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Fairlington HOAs Come Together to Create Expansive Area Featuring Native and Pollinator-friendly Plants, Shrubs and Trees

In February landscape committees from six HOAs in the Fairlington community came together to pursue a common goal of planting native perennials, shrubs and trees and pollinator-friendly plants to create an extensive area to benefit bees, butterflies and birds and support biodiversity. The HOAs focus on beautification of the landscape, balancing recreational uses of grounds with the importance of sustainability, and the cost effectiveness of more effective storm water management.


Fairlington is a 322-acre park-like residential area along either side of I-395 in south Arlington County and has a population of 22,000.  Some areas are hilly and wooded, while others are more open and meadow-like. There are several micro-climates. Fairlington is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.  


While some of the associations have already implemented a native plants program, the idea is to encourage other associations to do so, thus creating a large eco-system that will be more beneficial than small pockets of natives.  The group shares plants, ideas, resources and experiences and collaborates on ways to achieve this goal. 

In addition to planting for seasonal interest, the program also includes providing food sources for early-arriving pollinators, nesting places and winter habitats and food sources for insects on which birds depend for successful egg laying and feeding of chicks.


Anne Wilson, Master Gardener and member of the Fairlington Villages HOA Grounds Committee, said, 

“People are becoming more aware that sustainable landscaping, which includes planting more native trees, shrubs and plants; effective storm water management and reduction of the use of pesticides; has environmental, economic and health benefits. Native plants are important because they have evolved over millennia with local birds and insects that rely on them for food, shelter, and host plants on which to lay eggs. They are adapted to local conditions—heat, rainfall, and humidity—so they are less in need of tender care and maintenance.  Doug Tallamy, currently professor and chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware Newark, and leading voice in the importance of sustainable landscaping, says that a single white oak tree can support more than 500 species of moths and butterflies. All Fairlington is already recognized as a leader in HOA practices that reduce pollution, sustain tree canopy, and protect the environment while also reducing maintenance costs.”


She added that Arlington County has recognized Fairlington associations for their early adoption of rain gardens. Fairlington Villages is the first HOA to receive an Audubon at Home Wildlife Sanctuary Certification. “I believe that both, as well as the citing of Fairlington as a good example of an "urban forest" in the Remarkable Trees of Virginia book by Nancy Ross Hugo and Jeff Kirwan demonstrate our forward thinking.” 

Installing More Native Plants

Fairlington Arbor implemented a native plants program last year and will be adding more native and pollinator-friendly plants this season.  Arbor Green Thumbs Committee member and Master Gardener Intern Leslie Cameron said, “As we have increased the number of native plants and made our landscape practices more sustainable, we are supporting more butterflies, bees, and other pollinators as well as other insects and the birds that need insects to survive.  Expanding the area of native plants to all of Fairlington will be even more beneficial.” Another Arbor resident added, “We are even seeing more hummingbirds.” The Arbor also recently launched efforts to attract and benefit monarch butterflies, which are rapidly declining.  Arlington is on the monarch migratory route.


The Arbor does not remove spent stalks in the winter so they can serve as year round habitats for wintering insects and birds.  Anticipating potential pushback from some residents used to the “cleaned-up for winter look,” the Arbor launched a program to educate residents on the benefits of leaving stalks and posted artistic professional photos of stalks and seedpods in winter on their garden committee’s Facebook page, Fairlington Arbor Gardening and Grounds.  No complaints have been received. They invite everyone to follow their page.  


Reducing Use of Fertilizer and Pesticides (Includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) and Removing Invasives

All of the associations are adapting more of the Integrated Pest Management best practices being endorsed by the Chesapeake Bay Conservancy.  Some of the HOAs do not use any herbicides, while others use organic applications. Others are moving away from herbicides by restricting their use and prohibiting the use of certain chemicals, such as Roundup.  The group is also working to remove invasive plants from the area and is including invasive plant control and/or eradication in multi-year planning.


Preserving and Expanding Tree Canopy

Trees are a vital component of the Fairlington eco-system, which has many old-growth oaks, native maples, cedars, and sycamores, several of which are designated as “A Notable Tree” by Arlington County. Many of the associations participate in the Arlington County Tree Canopy program that provides free native trees.   Members of the group emphasized the tens of thousands dollars the associations have saved by planting free trees from the program.  


Improving Storm Water Management

Several of the HOAs have implemented practices to mitigate storm water runoff.  Fairlington, like all of Arlington County, is included in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Taking advantage of the County’s StormwaterWise Program that reimburses a portion of the costs to install measures to control runoff, associations have installed rain gardens and other conservation landscaping methods. Fairlington Villages has installed eight rain gardens, The Arbor also has installed a rain garden and conservation measures to control erosion.  Jo Ann Mills, chair of Fairlington Commons Grounds Committee stated, “For three years, Fairlington Commons has received matching grants from Arlington County through the StormwaterWise program to slow water runoff and prevent erosion on steep hillsides along South Utah Street by planting native plants.  The resulting natural setting, which includes perennial flowers, shrubs, and trees, provides food for pollinators and birds, beauty for the residents, reduced maintenance, and reduced risk of flooding sidewalks and homes downhill -- all while providing for reduced or slow runoff of storm water to Four Mile Run and meeting County requirements under the Chesapeake Bay agreement.”


Controlling Ticks and Mosquitos

The combined group is also taking measures to control mosquitos and ticks. The group worked with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia and the Fairlington Citizens Association to sponsor a recent talk by Master Gardener Joan McIntyre who discussed the increasing worldwide decline of insect and bird populations, mosquito and tick myths and ways residents can mitigate mosquitos and ticks without relying on pesticides.  


Expanding Public Education

To educate Fairlington residents about native plants and pollinators, the group is planning a variety of guided and self-guided walking tours and programs, including one designed for children.  

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