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. Streamside landowners should watch for a brochure in the mail in early Spring 2022.

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 and/or these videos (video 1 and video 2) on live stakes, depending on whether you wish to receive seedlings or live stakes (see more information below on choosing which is right for you).

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

Registration has now filled for the 2022 Rocky River Backyard Buffers Program: please sign up for the Rocky River Watershed Council's newsletter here to be informed of any future seedling giveaways.


Bare root seedlings are transplants with roots attached, between 18-36 inches high, that can be planted in small holes - do not mound dirt up around the seedling. Plant them within 15 feet of the stream and at least 5 feet apart (3 ft for shrub species) - see Picture 2 above for an example. With protection from deer and regular watering during drought, these seedlings will grow fast!

Live stakes are cuttings of species that thrive very close to the stream and help stabilize streambanks. These need to be planted where the stream meets the banks of small streams. They will sprout roots and grow into mature plants that can provide more live stakes once branches are 1-2 inches thick. See Pictures 5 & 6 above for an example of what kind of area live stakes should be planted in. Do not add cages or netting since the live stakes are located too close to the stream and these will be washed away. You must make a pilot hole with rebar or a garden stake, then insert the live stake into the hole - the hole should be at least half as deep as the plant. Stakes should be 1-2 feet apart from another.

Not sure whether to choose lives stakes or seedlings? Check out Picture 6 above for examples and compare to what's on your stream. You may opt to receive a mixture of both!

You may want to purchase additional seedlings or live stakes - they can be purchased quite affordably from nurseries, and erosion control projects are most successful when the entire stream bank is planted. Each participant will receive 10-25 seedlings/live stakes, as 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 out from each side of the stream.

Species will include:

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


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

Cuyahoga SWCD is an equal opportunity employer and provider. There shall be no discrimination exercised against any person because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation, sexual identity, genetic information, political affiliation, or military/veteran status when fulfililng the purpose of this engagement.


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