Yard Maintenance and Appearance


·        A Tree Fell on My Property

·        Call “Miss Utility” Before You Dig

·        Choosing a Contractor

·        Controlling Mosquitoes

·        Disposing of Your Leaves and Yard Debris

·        Drainage Problems and Wet Basements

·        Free Plant Clinics

·        Lawn Mowing

·        Tick Control

·        Zoning Ordinance for Residents of Corner Homes


·        Fairfax County Resources

o       Free Mulch

o       Disposing of Yard Debris


·        Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

o       Drainage and soil erosion on private property

o       Pond management

o       Soils information

o       Stream restoration/stabilization

o       Suburban horse farm

o       Seedlings for sale

o       Storm drain stenciling

o       Stream monitoring


·        Virginia Cooperative Extension Service 703-324-8556

o       Advice on sick trees

o       Test Your Soil


·        Virginia Power Tree Trimming 703-838-2476


·        Arborist Associations (For info on tree maintenance and names of members)

o       Tree Care Industry Association (2,000 members subject to standards & carry insurance)


·        Misc. Yard and Property Issues – See Good Neighbor Relations – Zoning Issues for details.

o       Junk and debris in yard

o       Illegal signs on private property

o       Commercial vehicles parked in residential areas (on private property)

o       Inoperative vehicles on private property

o       Vehicles parked on front lawn

o       Illegal tree removal

o       Stormwater drainage on private property

o       Yard debris

o       Grass in excess of 12 Inches on residential lots

o       Abandoned/blighted properties

o       Dilapidated, unsafe, or unsanitary properties

o       Rats


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This page last updated 9/15/07

Yard Maintenance and Appearance.htm



Call “Miss Utility” Before You Dig

Miss Utility is a one-call notification center that alerts subscribing underground utility owners of your proposed excavation plans (from private home owners to major developers).  This is a free service provided by various local and regional utility companies for the purpose of identifying the location of their underground transmission lines or pipe systems.

For Miss Utility purposes, excavation is anything that disturbs existing grading (any digging, drilling, tilling, fencing, etc.).  Any excavation activity requires a call to MISS UTILITY – this is the law.  By calling MISS UTILITY, you will be able to excavate safely without endangering yourself or others and at the same time avoid disrupting service to yourself, your neighbors and the community as a whole.

To submit a location request, call 1-800-552-7001 between the hours of 7 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday or visit www.missutilityofvirginia.com .  After submitting your request, there is a waiting period of two business days until you can begin any excavation.  By that time, all the affected utilities will have marked the ground surface with paint and/or flags indicating their utilities underground position. The color codes are as follows:

White – Proposed excavation                     Red – Electric                        Blue – Water

Orange – Telephone or cable TV                Yellow – Gas                          Green – Sewer


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Test Your Soil


A soil test performed at Virginia Tech costs under $10 and includes pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and boron.  You can get a soil test kit from any Fairfax County Public Library or at the Extension office, which is located in the Pennino Building at the Government Center.  Results are usually received about two weeks after you mail the soil sample to Virginia Tech. (Kirk Randall October 2004)


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Lawn Mowing


Why keep your grass trimmed?  Aside from the obvious benefit to neighborhood appearance and property values, there are sound financial reasons.  First, the Hickory Farms Community Association Rules and Regulations require it.  Second, Fairfax County zoning regulations require it.  In fact, the County may fine the homeowner, mow the lawn, and bill the homeowner for mowing the lawn.  So, it's cheaper in the long run to mow your lawn or pay someone to do it!


So, keep everyone happy and trim your lawn.  If your neighbor’s grass is starting to look like a hay field, politely mention the fact to the neighbor.  If the grass is over 12 inches high and he or she has not responded to a polite suggestion to mow the lawn, you can report the issue to the Fairfax County Division of Public Works and Environmental Services, Site Inspections Division at 703-324-1931. 


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Drainage Problems and Wet Basements


A spot on your yard looks like a swamp... Your eroding side yard is a mud slide... Your basement always leaks after it rains.


Who do you call for advice on how to correct these problems?  Homeowners and residents often seek technical assistance from the staff of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District.


When a request for assistance comes in by phone, a conservation staff member will record the information on a conservation problem report.  A site visit, if necessary, is usually scheduled within two weeks.


The following are some of the most common homeowner problems and staff recommendations.


Wet Basements


A wet basement often may be attributed to poor drainage around the house.

·         Where does roof runoff go and how are the downspouts from the roof directed?  Water should be directed well away from the basement wall of the house.  Connect an extension to the downspouts to drain the water farther from the basement wall.

·         Does the grading around the house have a sufficient slope, and are there signs of soil settlement (pockets or depressions) immediately around the basement walls?  Fill the depressions around the outside walls of the basement using clayey soil.

·         Are there cracks in foundation walls?  Seal cracks in the foundation with a wall sealant.

·         Are gutters being cleaned and maintained?  Keep gutters free of leaves and other debris.

·         If there is a sump pump in the house, is the system working?  Repair or replace the sump pump.


These are recommendations that the homeowner can do without hiring a contractor.  Sometimes, however, these options are not enough.  In that case, the homeowner may need to install an underground drainage system along the basement walls.


Wet Yards

Wet soils and/or poor drainage can leave yards wet for extended periods of time.  Recommendations to address this concern include:  fill low-lying areas with topsoil so the water on the surface drains away from the wet area in the form of runoff; put in a surface swale (elongated depression) to channel water away from the wet area; and for serious wet areas, consider installing an underground drain to redirect the water.


If none of these alternatives work, installation of an outdoor sump pump may be needed.


If you live in Fairfax County and have a drainage or erosion problem, contact the Northern Virginian Soil and Water Conservation District.  (Courtesy Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)


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A Tree Fell on My Property


When a tree falls, who pays for the damages can be confusing, especially since the Virginia Supreme Court changed its 68 year old precedent on September 14, 2007.  Recognizing that Virginia has changed from a largely rural state in 1939,  the Court ruled that homeowners can sue to force a neighbor to cut back branches or roots or take out the tree altogether if it poses a risk of "actual harm" or an "imminent danger" to their houses.  Tree owners can now be held liable for damage caused by the tree.  The ruling says that a neighbor can't sue a tree owner for minor annoyances such as "casting shade or dropping leaves, flowers, or fruit."  If a tree becomes a nuisance, however, the tree owner "may be held responsible for harm caused to [adjoining property], and may also be required to cut back the encroaching branches or roots, assuming the encroaching vegetation constitutes a nuisance."  So, if a neighbor's tree falls on your property or you are concerned about a neighbor's tree possibly causing damage, be aware that the rules have changed.  If you can't work things out with your neighbor, consult an attorney.    (Kirk Randall September 2007)


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Controlling Mosquitoes


Mosquitoes are more than buzzing, pesky summer insects that can eat up a pleasant evening outdoors or make gardening into a challenge of wills.  They can affect the health of humans because of their ability to transmit diseases as they feed on animal and human blood.  Health officials are concerned that some mosquito species carry a disease known as West Nile virus, which can cause flu-like symptoms and, in rare instances, death.


Mosquitoes need only a few tablespoons of standing water to breed.  Running streams and creeks or ponds with predators such as fish, tadpoles, or dragonflies are not good mosquito habitat; on the contrary, in such functioning aquatic habitats, the mosquito plays an important role as a food source.


The Fairfax County Health Department has developed a program of putting biological control agents in the many catch basins throughout the county to control mosquitoes in their larval state.  It has also enlisted all citizens in an effort to protect themselves against mosquitoes and thereby the possibility of getting the West Nile virus.


Most mosquitoes are actually poor fliers.  So if you are being bitten, they are probably breeding around your home.  And that's an environment you can control.  To eliminate mosquito breeding, eliminate areas with standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs and where their larvae grow and live.  Empty water from toys, wheelbarrows, wagons, unused hot tubs, rain barrels, flat roofs, plastic drainpipes and in-ground pipes.  Clean and change water in bird baths every five to seven days.


Cover canoes and other boats with a tight-fitting tarp or turn them upside down.  Change water in wading pools regularly or turn them upside down.  Clean out leaves and debris that may be blocking water in roof gutters.  Store old tires where they can't collect rainwater.  Remove sagging areas in tarps on woodpiles or garden equipment.  Store, remove or turn upside down trashcans and lids, buckets, bottles, flowerpots, and pet water bowls.


To avoid being bitten by the adult mosquitoes, make sure all window and door screens are free of cracks and holes the mosquitoes could use as entry.  Use yellow "bug lights" for outdoor lighting.  Wear long sleeves and long pants outside or working in the garden.  Use insect repellant on clothing or on skin that is not covered.  Products that contain DEET are effective, but be certain to follow the labeled instructions closely.


For more information on protecting yourself from mosquitoes and on the issue of the West Nile virus, contact the Fairfax County Health Department (Courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority June 2002)


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Tick Control


Fairfax County averages only a dozen or so cases of Lyme Disease and even fewer instances of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever a year.  So obviously, only a tiny percentage of ticks carry the disease-producing organisms.  To avoid those dangerous few:


·         Walk in the center of mowed trails.  Ticks do not jump or fly onto their hosts.  They wait on low vegetation and attach themselves when you brush against tall grass or underbrush.


·         Wear light colored clothing so that ticks are easy to see and remove before they bite.


·         Tuck shirts into trousers and trouser legs into socks.  Wear long-sleeved shirts buttoned or snug at the wrist.


·         Apply an insect repellent that's specifically formulated to protect against ticks.  Products containing 30 percent DEET or 0.5 percent permethrin are almost 100 percent effective in repelling ticks.  (Permethrin products work on clothing, not skin.).


·         Do a tick check every four to six hours when there's a risk of contact.


Ticks must be attached at least four hours – 24 hours in the case of Lyme Disease – for the disease-causing organisms to be transferred.  So removing ticks as fast as they're found will significantly reduce the risk of contagion.  Don't use nail polish, petroleum jelly, alcohol or a hot match to aid removal.  The best way is to grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out.  If tweezers aren't handy, protect your fingers with gloves, tissue or a paper towel.  But if possible, don't pull the tick off with your bare fingers, as there is a small risk of the disease-producing organisms entering through a break in the skin.


After you've removed the tick, wash your hands with soap and water and apply an antiseptic, such as alcohol or iodine, to the bite.


Should you have symptoms of Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, let your doctor know that you've been exposed to a tick bite.  Both diseases respond readily to treatment, particularly in the early stages.  For Lyme Disease, be on the alert for flu-like symptoms or a slowly expanding red rash around the bite.  For Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, watch for a sever headache or muscle aches, chills, fever and nausea, followed in two or three days by a red spotted rash which begins on the wrists and ankles. (Courtesy Fairfax County June 2002)


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Zoning Ordinance for Residents of Corner Homes


Fairfax County has a zoning ordinance to ensure that drivers stopped at an intersection can see traffic coming from the right or left.  Corner yards have an area where the shrubs must be trimmed no taller than 3 1/2 feet tall and tree branches must hang no lower than ten feet.  The area is a triangle with two 30-foot sides that meet at the corner of the intersection and run along the edge of the property.


If contacting the neighbor informally doesn't work, call Fairfax County Zoning Enforcement at 703-324-1300 and file a complaint.  An inspector will visit the property and will give the resident a 30-day notice if a violation exists.  If the problems are not fixed in 30 days, the county can take the homeowner to court or fix the problems and bill the homeowner.


If you live in a corner house, you have an extra responsibility to keep the neighborhood safe for you and other drivers.  Don't wait for your neighbors or county inspectors to complain – take care of your shrubs and trees now!


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Free Plant Clinics


Do you want to now why your plant's leaves are discolored?  How to get rid of pests?  Why your oak is losing its leaves?  Bring your plant and insect samples to a free Neighborhood Plant Clinic. You'll find a complete list of locations and clinic schedules at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd/youyourland/landscape.htm or you can call the Master Gardener help line at 703-324-8556, TTY 703-222-9693.  You can also e-mail mailto:mgfairfax@vt.edu . Plant clinics are offered by Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, which is a division of the Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services and Virginia Tech. (Fairfax County May 2004)


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Disposing of Your Leaves and Yard Debris


Fall is leaf raking time.  If we lived just a few blocks north in Fairfax City, we could just rake our leaves into the street and city workers would vacuum them up.  But, alas, we live in Fairfax County, so please don't rake your leaves into the street !  Here's the skinny on disposing of your leaves (and other yard debris) in our community.


·        Under Fairfax County ordinance, the trash collector is supposed to remove up to six bags of leaves on a yard debris pickup day.  If you put out more than six, the extras may or may not be taken.  To its credit, however, AAA almost always picks up everything you leave out.


·        If the trash collector doesn't take all of your leaves on your yard debris pickup day, please don't just leave them in the street or the parkway (that strip of grass between the street and sidewalk) for the next week's pickup.  The bags kill the grass if left on the parkway, or block the mailman if left near the mailbox.


·        Please don't put your trash, recycling, or yard debris out several days before pickup; it detracts from the nice appearance of our neighborhood.  Under our Rules and Regulations, refuse should be put out on the collection day or the prior evening.


·        Speaking of pickups, trash collections may not occur before 6 AM.  If you're awakened by the sound of trash trucks before 6 AM, please first call the trash company to report the problem.  If they don't comply with your request, you may report them to the Fairfax County Zoning Enforcement office at 703-324-1300 between 8 AM and 4:30 PM.


·        Under Fairfax County Ordinance, you should not use black plastic bags for yard debris such as leaves.  You are supposed to use clear plastic bags.  The trash collector may refuse to take black bags because its workers can't tell whether you put garbage or yard debris such as leaves in the bags.


·        Place twigs and branches in a trash can or cut them to approximately four feet in length and bundle them using twine.  The trash collectors may refuse to take them if they are not bundled.


·        Please do not dump leaves, tree branches, and grass clippings in nearby common areas or woods.  Not only is it against our Rules and Regulations, but it creates a tremendous burden on the ecosystem.  Wooded areas are ecologically balanced; they can decompose just about as much organic matter as the trees themselves produce.  When you add your leaves, branches, or grass clippings, it overloads the ecosystem and they don't decompose.  The result is a wooded area that looks and smells like a dump.  Help keep our common grounds and woods beautiful by not dumping leaves, tree branches, and grass clippings there. (Kirk Randall November 2004)


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