge with native wildflowers and shrubs in the back.

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Today, when the tide comes up, it meets salt tolerant grasses that absorb excess water, prevent erosion, and keep the Canada geese from settling in Mimi Boseman’s yard.