Maryland Critical Areas, Landscaping & Your Home – What You Need to Know.

critial areas in maryland and what you need to know about landscaping and your home

Are you looking to buy a gorgeous waterfront property or invest in and flip something along the Chesapeake Bay? If so, you likely have questions about critical areas in Maryland, specifically what you can and cannot do when it comes to landscaping and natural vegetation.

Let’s face it, part of the experience of living on the water is the view, and this guide to real estate and Maryland critical areas will help answer your questions.

Before we jump in, it’s important to understand what constitutes a critical area in Maryland. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, a critical area is considered to be land “within 1,000 feet of Maryland’s tidal waters and tidal wetlands.” This includes property that exists along some of Maryland’s most famous waterways, like the Chesapeake Bay.

Note: If you have your eye on a Maryland property, then you’ll need to determine if it’s protected under the Critical Area Program. To do so, you can contact the Planning and Zoning office for the jurisdiction in which you plan to build. Physical maps of Critical Area Program land should be available in the office, though many jurisdictions now offer electronic maps online. For instance, if you’re considering investing in property in Annapolis, you can review the critical land map for Annapolis on the government’s website.

However, we also recommend that you contact the title company to find the most recent boundaries and line surveys. They can help you locate information specifically relevant to building within the Critical Areas of Maryland.

Often times, you can still build and invest in property within a Critical Area, but you will need to adhere to some rules and regulations, many of which have to do with buffers.

Buffers, which are often composed of shrubs, plants, and trees, help to minimize the impact that man-made structures, like buildings and paved areas, have on the Critical Area. Buffers are adjacent to the critical area land and typically at least 100 feet wide, though some can be 300-ft or more. In this case, it’s also helpful to contact a title company to determine the width requirements of a Critical Area buffer as it relates to your property.

When you build or invest in a property in a Critical Area of Maryland, it’s important to make sure you meet all the local and state requirements. Here are some common questions and concerns that home buyers and real estate investors frequently have when it comes to Critical Area requirements as they relate to building and landscaping.

Can I remove a tree if it blocks my view of the water?

If the tree is not located in a buffer zone and you plan to plant new trees, you can typically remove a tree after requesting approval from the local planning office. If the tree is in the buffer zone and otherwise healthy, it cannot be removed.

The laws and rules about removing trees include

Trees are often protected under Critical Area guidelines. As such, it’s important to understand what types of trees and circumstances allow for removal.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  •  If the tree is located in a buffer zone, you can only remove it if it’s dying, diseased, dead, or otherwise creating a hazard to the property or people around it.
  • If you plan on removing a tree, or any type of vegetation, you will need to devise a Buffer Management Plan.
  • If removing a healthy tree, you typically will be required to replant another one. If the tree is dead, you do not need to replace it.
  • If removing five or more trees, you may need to schedule a visit from the local government.

What types of plants am I required to plant when building structures?

Whether you’re voluntarily planting or doing so as part of a Buffer Management Plan or shore erosion control plan, you must use native plants. These include a variety of ferns (Northern Lady, Rattlesnake, hay-scented, swamp, et.), various types of grass (dune grass, American beachgrass, broomsedge, etc.), and flowering or herbaceous plants (foxglove, butterfly flower, nodding bur marigold, wild geranium, etc.)

For a full list of Critical Area Buffer planting guidelines, including those in Annapolis, Maryland, you can contact the Critical Area Commission or review their Critical Area Buffer Resource Guide.

Can I remove weeds and other unwanted or invasive plants?

Invasive plants are considered those that can cause economic or environmental harm in Critical Areas. Typically, property owners can remove invasive species. These include English Ivy, HoneySuckle, Water Chestnuts, Hydrilla, Bog Bulrush, Bamboos, Wavyleaf Basketgrass, and a number of other plants, grasses, and weeds. 

For a complete list of invasive species, you can consult the Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas, published by the National Park Service U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Is mowing your lawn in critical areas allowed?

Though there are several restrictions regarding what you can and cannot cut down or remove from a Critical Area in Annapolis and other parts of Maryland, mowing your lawn is allowed.

Can I spray pesticides to protect plants and my garden?

Herbicides can be used to protect plants and remove unwanted, invasive plants, but efforts must be manually applied. In addition, efforts should be targeted to the individual species in question and efforts to protect native species must be made.

How do I get a permit or approval to remove a tree?

If you need to remove a tree in a Critical Area in Annapolis or another part of Maryland, then you must apply for a permit for removal within the jurisdiction in which the property is located. Typically, these permits can be obtained through your local inspections and permits department or the planning and zoning department. For instance, to remove a tree in a Critical Area in Annapolis, you could contact file a permit with the Annapolis Department of Planning and Zoning.

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