Rocky River Backyard Buffers

Get free trees if you live along the Rocky River!

What is the Backyard Buffer Program?

As a stream side property owner, you have a special opportunity to restore the Rocky River and its tributaries. The Rocky River Backyard Buffers Program provides tree and shrub seedlings, and planting guidance free of charge to stream side landowners in the Rocky River Watershed.

Properly maintained riparian buffers stabilize stream banks, decrease high storm flows, filter nutrients and sediment from storm water, provide essential habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife, and increase property values.

The only requirements are that participants:

1) Watch this video on care and planting of bare root seedlings

2) Plant all seedlings adjacent to the stream (within 15 feet of the stream, and at least 5 feet apart) in order to establish a riparian buffer. It is recommended participants purchase and implement fencing in the same manner as seen in Picture 3 above to protect from deer browsing.

No stream is too small! In fact small tributaries can be the most affected by the re-establishment of riparian vegetation buffers.

Seedlings include:

  • Swamp White Oak
  • American Elm
  • Arrowwood (shrub species)
  • Bur Oak
  • Hackberry
  • Pin Oak
  • Red Maple
  • River Birch
  • Steeplebush Spirea (shrub species)

Seedlings are between 18 - 24 inches high, and most are in their second year of life. Plant them within 15 feet of the stream and at least 5 feet apart (3 ft for shrub species). With protection from deer and regular watering during drought, these seedlings will grow fast!

Distribution will take place on December 4th, 2021, from 10:00am - 12:00pm at Emerald Necklace Marina in Lakewood. The event will be drive-through style where participants will drive up to the table, state their name, and will have the seedlings loaded into their car. ALL PARTICIPANTS MUST RESERVE THEIR TREES HERE. If you do not fill out the form we cannot guarentee your trees.

Each participant will receive 10-25 seedlings, if desired and based on the number of actual enrollees. CSWCD encourages landowners to use these seedlings as the start of their own backyard stream buffer. We hope you will purchase and plant more trees and shrubs as possible- and to create "no-mow" zones for 25 feet of the stream.

Think it's too late in the year to plant trees in December? Don't worry! Seedlings are best planted while dormant, after they've dropped their leaves in fall and before they sprout buds in the spring. Think it will be hard to dig the hole in the ground? These are small, bare-root seedlings who do not need large holes- with any questions refer to the Arbor Day video linked above.

Additional Resources

Woods For Waters: A guide to planting riparian buffers for healthy streams by Cuyahoga River Restoration

Tennessee's Urban Riparian Handbook (check any recommended plants species are also native to NE Ohio) and flyer on the benefits of riparian buffers.

LEAPBio and Cleveland Metroparks maintain an online list of regional native plant nurseries here.

Conservation Buffers: Design Guidelines for Buffers, Corridors and Greenways by USDA and the US Forest Service

And Cuyahoga SWCD’s own Life at the Water’s Edge: Living in Harmony with Your Backyard Stream


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