Our ten-week, self-directed course can help you better manage your natural areas.

The Woods in Your Backyard online course provides property owners and managers the skills, advice, and techniques found in our traditional evening or weekend workshops, with the convenience of self-directed online learning.

Click here for a preview of the course.

From a course participant:

Since participating in the course "The Woods in Your Backyard" I am really looking at our four acres and the responsibility of taking care of it differently. My husband and I, through discussions about what I have learned, have moved from reactive to proactive land care. Rather than having the grass mowed each week and letting nature take its course with our trees and shrubs, we have become active in removing invasive vines and weeds, transplanting native seedlings, and have a solid plan of what we would like to see happen with our property.

- Christine M., Maryland

Since the publication of the first edition of The Woods in Your Backyard: Learning to Create and Enhance Natural Areas Around Your Home in 2006, thousands of property owners in the Mid-Atlantic region have purchased the guide and attended workshops to learn more about caring for the natural habitats on their land. The guide is now in its second edition; to learn more about the latest edition and to order, please go here.

The University of Maryland Extension now offers the guide’s materials and activities, and much more, as an online course. The self-paced, self-directed, non-credit course allows you to work from home without the constraints of in-person workshops or online class times, because the materials are accessible any time. The course is built on a cross-platform, cloud-based learning management system called Canvas, so it is equally accessible to users of Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. Please note that Canvas is optimized for desktop displays, so viewing the course content on smaller devices (such as tablets or iPads) or on mobile phones may less effective. See the Canvas Guide document, "Which browsers does Canvas support?"

The course promotes the stewardship of small parcels of land for the personal enjoyment of the owners, and improved environmental quality for society. If you own 1 to 10 acres in the Eastern United States that is forested or has unmowed natural areas, this course is for you. It is for you if you have a mowed lawn area that you want to turn into a woodland. It is also for you if you are a land manager or part of a group that manages natural areas, such as a preserve or a community woodland.

  • The Maryland State Master Gardener Office approves "The Woods in Your Backyard" online course to meet the Master Gardener continuing education requirement.
  • The Maryland State Master Naturalist Office sanctions "The Woods in Your Backyard" to meet the Master Naturalist continuing education requirement, pending approval by their Program Facilitator.


Watch three sample videos from the course:

Before & After: Converting Lawn to Edge Habitat (1 minute)

Explore a property in Baltimore County, MD that has used practices from "The Woods in Your Backyard" to create new wildlife habitat.

Managing Grapevines (1.5 minutes)

Jonathan Kays, Extension Forester, University of Maryland Extension, chats with Paul F. about managing grapevines on his property.

Basal Herbicide Treatment (3 minutes)

With Jonathan Kays, Extension Forester, University of Maryland Extension

The online course includes ...

Sections of readings assembled into five thematically-related modules that parallel the printed The Woods in Your Backyard guide.

Activities that can be completed on line via downloadable Portable Document Format (PDF) files, or via the Workbook.

Quizzes that assess understanding of the topics presented, and short videos that introduce you to fellow woodland owners and illustrate key topics and techniques.

Examples from three case families that will offer different perspectives on natural area projects, plus excerpts from one family's "Stewardship Journal" that documents their natural area projects and thoughts about their land over the years.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Online Course

Who can enroll?

Anyone. The course is primarily designed for landowners with 1-10 acres, but can be beneficial for other interested individuals, such as

  • individuals who are planning to purchase such property in the foreseeable future (for retirement, investment, etc.),
  • owners of larger properties interested in concentrating on learning how to apply the course's techniques to portions of their land,
  • managers of property that includes woodlands or natural areas,
  • individuals or groups that manage natural areas, such as local parks or community areas, or
  • individuals who choose to "adopt" a natural area near their home as a study area.

Although the course is designed for ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic region, many of the practices can be applied across North America.  

Are there any prerequisites?

No. However, you will need access to the natural areas you will be studying for many of the activities, including identifying plant communities (primarily trees and shrubs, and invasive plant species), investigating tree canopy cover, and more. You may also need access to create a map of the area, which is a course requirement.

It is helpful but not essential to have a few basic computer skills, including working with and completing Portable Digital Format (PDF) files, for completing the required activities. The course provides alternative submission methods for each activity.

When is the course offered?

The Woods in Your Backyard online course is offered twice a year. Each session is ten weeks. The Spring session runs from early April to mid-June. The Fall session runs from late August/early September to early November. 

How much does the course cost?

The registration fee is $145.00. The registration fee covers all the materials and access needed for the course, including The Woods in Your Backyard: Learning to Create and Enhance Natural Areas Around Your Home, 2nd editionThe Woods in Your Backyard WorkbookCommon Native Trees of Virginia Tree Identification Guide.

Do you accept credit cards?

Registration for the course is handled through Eventbrite. Eventbrite handles major credit cards. If you have any questions, please contact course coordinator Andrew Kling at akling1@umd.edu.

Where do I send the registration fee when enrolling by mail?

To register by mail, provide your name, mailing address, delivery address if PO Box, email address, and phone number. Please mail the registration form, along with your registration fee made out to University of Maryland, to:

                  WIYB Online
                  Attn: Pam Thomas
                  University of Maryland Extension
                  Western Maryland Research and Education Center
                  18330 Keedysville Rd
                  Keedysville, MD 21756

What information is covered by the course?

This is a basic course that touches on a variety of practices related to land care practices, including:

  • Conversion from lawn to woodland
  • Principles of succession
  • Principles of forestry
  • Property mapping & inventory
  • Creating a project timetable

How is the information presented?

The information is presented in a self-paced, self-directed electronic format through the Canvas learning management service. The course consists of 23 sections in five modules. The content also includes 16 mandatory and 2 optional activities that can be completed and submitted electronically, or via alternative methods.

The course also includes three case studies, four appendices, a glossary, and a list of resources. Short videos throughout the course illustrate important concepts.

Each module is followed by a quiz, which is submitted and graded electronically.

How long does the course take to complete?

Participants are encouraged to complete the course work in approximately ten weeks.

How long does it take to complete a section or a module?

The sections and modules vary in length. Some sections can be read in a few minutes; others will take up to 30 minutes. Viewing videos takes additional time. View the course preview for a more in-depth timeline.

How do I know if I am falling behind or when to submit my activities?

It is important to remember that this is a self-paced, self-directed course. There are no hard-and-fast deadlines for each section and/or module. The Canvas course includes both a syllabus and calendar to assist participants with managing their time. The coordinator provides weekly reminders of the progress of the course schedule.  Participants can contact the coordinator whenever they need assistance. Refer to the "What if I need help?" accordion item below.

Can you earn college credit for this course?

No. This is a non-credit course. Quizzes are not graded, but checked for accuracy. Upon completing the work successfully, participants receive a certificate of completion.

Who sponsors The Woods in Your Backyard online course?

The course is sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension's Woodland Stewardship Education program.

Are there classes held at a university or other location?

No. There are no formal classes. Participants work from the convenience of their home and correspond with the instructor through the postal service, electronic mail, telephone, or some other delivery service.

What if I need help? Where do I get assistance?

The course coordinator is available to answer questions, check your answers for accuracy, and provide comments and guidance. The coordinator is also available by phone, mail, or email, although email is usually best. Feel free to contact the instructor anytime you have questions or concerns. Contact information is provided upon registration.

Can I get the materials for future reference?

Participants receive the printed materials upon registration. Because the land care practices suggested in the course may take several years to implement, the printed guide will serve as a future reference.

Where can I get more information about University of Maryland Extension or The Woods in Your Backyard Course?

For more information, visit the University of Maryland Extension web site. For more information about the course, contact Andrew Kling at the University of Maryland Extension Western Maryland Research & Education Center by email: akling1@umd.edu.