Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Contour Buffer Strips

Learn about contour buffer strips, including primary Field Office Technical Guide practices, primary purposes, key design elements, and tree/shrub species requirements.


Plantings consisting of tree/shrub rows on the contour or cross-slope, and at multiples of the widest field equipment width. Tree or shrub strips typically consist of two or more rows to insure adequate root density and litter production, and are usually planted in conjunction with strips of herbaceous vegetation.

Some Primary FOTG Practices for this System

  • Contour Buffer Strips (332)
  • Filter Strip (393), Conservation Crop Rotation (328)
  • Stripcropping, Contour (585), Contour Farming (330)
  • Residue Management (329, 344)
  • Diversion (362), Terrace (600), Grassed Waterway (412)
  • Access Control (472)
  • Mulching (484)
  • Irrigation System (441), Irrigation Water Management (449)
  • Nutrient Management (590), Pest Management (595)

Primary Purposes

Reduce sheet and rill water erosion, increase sediment deposition and convey excess water at a controlled grade.

Key Design Elements

Barriers of closely spaced trees/shrubs planted at intervals across the slope or on the contour and configured parallel with one another as practicable. Intervals are wide enough to allow sufficient light to agronomic crops between the strips. The spacing between barriers should be in multiples of the widest field equipment width and must not exceed the computations of spacings for constructed terraces (see Terrace, 600, in the FOTG or NHCP). Typically, suitable herbaceous vegetation is planted as part of the strip to the uphill side of the woody vegetation.

Tree/Shrub Species Requirements

  • Adapted to the soil and climate of the planting site.
  • Resistance to pests and herbicides.
  • Tolerant of sediment deposition and pollutant-laden runoff
  • Fast-growing and dispersed root system.