It may feel like the dead of winter this week but the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is looking forward to spring and giving away free trees to landowners who have a creek, drainage ditch, or stream on or near their property.

The free seedlings will be offered through the Backyard Buffers program.

The Backyard Buffers program endeavors to assist homeowners who have a waterway on or adjacent to their property to create a streamside buffer of native trees and shrubs.

A streamside buffer can create habitat for wildlife, reduce peak winter temperatures, and reduce the amount of sediment, fertilizer, and toxic materials that enter our waterways. Deep-rooted trees and shrubs can also stabilize streambanks, protecting them from erosion, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Trees and shrubs planted along waterways help improve water quality by absorbing excess nutrients, lowering peak water temperatures, reducing sediment, and stabilizing stream banks.

Each “buffer in a bag” contains approximately 25 native bare-root tree and shrub seedlings with species appropriate to their region.

Maryland Forest Service staff will provide information on tree maintenance and planting techniques, in addition to suggestions of other suitable native species at the time of pickup.

Quantities are limited so reservations will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Order deadlines, pickup dates, and partner organizations vary by county — a list of contacts and dates for participating locations is found on the department’s website.