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 Habitat-Friendly Landscaping for
Homeowners and Condo Associations

Homeowners associations have the opportunity to turn Northern Virginia into a place where humans and the environment thrive side by side, given the common land they manage, and the influence they have over landscaping practices by residents. It helps to start with a plan.

Your community's natural areas are a capital asset
that should appreciate over time but need to be maintained!

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See what others have accomplished in their HOAs and Condo Associations

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Every community has its own needs and aesthetic standards. If yours is not ready to take on a big review, consider starting with a smaller project, such as

  • Stop mulching unused areas - let fallen leaves take over and save a lot of money.

  • Set aside separate wildlife corridors where all you do is manage invasive plants, and create a management plan.

  • Create a tree care and replacement plan.

  • Choose a less visible area of lawn to reduce chemical applications.

  • Plant more trees. You can get seedlings for free!

  • Create a buffer zone along a stream edge.

Preservation or Restoration?

If your community was clear cut and consists primarily of lawn and conventional landscaping, your task is restoration of habitat.

But if your community is heavily wooded, a top priority should be preservation of the native plants and natural habitat that is there. Once biodiversity is lost, it cannot be fully recovered.

The ideal community association guidelines would include these elements:

  1. Use only species native to our area for new plantings on community property.

  2. Put a multi-year plan in place to control and, when possible, eradicate existing invasive plants.

  3. Only use insecticides on community property if there is a hazard that needs to be addressed.

  4. If necessary, revise HOA rules for private properties to encourage the use of natural landscaping.

  5. Reduce use of fertilizer and other pesticides. *

  6. Reduce area covered by lawn grass.

  7. Maintain or create stream and lake buffers.

  8. Support birds and other wildlife by encouraging residents to keep cats indoors.

  9. Encourage everyone to guard against human-made hazards like window collision, light and noise pollution, and pest bait.

*The term ‘pesticide’ includes insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides

The strategic approach - create a multi-year plan


What are your goals?

  • Beautification

  • Maintaining or increasing property values

  • Recreation

  • Thriving local ecosystem

    • More native plants

    • Less use of chemicals

    • Controlling invasive species

    • Stormwater capture

    • Control of deer

  • Good tree canopy coverage

    • Beauty

    • Cooling

    • Reduced air conditioning and heating costs

  • Consistency in making and enforcing policies

  • Safe public spaces

  • Reasonable HOA fees


What problems could you solve with different landscaping practices?

  • Erosion

  • Loss of trees and other plants to invasive plants

  • Money wasted on plants that have to be replaced annually or that require pruning or chemical applications

  • Monotonous landscapes

  • Unimaginative neighborhood entranceways (see this page)

  • Heat island effect

  • Flooding

  • Unused lawns

  • Need for privacy screenings

  • Need for noise reduction

  • Need for shading a public bench or play area

  • Mowing where it is difficult or dangerous to do so (such as steep slopes, corners, next to walls), or where grass is not thriving (usually from lack of sun)

  • Deer browse

  • Unplanned paths because constructed paths are not in the right places

  • The developer installing invasive plants around new homes

  • Unsightly dog poop on turf grass

  • Paying for leaf blowing in areas that could actually benefit from having the leaves left in place

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 "Ask the Experts" videoconferences

Recordings of Symposiums for HOAs and Condo Associations

  • Sustainable solutions to landscaping headaches
    March 2020  |  Part I (Renee Grebe) |  Part II (Erik Fox)  |  Part III (Claudia Thompson-Deahl)



Making gardens interactive

Most gardens are designed like a work of art: people will glance at them, and a few will study the details, but most people just move on past. Butterflies alone do not fascinate as many people as you might hope. Making any garden interactive and attractive to kids will also make it more attractive to adults, since it turns out that almost all humans require more than the plants to want to linger in a space. A nearby example is Gaithersburg’s Constitution Gardens Park, with its Bird’s Nest Hill, stump scramble, hand carved animals, etc. Watch this video for inspiration.

Keep in mind 

Most HOAs are looking for a groomed, easy to maintain look. Learn about shrubs, trees and perennials that can satisfy their needs.

Our Landscaping for Institutions page is a great place to start.

Free consultations from the VA Dept of Forestry

Contact your local forester for a Neighborhood Forest Management Plan

or a Stand Plan (for smaller woodlots)

Education Package

Ideas for engaging and educating your neighbors.

What actions will be needed?

  • Motivated people on the landscaping committee and on the Board of Directors

  • Survey of what you have now

    • Which land is owned by the community, private residents and VDOT or public utilities?

    • Who is responsible for maintaining which areas?

    • Areas of good quality habitat

    • Invasive plant load

    • Problem issues (see above)

    • Contract terms between your community and the landscape provider

    • Create a committee - "common spaces, landscaping" to review the contract before it's approved

  • Education, buy-in from homeowners

    • Tree Rescuer program

    • Talks

    • Walks. Could include a walk led by a representative of the Soil and Water Conservation District to advise on erosion and stormwater management.

    • iNaturalist project for your neighborhood

    • Hometown Habitat showing

    • Newsletter

    • Demonstration garden (you will need a water source)

    • Interpretive signs

    • Working toward certification as a National Wildlife Federation “Certified Community Wildlife Habitat”

  • New policies

    • At least 90-100% of new plantings on common land to be native to Virginia

      • Specify requirement for Virginia native plants in your RFPs.​

      • Require plant lists to use full binomial scientific names.

      • Do not allow plant substitution without prior consultation.

    • No invasive plants installed on common lands

    • No broadcasting insecticides outdoors on common land (unless you need to address a specific hazard. Spraying for mosquitoes should only be done if the health department has determined there to be a high risk for disease transmission in your area.)

    • Other chemical applications minimized, used only in spots when indicated and no other alternatives are available

    • Definition of what constitutes natural landscaping on private property (as opposed to weeds). Click here for some helpful wording.

    • Suggested plant list

  • Tree plan

    • Replacement plan

    • Monitoring

    • Management schedule

    • Periodic reassessment

  • Woodland management plan (more details here)

    • Consider getting help developing a forest management plan from the Virginia Dept. of Forestry (free) or from a consulting forester​

    • Survey what you have - different stands

    • Invasive plan management

    • Start wtih invasive vines that can pull down trees

    • Move on to invasive plants such as Autumn Olive, Callery Pear, Tree-of-Heaven, Bush Honeysuckle and Multiflora Rose that take up space

    • Deer management

    • Management schedule

    • Periodic reassessment

  • Determination of opportunities to improve stormwater capture

  • Planting and hardscaping plans divided into reasonable chunks over several years

  • Maintenance plan - find details and a sample plan here

  • Invasive control plan (typically a five year plan). This should include early intervention for recently arrived invasives. Removing them at that stage may save thousands of dollars later.

  • Policies that encourage natural landscaping on private property. Note that voluntary guidance is the preferred route. You can only make things mandatory if your association's Enabling Document (Declaration) provides the Board with the authority to set landscaping standards. Changing the Declaration typically requires a supermajority of homeowners. A landscaping committee can create voluntary guidelines to be approved by the Board.)

  • For communities where more homes are planned - work with the developer.

  • Consider retrofitting stormwater facilities with native plants (talk to your government stormwater agency first). A simple rope fence can help prevent accidental mowing of naturalized areas.

  • Consider taking over the mowing responsibilities from companies such as pipeline companies that have easements on your property, to ensure that mowing is only done at the appropriate time of year.

  • Have a plan for dealing with fallen leaves that does not involve hauling them away or encroaching on public land. Piling them thickly in the woods smothers the ground layer of plants there. Leave them in place wherever possible. (They should be removed from hard surfaces - allowing them to go into the storm sewers causes environmental damage to streams.) Request that your mowing services use mulching lawn mowers to break down lawn clippings and leaves for a natural mulch that feeds the soil and eliminates the need for fertilizer. 

  • Add more plant layers to woodland copses:

    • Understory flowering trees as accents along the perimeter

    • Shrub groupings (native azalea and blueberry) and

    • Groundcover borders (sedges and ferns) would help to capture leaves and hide them in place reducing maintenance needed for removal and supplemental mulching.


A note about chemicals:

If hiring a lawn care or landscape company to manage your turf, make sure they can legally apply fertilizers and pesticides in Virginia.


Every paid applicator must be a Certified Fertilizer Applicator, Trained Applicator or a Nutrient Management Planner.


Every paid applicator must be a certified Pesticide Applicator or a Registered Technician AND work for a VA Dept of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS) registered business. (Volunteers who are completely unpaid do not have to be certified to use unrestricted herbicides.)

Community tree plantings

  • How to organize

  • Finding inexpensive trees


Organize your community to

participate in a composting programs.

Curbside pickup is available from these companies:

Taking down a

hazardous tree?

Find something to do with it other than sending it to the landfill or chipper.

Urban and Small Lot Forestry Business Directory

Some trees are protected

In certain situations, it is prohibited to cut down trees. Click here for details.

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Victim of a mulch volcano

Certified arborists

For an independent assessment, search for those whose services primarily include tree risk assessment, education, and witness.

Wording examples from our local jurisdictions

Fairfax County Natural Landscaping Manual. This document was written for county properties but contains many details relevant to HOAs.

Natural Landscaping at County facilities Comprehensive Plan wording.


City of Alexandria Landscape Guidelines. Reference to native plants and invasives starts on page 23.

Arlington revised weed ordinance (to no longer force people to cut down managed natural landscapes.)

Northern Virginia Regional Commission resolution on natural llandscaping.

Sample wording for policies for landscaping on private property

Wording examples
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