Department of Environmental Conservation

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Buffer in a Bag

Applications are now being accepted through April 12, 2021.

Watch our Buffer In A Bag Celebration and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

The Buffer in a Bag program provides organizations and private landowners with free tree and shrub seedlings to help establish, or improve, a stream buffer on their property. Plantings alongside waterbodies create wildlife habitat and improve water quality. To find out more about stream buffers and their benefits, check out our stream buffer fact sheet.

Woman by stream installs tree tubes around seedlings
We recommend using tree protection such
as tree tubes when planting seedlings

Who is Eligible

Anyone who owns or manages land in New York State with at least 50 feet along a stream or waterbody, is eligible to receive a free bag of seedlings. Organizations or individuals with permission to plant on a given property with stream or waterbody access may also participate. Applicants are limited to one bag per property, but previous participants are encouraged to apply each year to continue to grow their stream buffer.

Program Requirements

  • Seedlings must be planted within a riparian area (along the bank of a river, creek, or stream or shore of a lake). This can include areas within a floodplain or within 300 feet of a stream. No road, structure, stormwater pond, drainage ditch, or other constructed feature should separate the planting area from the waterbody.
  • Recipients must submit photos of the area after the seedlings have been planted.
  • Recipients must agree to care for the seedlings for the first several years, until they are well established.

Participants will be asked to provide information on the seedlings' condition, as well as photos of the planting site, at the five-year mark.

How to Apply

Submit a Buffer in a Bag application (PDF) with all required documentation to TreesForTribs@dec.ny.gov (emailed applications are preferred) or via mail to:

NYSDEC, Division of Lands and Forests
Attn: Trees for Tribs Coordinator
625 Broadway, 5th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-4253

  • All applications must be submitted by 4/12/2021.
  • Applications must include one of the following:
    • a map of your planting site with the location of the planting marked. Instructions are available to help you screenshot your planting site (PDF) on Google Maps, Or
    • photos of the planting area with the waterbody included.

Whether including a map or photos, GPS coordinates for your site are strongly encouraged but not required. Instructions are available to help you find your site's GPS coordinates (PDF).

  • Providing an active email address is strongly encouraged to receive timely communications regarding missing information.
  • Please check that all fields of the application are completed before submitting your application. Recipients are selected on a first-come, first-served basis, and an incomplete application will decrease your chances of receiving the free seedlings.

If you have questions, please email TreesForTribs@dec.ny.gov or call the Trees for Tribs program at (518) 402-9405.

What is Included

Man opens box containing bag of seedlings
The bags of seedlings are shipped to
program participants

Buffer in a Bag kits will be sent to selected applicants starting in late April to early May. Each bag includes 25 bare-root, native tree and shrub seedlings that are well-suited to streamside conditions. The seedlings are approximately 1 to 2 feet in height. The species selected for the 2021 packets include* red oak, ninebark, winterberry, silky dogwood, and witch hazel.

*Species selection is subject to changes based on availability and number of applicants.

Planting Guidance

Each bag also comes with supporting materials including a Planting and Maintenance Guide, and planting layout instructions (PDF). Proper seedling placement and maintenance is essential for seedling survival and these materials will help you ensure that your trees and shrubs get off to a good start. If seedlings cannot be planted right away, they should be put into cold storage within one day of being received.

For additional tree planting guidance and resources, see our How to Plant a Tree webpage.