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Trees for Tribs

2023 Buffer in a Bag update: We are no longer accepting applications for the 2023 program. Thank you for your interest!

DEC's Trees for Tribs is a statewide program that has been working to reforest New York's tributaries - small creeks and streams that flow into larger rivers and lakes - by planting trees and shrubs along these waterways. The program's goal is to create or improve riparian (streamside) buffers that decrease erosion, reduce flooding damage, improve wildlife and stream habitat, and protect water quality.

The Importance of Streamside Buffers

Aerial view of a river with trees growing along the water
Example of a treed buffer along a river

Vegetation, such as trees, shrubs, and grasses along waterways creates a natural buffer that protects the water and provides many benefits. An established streamside buffer:

  • slows down and filters run off, preventing pollutants from getting into the water;
  • intercepts and slows water from heavy rains, reducing the instances of flooding,
  • shades streams, creating cooler temperature conditions to support fish species such as trout;
  • holds soil in place, preventing streambanks from eroding away during heavy rains; and
  • provides food and habitat for invertebrates, fish and other wildlife.

To find out more about stream buffers and their benefits, check out our stream buffer fact sheet.

Buffer in a Bag

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. Tree and shrub seedlings are provided by the Colonel William F. Fox Saratoga Memorial Tree Nursery. As of April 3, we have reached the maximum number of applicants and are no longer accepting new applications for the 2023 program. Thank you for your interest.

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. Planting along a pond may be allowed if you can provide photo evidence of a natural outlet.
  • 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

The application period for 2023 has now closed. When the application period opens again in 2024, links to the paper and online application forms will be available on this webpage. Begin the (preferred method) online application process here or fill out and submit an application (PDF), along with the required attachments, via email. You may also request a paper application be mailed to you by emailing or calling (518) 402-9405.

Paper applications can be mailed to: Trees for Tribs Coordinator, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-4250.

Please note:

  • Applications must include one of the following:
    • A map of the property with the planting location 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 of 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).
  • We strongly encourage applicants to provide an active email address so that they may receive timely communications regarding missing application information.
  • Be sure to 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, you may email us at or call the Trees for Tribs program at (518) 402-9405.

What is Included

Man unwrapping paper bage with seedlings inside
Program participants will receive
paper bags containing the seedlings in the mail.

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 tall. This year's species* are wetland rose, pussy willow, ninebark, silky dogwood, and black oak. Please note that bare-root trees do not come with soil around their roots, they may even appear as "just twigs with roots," but with a bit of care they will grow to be tall and mighty!

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

Planting Guidance

Accepted participants will receive supporting materials including a Planting and Maintenance Guide (PDF), 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, you can store them in the refrigerator or a cool basement (38 - 48°F) for up to a week. Just don't let the roots dry out.

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

Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs

The Hudson River Estuary Program supports streamside plantings in the Hudson Valley. Owners or managers of properties near streams in the Hudson Estuary Watershed may apply for assistance for planting projects. Learn more about Hudson Estuary Trees for Tribs.

Other New York State Organizations that Support Riparian Plantings

The links below each leave DEC's website.

Support Tree Planting

click to donate to help plant trees

If you are not able to plant trees, you can still take part in reforesting our streams and forests by donating to support tree plantings across New York State for the future of our natural resources. Simply click the Donate to Help Plant Trees button to the right (leaves DEC's website) to make your donation today.

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