Native seedlings available through Backyard Buffers program

The Potomac Watershed Partnership, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service, presents Backyard Buffers. This annual program, now involving 10 counties throughout Maryland, offers homeowners the opportunity to help protect local waterways by planting streamside buffers.

Streamside buffers capture surface runoff from lawns and fields, filtering out sediment and nutrients harmful to streams. Buffers can also create wildlife and aquatic habitat, reduce peak water temperatures, and stabilize stream banks, protecting against erosion.

Homeowners in participating counties who have a stream or other waterway on or adjacent to their property and would like to plant a native buffer along their waterway are eligible for a free "buffer in a bag" to help get them started. Each bag includes 20 to 30 native tree and shrub bare-root seedlings, approximately 1 to 2 feet in height. Also included are fact sheets for each species of seedling, tree planting techniques and proper tree maintenance.

This year, the bags for Frederick County include 30 native seedlings, composed of pin oak, Eastern redbud, silky dogwood, baldcypress, elderberry and spicebush. Each of these species is well-suited to growing in moist areas and can bring their own unique benefits to a streamside buffer.

Pin oak offers an attractive fall foliar display and an acorn crop eaten by many game species. In early spring, Eastern redbud will bloom with very attractive pink to reddish-purple flowers that provide pollen for honeybees as well as nectar for hummingbirds and the Henry's elfin butterfly. Silky dogwood is a shrub species that will stabilize stream banks and produce fruit that feed many game and songbirds.

Baldcypress is a deciduous conifer that will turn a rust orange color in the fall before loosing its needles. It grows well in wet areas and can be very effective in slowing and filtering runoff, as well as reducing erosion. Its seeds are eaten by wild turkey, wood ducks, evening grosbeaks, squirrels, waterfowl and wading birds.

Elderberry, planted for erosion control, develops a fruit desired by both wildlife and people. The fruit, ripening through late July into September, are eaten by as many as 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, small mammals, and white-tail deer. The fruit can also be used in making pies, jellies and wine. Spicebush can feed over 20 species of birds, white-tail deer, rabbits, raccoons and opossums. It is also sought out by the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly as a place to lay its eggs.

Frederick County residents interested in participating in the program can contact Melissa Stevens with the Maryland DNR Forest Service at 301-791-4010. If you need assistance with planting due to a disability, contact the Maryland Forest Service at 301-791-4010.

Nathan Markline, of the DNR Forest Service, contributed this article.

Nature Notes for 4/15/2012