How would you like to be paid to improve the landscaping on your own property? Grants from the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP) - available for both private and community properties in most jurisdictions – do just that.
Although lawns may look natural, in fact they cause trouble for the environment. The streams of Northern Virginia, and ultimately our drinking water and the Chesapeake Bay, have been seriously degraded by storm water rushing off of impervious surfaces. Buildings, roads, and parking lots are the first problem, but lawns are not much better at slowing down the flow of water. This concern is so great that the state of Virginia offers 75% matching grants for a variety of storm water retention projects, including simply replacing lawn with conservation landscaping using native plants. Since turf grasses are non-native plants that provide no sustenance to wildlife, replacing some of it with native plants has the additional benefit of turning our properties into wildlife sanctuaries.
There is no telling how long these grants will last, and the process takes several months, so it would be wise to look into it soon for a spring planting. Plant NOVA Natives has details about the grant programs and practical advice about working with native plants. The results can be spectacular. Herndon Friends Meeting just installed conservation landscaping, partly thanks to a $3500 grant. There is still enough lawn for the kids to run around, but soon they will be joined by butterflies and birds enjoying the habitat as well.
The Soil and Water Conservation Districts that coordinate the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program encourage you to submit a site visit request and/or application. They also want to make sure you know that conservation landscapes and other VCAP projects require a 10-year maintenance agreement, and that funding is available on a cost-share, reimbursement basis. Some jurisdictions such as Arlington have their own, somewhat different versions of this program.