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Sample maintenance contract


Spring Clean-Up:

Prior to beginning seasonal mowing operations, but no later than first week of May:


Remove landscape debris that has accumulated over the preceding winter months, including litter, minor sticks and minor accumulations of leaves.


(Remove from the service site(s) sticks that are no smaller than the size of drumsticks and no larger than two (3) caliper inches in diameter. Smaller sticks and debris, such as acorns and other kinds of tree seeds and seed carriers, are not necessarily included. Mowing will be performed in such a manner as to avoid damage to turf grass, trees, shrubs, real property and personal property. Care to be taken to avoid rutting and other sorts of damage to slopes and swales. The CONTRACTOR is expected to use sound judgment in matching the proper equipment with weather and site conditions.)

Remove dead and damaged wood and foliage from trees and shrubs, up to a height accessible from the ground with the aid of a pole pruner.

Trim perennials and ornamental grasses, to remove expired growth and to encourage unencumbered spring growth.


Remove unnecessary tree stakes and guy wires, after not more than one year, with the possible exception of a very windy area where protection might be needed for a longer period of time.

This is all standard. Dead wood from trees is removed to reduce the hazard of falling limbs.

In black are examples of conventional contracts. In green are examples of possible alternatives. Could you experiment with some of the alternatives in parts of your lawn?

Landscaping Care Service Scope of Work

Landscaping Service to promote and maintain the neat and attractive appearance, as well as the health, of the property’s landscape. The details regarding service standards, methods and expectations are outlined as follows:

The conditions in Northern Virginia are very marginal for growing cool season grasses. The turf grasses that work well in Northern Europe and even in Pennsylvania will inevitably struggle here. Whenever possible, it is wise to look for alternatives to lawn. Can you allow any neighboring woods to gradually expand? Can you plant trees and shrubs on lawn that is not being walked or played on and gradually recreate a forest environment? Would your lawn be a good place for conservation landscaping?

Turf Grass Management:




Mowing and Trimming: Maintain turf grass at a height of three (3) to four (4) Inches, mowing to be performed as follow: Mowing to be at seven (7) to eleven (11) day intervals during the growing season. The goal is to cut no more than ⅓ of the height of the grass at one time.

  • Maintain turf grass at a height of 3 to 4.5 Inches, with the higher height maintained during summer drought months to protcect the turf.

During particularly wet periods and/or particularly hot and dry periods, the contractor may determine it best to delay service beyond ten days, so as not to damage the grass, and in times of rapid growth, more frequent mowings may be needed. In the case of such delay a change, the contractor is expected to notify the Association in a timely manner.

Conduct at least one (1) service visit per ten (10) day period during relaxed mowing periods, in order to manage weeds, edge turf grass along hard surfaces and collect litter and debris.

Mower blades to be kept sharp (sharpen mower blades about every 10 hours of use or every 10 to 20 mowings) to ensure a quality cut.

Care to be taken to avoid rutting and scalping the turf with the goal of leaving turf grass at a height of 3-4 inches. 


  • 3.5-4.5 inches


The trimming of turf grass (typically, by use of a power line trimmer) around ornamental beds, trees, fences, buildings, play areas, planters, telephone and sign poles, guy wires, fire hydrants, utility-boxes-and-meters and other equipment, features and obstacles will be performed in conjunction with each mowing service.


When operating mowing and trimming equipment, the CONTRACTOR will take special care to avoid damage to trees, shrubs and perennials, houses and/or buildings, utility equipment (including air conditioning units) and utility meters, fragile decorative features, signs, lights, poles, etc.

  • Do not mow within 20 feet of streams or ponds.

The key to maintaining lawns with fewer chemical inputs is to increase the health of the grass and the soil. Click here for a great overview of the issues. Click here for a detailed discussion of completely organic versus "reduced risk" approaches to lawn care and lists of less toxic products.

There are many options if you want to reduce chemical inputs to your lawn. You could

  • Just let it go.

  • Or take the least harmful approach to treatment, which is aeration, organic material (compost, chopped leaves and grass clippings), reseeding, and lime (when needed).

  • Or add some organic fertilizers, nematodes, and weed killers.

  • Or use chemicals, but cut back.

Mowing close the the ground may be successful further north but is problematic here. Allowing the lawn to grow longer is less stressful to the grass, helps suppress weeds and makes the lawn more drought resistant. It may at times look a little shaggier than you are used to.

Maintain a buffer zone to protect our waterways from chemicals and flooding.

Lawn edging adjacent to hard surfaces: Edge the turf grass adjacent to all accessible sidewalks, curbs and similar hard surfaces, edging to be performed as follows:

  • Produce a clean, sharp line of turf grass with a cut not deeper than approximately one-and-one-half (1.5) inches and not further than approximately one-half (0.5) inch from adjacent hard surfaces.

  • Using mechanical equipment specifically designed for the task. (A line trimmer is not an acceptable edging device).

  • In conjunction with alternate mowing and trimming services.

  • Remove the resulting dirt and debris immediately afterward.

It is important to avoid scalping the lawn, which will damage the turf and allow weeds to take over.

Grass Clippings: Blow or otherwise removed grass clipping from sidewalks, curb lines, patios, streets, gutters and other hard surface and/or non-turf areas. In order to prevent the accumulation of excess clippings on newly mowed turf grass, as often occurs following the mowing of tall grass, contractor is expected, when necessary, to rake and remove or evenly disperse/distribute clippings.

  • Prohibit the use of leafblowers for grass clippings.

  • Omit the option of removing the clippings.

Grass clippings on paths and on parking lots don't do any harm and disappear in a few days, whereas blowing them also blows harmful particulate matter and pollutants into the air and disturbs people and wildlife with unnecessary noise.

Litter and Debris: During each service visit, locate and remove litter and unwanted debris from the site, especially from turf grass areas. Such litter and debris include minor accumulations of paper, cardboard and plastic (e.g., wrappers, bags and advertising fliers); cans and bottles; minor sticks and limbs. Remove hazardous debris, especially debris with the potential to cause damage or injury, from turf grass prior to each mowing service.

Hard-Surface Weeds: Treat as necessary during the growing season, using a non-selective herbicide, all weeds and grasses growing in the gaps and cracks of hard surfaces (e.g., sidewalks, streets, curb-line gutters, and parking lots). Conspicuous weeds or any with a stem wider than a thumb to be pulled and removed from site during each service visit.

  • Specify that "No herbicides will be applied anywhere on the property that contain a surfactant (for example, Round-up)."

Surfactants kill amphibians.


Do you know why all those mulch beds are so empty? Most likely, a low-skill worker has been set to spraying all mulch areas with herbicides. So you want to be establishing dead zones full of chemicals?

Pre-emergent Weed Control: Apply to accessible turf grass a pre-emergent herbicide, to control crabgrass and other seasonal turf weed grasses. This service to be performed one (1) time, in early spring or mid-spring.

Post-emergent Weed Control: Apply an appropriate postemergent herbicide to accessible turf, two (2) times: once in the spring and once in the fall.


  • Treat postemergent weeds that have exceeded a threshold of acceptability, as determined by the Association.

  • Treatment of postemergent weeds should be accomplished without the use of surfactant.

  • Or - specify Tenacity. 

Insect, Fungus and Disease Control: Inspect all accessible turf grass during each visit to the site, and perform chemical application treatments necessary to eliminate or control limited and local occurrences of insect infestation (including typical varieties of surface feeding insects and not necessarily including such pests as Gypsy Moths and Japanese Beetles and associated grubs), fungus and/or disease. Contractor is expected to notify the ASSOCIATION of the need for general and/or widespread treatment for surface feeding Insects, fungus and/or disease. 

  • Insect, Fungus and Disease Control: Inspect all accessible turf grass during each visit to the site, and perform chemical application treatments necessary to eliminate or control limited and local occurrences of fungus and/or disease. Contractor is expected to notify the ASSOCIATION of any possible need for insecticides, which will be limited to those insects that pose an immediate health hazard to humans or a threat to the integrity of structures. No neonicitinoid or other systemic insecticides for outdoor use will be permitted.

Corn gluten is an alternative to pre-emergent weed killer. It is not as effective and may need to be applied twice. It is a source of nitrogen and adds to the nutrient load. 

Tenacity® herbicide can be used for pre- and post-emergence control of more than 46 broadleaf weed and grass species. Its active ingredient, mesotrione, is based on a naturally occurring compound produced by the crimson bottlebrush plant (Callistemon citrinus) that inhibits photosynthesis in susceptible plant species.

Organic insecticides are available. However, insecticides, however "natural", are designed to kill all insects, including ladybugs, fireflies, dragonflies, butterflies, etc.

Milky spore is effective at controlling Japanese Beetle grubs but takes a couple years to work.

Fungicides kill the nematodes which are the natural predators of grubs. They also have a synergistic effect with insecticides on bees.

Turf soil improvement: Top dress turf grass areas with ¼ (one quarter) to ½ (one half) inch of compost made of Class A cured biosolids once in the early spring after aeration (approximately one cubic yard of compost per thousand square feet of lawn.)

Many brands of biosolids can be spread in a regular spreader. You can also spread them with a rake.

Many other types of compost are also available.

Fertilization Turf Grass: Fertilize turf grass three (3) times: once in early spring or mid spring, once in the summer or early fall and once again in the fall, if indicated by a soil test. Fertilization to be performed as follow:

The fertilization program will serve to introduce to established and accessible turf grass the equivalent of approximately three (3) to five (5) pounds of soluble nitrogen (in addition to other nutrients) per one-thousand (1,000) square feet of turf area, per year, depending upon the specific needs of the turf grass found on the ASSOCIATION site and in accordance with such factors as geographic location, soil type, moisture availability, grass type, length of growing season and the results of a soil analysis that is conducted by a reputable laboratory.  

Take care to blow all fertilizer and fertilizer residue from sidewalks and other hard surfaces, following each application.

  • Fertilize turf grass once or twice in the fall (depending on the soil test).

  • ...the equivalent of a maximum of four (4) pounds of soluble nitrogen (including any other nutrients) per one-thousand (1,000) square feet of turf area, per year ...

  • Turf soil improvement: Top dress turf grass areas with ¼ (one quarter) to ½ (one half) inch of compost once in the early spring (approximately one cubic yard of compost per thousand square feet of lawn.) Class A cured biosolids are acceptable for this purpose.

  • (Better yet, do it twice a year.)

Chemical fertilizer kills the soil organisms that are necessary for soil health. The nitrogen and phosphate that runs into our waterways causes serious environmental damage.


The best way to improve soil health to support turf grass is to add organic material. Biosolids are the least expensive alternative (in addition to grass clippings and chopped up fallen leaves). Biosolids add more nutrients.

Slow-release organic fertilizers such as cotton seed meal are available. They are more expensive. Many are produced by polluting factory farms under inhumane conditions for the animals - avoid this by choosing plant-derived products.


Eliminating fertilizer altogether will result in a less lush lawn especially in areas that do not receive full sun. Can you tolerate that, at least in some areas of your property?

Fertilizing in the spring causes the grass to green up faster (and then you just have to cut it more) but makes it weaker and also encourages weeds. It is better to fertilize in the fall when it will strengthen the roots. It is important not to apply more fertilizer than indicated by a soil test.


4 pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet per year is the maximum recommended for the sake of our waterways.

Does you contractor have an Urban Nutrient Management Plan?

Lime Application: Upon request or as needed, uniformly distribute pelletized limestone over all accessible turf grass areas. The rate of lime application to be based on a soil analysis that is performed by a competent soil test facility and not exceed twenty-five (25) pounds per one-thousand (1,000) square feet.

Lime (when needed) and aeration are important components of organic lawn maintenance.

Aeration: Aerate established and accessible turf one (1) time, in late summer or early fall and prior to the application of seed, using current, industry standard aeration equipment and methods and in a manner that produces four (4) to eight (8) core extractions per square foot.

  • Aerate established and accessible turf two (2) times, once in early spring, and again in late summer or early fall...

Aeration is a key component of any lawn program. The cores are left in place.

Over-Seeding: Over Seeding to be performed as follow:

  • One application in late summer or early fall, after aeration.

  • Use premium quality seed, blend to be approved by the Association prior application.

  • Scarify target areas prior to broadcasting seed,

  • Collected and removed from site and thatch and debris resulting from scarification will be.

  • Use any necessary methods and/or materials of protection or encouragement (e.g., soil amendments such as loam and peat; coverings such as erosion control fabrics and straw), to ensure the germination and survivability of applied seed.

  • Remove all non-degradable protective materials, once germination is complete.

  • Keep lawn areas uniformly moist until new seed germinates.

  • Once the majority of new seeds have germinated, reduce watering to once or twice weekly to ensure one inch of water during the first growing season. Use a rain gauge and do not irrigate if there has been adequate rainfall.

  • Don't allow seedlings to dry out until they have become established.

  • Wait at least 2-4 weeks after seeding to resume mowing or leaf removal.

  • Do not apply herbicides or fertilizers until the new turf has been mowed at least 3 times.

  • Do not overseed bare patches until you have addressed the cause of the problem.

Clover lawns do not require fertilizer and are attractive to honeybees and might be a possible alternative. However, we cannot recommend them because White Clover is an invasive introduced species, and the benefit to native bees is uncertain. However, it is perfectly fine to allow clover to self seed into your lawn, where it will add nitrogen naturally.

Watering lawns (when needed) does help the grass. The water-saving alternative is to allow it to go dormant during times of drought. However, new seedlings need moisture to survive.


Lawns grown without chemical fertilizers have deeper roots and need less water.

Irrigation: (if your property has an irrigation system)

System functioning:

  • Periodically audit the system to evaluate sprinkler efficiency and delivery patterns by catching water in small cups strategically placed around the lawn during timed irrigation events.

  • Adjust or replace heads that are malfunctioning.

  • Use a rain sensor or soil moisture sensor to prevent watering when not needed.



  • Irrigate only in the early morning hours, just before or after sunrise.

  • Do not irrigate established lawns or ornamental beds. Irrigate newly seeded lawns or newly planted perennial beds only for the first growing season.

Click here for a nice discussion.

By minimizing leaf wetness duration and potential wind disruption, this strategy optimizes irrigation distribution, plant uptake, and reduces fungus.

Avoid watering in the spring, when it will encourage weed growth.

Soil Analysis: By June 1st, conduct an analysis of surface soils found in the property landscape; specifically, soils that support turf grass. This service includes:

  • Extract soil samples, according to current industry methods and standards, from several representative areas of the property and record the areas from which soil is sampled by marking a site map or by written, narrative description.

  • Deliver soil samples to a reputable soil analysis laboratory that is recognized in the Industry as one capable of providing dependable and timely reports, so that the laboratory may analyze the samples and produce a useful written report of soil conditions and of suggested measures of improvement.

  • Deliver to the Association, in a timely manner: a copy of the report from the soil analysis laboratory, as well as the map and/or written, narrative description of the locations from which the CONTRACTOR extracted soil samples; recommendations for improvements to turf grass and surface soils, based on the results of the soil analysis.

  • Apply to turf, at an additional cost and at the direction of the Association, such remedial and/or supplemental products as lime, fertilizers and pH-modifying agents.

Management of Ornamental Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers: 

Pre-emergent Weed Control: In conjunction with the application of mulch, in late winter or early spring, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to selected ornamental tree and shrub beds and tree rings.

Fertilization of Ornamental Shrubs and Groundcovers: In conjunction with the application of mulch early spring, apply to all ornamental shrubs and groundcovers an appropriately balanced fertilizer, at a rate recommended by the manufacturer. Fertilizers to be appropriate to plant type and conditions, and rates and quantities to be in accordance with accepted landscape Industry practices.

  • Do NOT apply fertilizer to plants that are native to the U.S. east coast.  

Mulch Application: to be applied as follows:

One application in early spring:

Conventional shredded hardwood mulch in ornamental beds and tree rings.

  • Specify undyed mulch

  • Specify no cypress mulch

Re-define the edges or boundaries of all previously mulched ornamental tree, shrub and flower beds and tree rings.

Remove weeds from all beds and tree rings, turn existing mulch.

Apply an industry standard quantity of premium landscape mulch, so that all beds and tree rings are neat and attractive and contain no more than approximately two and one-half (2.5) inches of mulch. (Pine trees, the fallen needles of which tend to serve as sufficient natural mulch, are not necessarily included with this service.)


  • Mulch must not be allowed to touch the base of the plants. Ensure that the root flare of trees is exposed.

  • Remove excess mulch if necessary to maintain total amount of 2.5 inches..

Native plantings are best promoted using composted leaf litter. Chemical fertilizers can damage ferns. In the case of perennials, chemical fertilizer can cause the plants to grow too tall and flop. When planting in natural soil, no soil amendments are needed. When planting in clay that has been denuded of its topsoil, add some compost to the hole.

Dyed mulch is made from shredded wood palates that may have been treated with creosote and other chemicals that kill soil organisms, and possibly even with arsenic.

Adding mulch year after year accounts for some of the "mulch volcanoes" we see.

Weed Control for Ornamental Beds and Tree Rings:

Remove weeds from ornamental tree, shrub and flower beds and tree rings regularly during the growing season, by way of manual methods and/or the application of pre- and post-emergent chemicals. Chemicals to be used according to the manufacturers' instructions, as well as in accordance with Federal and State laws and under the supervision of a Certified Pesticide Applicator. Conspicuous weeds to be removed from site during each service visit.

  • If English Ivy is climbing on trees, clip it at the base and at shoulder height. Do not strip the vines from the trees. Do not remove 

Pruning of Ornamental Shrubs and Groundcovers: Prune all ornamental shrubs and groundcovers as follows, during the growing season:

Shrubs and Hedges of Formal Appearance:

Prune three (3) times during the growing season (approximately May — October) or as is otherwise necessary to maintain a neat appearance. Formal shrubs should not be allowed to acquire an unkempt or overgrown appearance at any time.

Shrubs and Hedges of Informal Appearance:

Pruning is restricted to keeping plants from overgrowing driveways, drive lanes and walkways. Prune three (3) times during the growing season (approximately May — October); Ø Flowering Shrubs: Prune after bloom cycles are complete, a total of three (3) times during the growing season (approximately May October, depending upon bloom cycles).

Pruning General Guidelines:

  1. Service will be limited to a height of eight (8) feet;

  2. Observe standard industry practice; shrub pruning will not include regenerative or restorative pruning, by which plants are significantly reduced in size or changed in shape or by which older, heavier stems and branches are removed;

  3. Correct existing pruning deficiencies by:

  • Clearing obtrusive vegetation from driveways, drive lanes and walkways;

  • Pruning overgrown shrubs and groundcovers to an appropriate size and shape;

  • Allowing shrubs and groundcovers that have been pruned too hard or that have otherwise not achieved desired size to grow;

  • All cuts should be made at a branch node, except for hedges;

  • Striving to achieve a uniformity of plant size and shape where appropriate for formal shrubs, by way of a prudent and diligent program of corrective pruning;

   4. All debris resulting from pruning operations will be removed from site.

  • Always check carefully for birds nests before spring or summer prunings. Do not disturb a plant that contains a bird nest.

Groundcovers: Edged and trim as often as needed, to keep them within their prescribed bounds and of a manageable size and shape.

Tree Pruning: Prune ornamental trees one (1) time, during their dormant period, and then as is necessary during the growing season to ensure that signs, lights, parking areas, drive lanes and walking paths are free of obstruction and/or interference. Service to be accomplished from the ground with the aid of pole saws and other hand pruning equipment or light power equipment, to a height of twelve (12) feet. All debris resulting from pruning operations will be removed from site.

It is easy and gratifying to cut vines that are climbing trees at the base to save the tree. However, you have to know how to recognize which ones are native - and therefore will not kill the trees and have berries that are very important food sources for birds (such as any of the several species of native grapes, Virgin Bower and poison ivy) - and those that are invasive and suffocate trees (such as English Ivy, Porcelein Berry, Oriental Bittersweet, Sweet Autumn Clematis and Chinese Wisteria.)

Insect. Fungus and Disease Control: Service to be performed as follow:

Regularly monitor ornamental plants to and detect and eliminate or control of plant damaging insects, fungus and disease. Inform the Association when this occurs.

Treat infestations of insects, as well as occurrences of fungus and disease, as necessary during the growing season, to promote a healthy environment for ornamental plants, when authorized by the Association.


  • No neonicitinoid or other systemic insecticides will be used.

Treatment to be up to a height of twenty (20) feet.

Apply horticultural oil* to all appropriate ornamental trees, shrubs and groundcovers, especially those known to have or to be prone to infestations of scale or mites (e.g., needled evergreens, Juniper, Euonymus, Holly, Cherry, Oak, Maple). Treatment be performed in late winter or early spring (i.e., the dormant season).

Dormant season application of horticultural oil is only effective on armored scale that do not overwinter as eggs.  Summertime application of insecticidal soap or ultra fine horticultural oil when crawlers are active is generally more effective

Leaf Management: Two (2) distinct and comprehensive leaf collection and removal services during the months November —December:

a) Collect fallen leaves from all designated turf areas, ornamental mulch beds, streets, sidewalks, parking areas and curb-line gutters and remove them from site.


b) Some leaves may be deposited in wooded areas and/or tree stands or tree-save or tree preserve areas, so as to provide cover and nutrients for tree roots. Contractor may not take advantage of this allowance by depositing excessive quantities of leaves in an unsightly manner. The deposit of leaves in tree-save or tree-preserve areas might be subject to local laws regarding the use of or intrusion upon these areas. The contractor is responsible for determining the legality of depositing leaves in these areas


a) Collect fallen leaves from designated streets, sidewalks, parking areas and curb-line gutters and remove them from site. Chopped up leaves may be scattered in thin layers on top of lawn.

b) Collect fallen leaves from ornamental beds, chop them up and return them to the beds.

c) Chop up the leaves that have fallen on turf areas, either by repeated mowing or by using mulching mowing blades, and leave them in place.

d) Do not remove leaves from wooded areas.

e) Do not deposit whole leaves in wooded areas. Some chopped up leaves taken from hard surfaces may be deposited on turf areas (not to exceed 1/2 inch) or ornamental beds (not to exceed 2 inches).

f) Do not use gas-powered leaf blowers.

The organic material from fallen leaves is where plants normally get their nutrients.  Removing them is bad for trees and unnecessary for lawns. It is also a tremendous waste of resources to haul them away to be chopped up and put into plastic bags which you then have to pay for.


Chopped up leaves quickly disappear on lawn surfaces and feed the soil. All mowers can have their blades replaced by mulching blades, or you can simply do a couple passes with the regular blades.  Some leaves break down so fast there is no need to chop them up. Maple, Cherry, Ash, Willow and Elm species are examples. Oak and beech leaves are very slow to decompose and are more likely to smother the grass if not chopped up.

Fallen leaves "armor" slopes against erosion.

Do not pile leaves in woodlots. The woodlots already get all the leaves they need from the trees growing there.  Adding to the existing leaves can create a dense mat that prevents the penetration of air and water into the soil and stresses trees.  Essentially the same as volcano mulching.

Use battery blowers and/or rakes only. Gas blowers emit unacceptable levels of air pollution and noise pollution and can cause hearing damage to the user. Two helpful videos for landscapers:

Perennial beds

a) Remove diseased plant material (typically if infected with mildew)

b) Edge the borders. DO NOT use herbicides.

c) DO NOT MOW the perennial beds. 

d) ONLY WEED the perennial beds under direct supervision of a knowledgeable gardener. 

e) In late March, cut back perennials to 18 inches. Cut back grasses to 6 inches.

f) Do not remove dead leaves from the perennial beds.

Maintenance crews frequently mow under perennial beds by accident. Take vigorous measure to prevent that! Rope fences could help but are often insufficient. 

Insects and other critters overwinter in the dead leaves and stalks. Do not disturb until late March.

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