Community Grants Could Help You Protect the Environment

Community Grants Could Help You Protect the Environment

And save money too

Jaime Taylor, with sons Declan and Davin, worked on planting native wildflower seeds.

Jaime Taylor, with sons Declan and Davin, worked on planting native wildflower seeds.

 A community in Springfield is removing invasive trees and vines, and planting native trees, shrubs and wildflowers in their common area. Not only does it create a pleasant natural space, it also helps repress the growth of non-native plant species. The neighborhood’s Fairfax County location in the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay means that in a small way, they also are contributing to improved water quality and the health of the bay. And, by adding to the tree canopy, they are aiding the response to climate change by adding cooling shade and increasing carbon capture. 

Ridge Road Estates, a small community of 37 single family homes, is able to tackle this project with the financial assistance of two community grants. One is a mini-grant which paid for large non-native tree removal. The grant is from Audubon At Home, a program under the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, and by Plant NOVA Natives, a partnership of non-profit, governmental and private groups working to reverse the decline of native plants and wildlife in Northern Virginia. The second grant, which covers the cost of buying, installing and some initial care for new native trees is from Virginia’s Department of Forestry under their Trees for Clean Water Program.

Young HOA member Alyssa Worsham helps remove invasive trees by collecting Callery Pear seeds. 


Mini-grants Help Remove Invasive Trees and Vines

Audubon at Home’s mini-grants were funded by Fairfax County’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund (see “The program was created to make a difference by supporting the efforts of property owners and managers to become better stewards of nature in your own outdoor spaces. It embraces the principles of the National Audubon Society’s Bird-Friendly Communities and promotes citizen participation in conserving and restoring local natural habitat and biodiversity.” Recognizing that wooded common areas “are both an amenity for humans, and home to our non-human neighbors; and an important part of our infrastructure, cooling the environment and soaking up stormwater, that otherwise cause downstream flooding… . Those trees are under numerous threats, but the invasive non-native tree-killing plants constitute one of the worst of them.”

This year the Audubon/Plant Nova Natives partnership awarded mini-grants of $3000 each to ten communities in Fairfax County who were willing to rescue trees on their properties being threatened by certain invasive plants. The mini-grants carry a $1500 matching requirement, which may be met with volunteer labor as one option. Audubon adds, “We encourage the use of volunteers, so that residents can gain first-hand experience of the difficulties posed by invasive plants and a sense of the value of paying people to do the work in the future. We also encouraged communities to engage their current landscaping companies in the work so as to increase the number of companies in our region that can offer invasive control services.” A number of local companies now offer such services. Plant Nova Natives maintains a list at

In this first year of the mini-grant offerings, 22 applications were received, with the ten available awards going to Antioch Baptist Church (Fairfax Station), Chesterfield Mews Community Association (Fairfax), Crest of Alexandria Homeowners’ Association (Fairfax), Fox Lake Property Owners Association (Oakton), Lakeford Community Association (Falls Church), Little River United Church of Christ (Annandale), McLean Greens HOA (Falls Church), Poplar Heights Recreation Association (Falls Church), Ridge Road Estates HOA (Springfield), The Timbers HOA (Springfield). 

The program is expected to continue next year, if the Tree Preservation and Planting Fund is funded again..

State Forestry Grant Increases the Tree Canopy

The State’s Department of Forestry explains their “Virginia Trees for Clean Water” program encourages the creation of long-term, sustained canopy cover to improve water quality across the Commonwealth. This grant is used to fund tree planting efforts that raise public awareness of the benefits of trees and their impacts on water quality. With several project categories, and funding from $1,000 to $50,000, the program creates the possibility of funding a variety of projects, including community or street tree plantings, creating riparian buffers, moving from turf to trees, and tree giveaways. Department of Forestry’s Lara Johnson, who manages the program, says the program is well funded, with nearly one million dollars for 2023, and is funded again for 2024 as well. (For information on the grant program, see 

Local HOA Saves and Educates

Like many HOAs, the Ridge Road Estates community in Springfield, experienced rising landscape service costs over the years for maintaining the small grassy portion of its two-and-a-half acre common area. The small field of about 9,000 square feet along the roadside, which includes VDOT right of way and no amenities, was originally ceded to the neighborhood as common area by the developer since it could not support a house. The area provides no benefit to the community, while being a major driver of HOA fees for landscape service. Largely overlooked, over time invasive trees and vines began to gain a stronger foothold along the ridge border of the wooded area, especially in the meadow’s rear area in the tree line. 

At their annual meeting in October 2021, the community voted to stop mowing and try letting the area revert to natural habitat, although some opposed not having a manicured, mowed look. The community obtained 37 native tree seedlings, courtesy of Fairfax Releaf (, and planted them in a community volunteer work session; the 37 seedling representing one for each home in the development. The density of the plantings was intended to eventually discourage grass growth and minimize maintenance mowing requirements. Although planted in poor soil and with little attention, the seedlings showed a 77 percent survival rate, and native tree and wildflowers ‘volunteers’ began to appear once mowing ceased. Unfortunately, toward the rear of the area, a double row of larger non-native Callery Pear trees were growing and multiplying, harboring invasive vines, including Porcelainberry, Oriental Bittersweet, and Japanese Honeysuckle, while Multifora rosa and other non-native plants took hold around the seedlings.

Using the grant offerings in combination, the mini-grant to remove the large Callery Pears, and the Department of Forestry grant to plant native trees of a larger size than seedlings, provided the HOA an opportunity to tackle the common area’s problems in a single project. The small community does not maintain a significant HOA fund, so the ability to meet the 50 percent matching requirement with volunteer hours was a good fit. Community members worked together to remove the vines and prepare the area to receive native plantings. Though only a few households showed enthusiasm to volunteer for the project, the community was able to meet the matching obligation with volunteer hours alone, while having some fun and generating camaraderie at the same time.

A particular benefit of the program is providing the community’s children with an opportunity to volunteer at ages when other programs with age limits might not be open to them. As a result the neighborhood’s children have the opportunity for early learning about natural environments and ecosystems by immersion. For example, children collected sticks in the meadow to create a mounded brush habitat, planted wildflower seeds, and searched for species needed to apply for Audubon’s wildlife sanctuary certification.

The grants brought money back to the community, saved HOA funds, and brought attention to a neglected area, giving it the prospect of becoming a space the community may visit and enjoy.