Plant trees where they are needed most

February 25, 2011|Celeste Maiorana
  • A buffered stream at Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area west of Clear Spring. Planting trees near waterways can help to slow runoff and improve water quality.
Submitted photo

Our area is a lovely mix of open and wooded lands. There are steep ridges, rolling hills and open valleys. Seeping from hills, cascading over rock falls and meandering through valleys, water collects and flows in streams, creeks and rivers

Every time there is a significant rain event, water drains across the land and into these waterways, carrying soils, nutrients and pollutants. Through stabilization of the soil and the settling and filtering of particles from the water, trees, woody shrubs and other natural vegetation are essential to keeping these waterways healthy.

All too often, however, the streams and rivers run through farms and subdivisions and along roads with little or no natural vegetation growing along their banks. Open fields, short-grass yards and multitude of roads and driveways shed water very rapidly. The faster the water moves, the greater the size and number of the particles it can carry and deposit into these waterways.

One way to slow water runoff and improve water quality is for homeowners and communities to plant trees and woody shrubs, and plant or permit other natural vegetation to establish itself wherever there is space — especially in drainages, low areas and along the banks of waterways. This has the added benefit of providing beautiful scenery and quality habitat for many and diverse animals.

Government programs have been partnering with large-acreage owners to establish forest buffers for many years.

Since 2003 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been offering free "Buffers-in-a-Bag" to small-acreage landowners who have a water drainage, stream, creek or river running through or by their property.

Presently, the program is available to homeowners residing in Washington, Frederick, Allegheny, Garrett, and Hartford counties.

Each bag contains 25 trees and shrubs. This year the bags include five each of pin oak, red bud, black gum, spice bush and silky dogwood seedlings. This will plant 50-linear feet of bank or drainage.

Since the program expanded to Washington County in 2007, about 76 homeowners each year have signed on to the program. Some participate for multiple years.

On average, homeowners have planted 3,765-linear feet of stream bank each year for a total of 2.85 miles to date. That's a good start, but the Department of Natural Resources estimates that 2,293 miles of Washington County's streams and rivers are inadequately buffered.

So there is a lot of planting to be done. Luckily, planting and growing trees is fun and rewarding. The fact that it helps the community near and far, today and in the future, is an added bonus.

If you have a waterway or drainage on or near your property or think that you might qualify for the program for any reason, contact the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service by sending an e-mail to by Thursday, March 31. The forest service wants to give you trees.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. For more information and useful links on this and other topics, please visit the Board's website at

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