Plant Urban Riparian Forest Buffers

Trees and Shrubs to Protect Water Quality

Read about riparian forest buffers and how trees and shrubs protect water quality.

Forest Buffers in Urban Areas

Since early colonization in Virginia, settlement has clustered along waterfronts and many of these areas have grown into our major metropolitan centers today. Removal of streamside vegetation for changing land uses and infrastructure development has reduced the natural filtration of streams and other bodies of water. Many urban waterways have lost benefits for wildlife and passive recreation for people.

Local governments are faced with the challenge of planning riverfront re-development with residential, commercial, and industrial sites for economic growth, while also creating better river function for flood control and water supply. To achieve these goals, riparian buffers of trees, shrubs, grasses, and perennial ground covers can be restored along the rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and other natural or man-made water features in developed areas.

To support clean water and healthy communities, VDOF provides support to establish these riparian buffers, including project coordination, technical assistance, education, professional development, academic program support, and grants for specific projects.

Benefits of Urban Riparian Forest Buffers

Urbanization has adverse effects on the landscape, but the inherent benefits of riparian buffers can offset many of the effects of development.

  • Social Benefits: includes (but not limited to) shade, clean air, clean water, community revitalization, community health and well-being, business district enhancement, and general aesthetics of the corridor.
  • Recreation: camping, nature study, photography, hunting, and fishing.
  • Stormwater Management: attained through riparian buffer function, including nutrient processing, pollutants trapping, and sediment storage.
  • Wildlife Support: support natural predators of rodents and other pests, protect fish and wildlife habitat, and provide corridors for urban wildlife breeding and travel.
  • Air and Water Quality: carbon sequestration in riparian forest buffers improves air quality; nitrogen and phosphorous pollutant reduction improves water quality.
  • Economic Benefits: includes flood protection, reduced soil erosion, protection of public drinking water supplies, and tourism opportunities.

Planting Urban Forest Buffers

Establishing new riparian buffers on open land where they don’t currently exist, or expanding existing buffers provide many benefits described previously. Riparian forest buffer species include trees and shrubs adapted to tolerate periodic flooding and saturated soils.

VDOF Seedling Nurseries grow riparian tree species for sale in our seedling store.

VDOF provides assistance to landowners and communities in planning how best to establish a buffer. Steps often include getting the land ready (preparation), planting trees or ensuring natural seeding of new trees, and follow-up.


Get help with planting riparian forest buffers.

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Additional Resources

ImageTitleIDDescriptionContent Typedocument-category_hfilter
Forests and Water - Get the Most Out of Your Land
Forests and Water – Get the Most Out of Your LandP00211

Publication is directed to landowners to educate about forest buffers, stream water quality, watersheds, riparian buffer tax credit program and other programs that can assist. Printed copies available.

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Riparian Buffer Implementation Plan 2006-2010
Riparian Buffer Implementation Plan 2006-2010

Report provides details of the implementation plan to support the Virginia Riparian Buffer Initiative.

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Riparian Buffers Tax Credit
Riparian Buffers Tax CreditP00123

Brochure described the Riparian Buffers Tax Credit program, including who is eligible, how to sign up, application requirements, application approval, Buffer specifications, noncompliance, and inspections. Printed copies available.

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Riparian Forest Buffers - Forests on the Water's Edge
Riparian Forest Buffers – Forests on the Water’s EdgeP00140

Publication is the effort of the Chesapeake Bay Program, including multiple states within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, to educate the community leaders and the public about the benefits of riparian forest Buffers, their importance to watersheds for air quality, water quality and fish and wildlife habitat, forest Buffer losses and how we manage growth in riparian zones, how to maintain quality riparian forest Buffers, efforts in riparian forest restoration, and what you can do for forest Buffers. Printed copies available.

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Riparian Forest Handbook 1 - Appreciating and Evaluating Stream Side Forests
Riparian Forest Handbook 1 – Appreciating and Evaluating Stream Side ForestsNo #

Handbook is a valuable resource describing why riparian forests are important, evaluating the health of your riparian buffer, and determining how to restore your riparian forests.

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Virginia's Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality - Field Guide
Virginia’s Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality – Field GuideP00134

Technical field guide provides a convenient pocket instruction guide for timber harvesters to protect water quality when harvesting timber and comply with applicable laws. Printed copies available.

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Virginia's Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality - Technical Guide - Fifth Edition
Virginia’s Forestry Best Management Practices for Water Quality – Technical Guide – Fifth EditionP00104

Technical guide provides detailed instruction for timber harvesters to protect water quality when harvesting timber and comply with applicable laws. Printed copies available.

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Why Plant Forest Buffer? - Planting Riparian Forest Buffer is Real Forestry
Why Plant Forest Buffer? – Planting Riparian Forest Buffer is Real ForestryFT0013

Forestry topic information sheet emphasizes the importance of riparian Buffers to protect waterways, including what are riparian Buffers, riparian Buffer implementation, and cost-share programs available, such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

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A variety of financial assistance programs are available through VDOF and partner agencies for forest management activities to help protect water quality.

Explore All Financial Assistance Programs


Contact Us

Your local VDOF forester can provide guidance with planting riparian forest buffers. Contact your local VDOF forester.

For more information or questions, e-mail us or use our contact form.