Vegetation along roadsides can serve many functions and can be either introduced or occur naturally. Driver safety, aesthetics and environment and other factors play into the layout, planting and maintenance along a roadside.
Part of the criteria for becoming designated as a Rustic Road in Wisconsin has to do with vegetation (Wisconsin Legislature: Trans-RR 1.04). This webpage is intended to provide an introduction to some of the basic components of vegetation management along rustic roads.
Wisconsin Legislature: Trans-RR 1.11 links to vegetation maintenance rules specific to rustic roads. The following information and links address vegetation maintenance topics in more detail for consideration and are also provided for educational purposes.
Invasive species are a non-native species to the ecosystem that causes economic, environmental, or human health harm.
The Wisconsin invasive species rule (Wis. Admin. Code NR 40) aims to prevent new invasive species from getting to Wisconsin, and enables quick action to control or eradicate those invasive species that are here but have not yet become established.
Invasive species should be controlled to prevent degradation to the aesthetics, vistas and the environmental health of the rustic road. In some instances, invasive species can be harmful to human health. For example, the sap from wild parsnip can cause phytophotodermatitis, a serious rash on your skin. When using herbicides, use caution to not leave browning vegetation behind and ensure the applicators are properly licensed and certified.
Native Plant Species and Prairies
Native plant species are plants that are naturally occurring to a particular ecosystem. Prairies are a combination of specific native grasses and flowering plants that tolerate a wide range of soil types and growing conditions that are beneficial for wildlife and erosion control purposes.
Planting native plants to establish a roadside prairie can help support the entire food web by providing food for insects, like pollinators, which feed other insects, birds, bats, small mammals, fish and other wildlife. Pollinators are anything that helps carry pollen from plant to plant for reproduction and can include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, birds, flies and small mammals.
Prairies have a lower level of maintenance requirement than turfgrasses, once established. Proper maintenance and installation of roadside prairies benefit the rustic road designation with aesthetics, environmental benefits, and maintenance of vistas.
Trees and Shrubs
Trees and shrubs can provide structure and visual interest to a rustic road. Trees and shrubs should be maintained at the level necessary for the safety of the traveling public, while still preserving the rustic character of the road. This includes pruning properly and removing trees when necessary for safety or protection of the traveling public, health of the tree or removal of an invasive species.
Turfgrasses are used when a higher level of maintenance such as mowing, and fertilization, etc. is required, such as for lawns and golf courses. Sometimes a lawn is the preferred method of vegetation when trying to preserve vistas from the roadway, but generally, mowing shall be performed only as necessary for health, safety and ecological reasons per Wisconsin Legislature: Trans-RR 1.11(3), which allows regular mowing and keeping trees and shrubs from filling in enjoyable views from road users. Views may be looking towards outstanding natural features along the road's borders such as rugged terrain, native wildlife and vegetation, or open areas with rustic or agricultural vistas.