MD: Successful county turf-to-trees programs

Story by Brittany Haas, MD Forests Project Coordinator,
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Establishing a forest through planting trees has many environmental and property benefits. Trees are known to increase property value, reduce mowing, filter stormwater runoff, enhance wildlife habitat and improve air and water quality. Baltimore County and Frederick County are offering free reforestation programs aimed to plant trees on private and public land to help increase tree canopy and meet pollution reduction requirements.

Baltimore County’s Turf to Trees Program

Baltimore County is working toward the challenge of reducing the loss of forest land, replacing critical forest resources for watershed health, and engaging private rural landowners. The Turf to Trees program is helping Baltimore County overcome their resource challenges and reach their goal to plant 1,500 acres by 2025.

More than 28,000 parcels are considered rural residential in Baltimore County and about 7,150 of those acres are considered excess grass. Mowing large acres of grass is time-consuming, costly, and doesn’t offer many environmental benefits. Turf to Trees is a free rural residential reforestation program that offers private landowner’s an alternative to mowing and also creates wildlife habitat and helps to improve water quality.

Through this program, approximately 200 trees are planted per acre and container trees ranging from 3 – 5 gallons are typically used. Trees are planted in rows spaced 15’ x 15’ to make mowing and maintenance easier. Tree protection shelters and stakes are also included to protect trees from deer pressure. The County offers maintenance for the first 3 years and includes mowing, invasive control and shelter/stake upkeep.

To qualify for the program, you must be a rural private landowner in Baltimore County with 1 acre or more of open grass/ lawn area. Visit the program website for the most up to date information on Turf to Trees and other tree planting programs offered by the county.


Frederick County’s Creek ReLeaf Program

View from a driveway looking out past a lawn onto a hillside recently planted with trees.
This seven acre buffer, repurposed from an old orchard along Little Pipe Creek in eastern Frederick County, was a highlight of Stream ReLeaf’s BUBBA award. Photo courtesy Frederick County Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources.


In Frederick County, the Creek ReLeaf Program has been helping trees get planted on public and private land since 2017. The program also won second place for Best Urban BMP in the Bay Award (BUBBA) contest for habitat. The goal of this multi-year program is to provide stormwater control, reduce stream temperatures, and help generate  credits toward the county’s stormwater permit requirements.

Through this voluntary program, the county pays for landowners to reforest their land with 350 native trees/ shrubs and then put the reforested area into a permanent conservation easement. The program covers the cost of native trees and shrubs along with 5 years of maintenance. Performing maintenance on newly planted trees is extremely important for the survival of the trees and is a great perk offered through this program.

A minimum of two acres is required to participate in this program and the reforested area will be inspected triennially for compliance. The permanent easement is forever and conveys with inheritance or sale of the property, but forestry management and harvesting are okay with an approved plan as long as a minimum of 100 trees per acre are maintained. Visit the program website to learn more.

County program leaders gave in-depth presentations on each of these programs as part of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network’s webinar series – view the archived webcast here.