Growing Earth Tree Care has worked with homeowners’ associations across the northern Virginia region for decades. Our experience reveals that the HOA’s that have a solid tree policy in place tend to have reduced risk and healthier trees.
We developed a sample tree policy that can be used for your homeowners’ association. You are welcome to use this template and make modifications to fit your particular needs. We recommend that you review it with your attorney before implementing the policy.
Sample Tree Care Policy
Common Area Trees
Tree Removal: An ISA Certified Arborist must document the recommendation for removal of any common area tree over 6” diameter at breast height (DBH) to be submitted to the General Manager (GM), Assistant GM, or Facilities & Ground Manager (also referred to as authorized association representative). Exceptions to [GM, Assistant GM and/or F&G Mgr] would be situations where the tree poses an imminent danger to life, limb or property. Application must be submitted and signed by an ISA Certified Arborist prior to removing trees except in the case where the tree(s) pose(s) an imminent danger, in which case the documentation may be submitted after removal and clean up. Application to include species, location, size (DBH), overall condition of tree, reason for removal, printed name of ISA Certified Arborist, signature of ISA Certified Arborist, ISA certification number. The recommendations of the ISA Certified Arborist may accompany the application in lieu of the arborist’s signature on the application itself, as long as the recommendations are signed.
Homeowner Association contracting with a Tree Company
Clearance from lights, buildings, and other manmade objects should also be maintained to protect both trees and structures. A minimum amount of clearance in most cases is 3 feet.
Clean up conditions
When a tree is cut down at near ground level and felled on to a natural wooded area, the tree can be left “whole” as a natural fallen tree. Exceptions include situations where the shear number of fallen trees is too large to appear “natural”. Brush or limbs, if not left attached to the trunk must be removed from site or “scattered” within the natural wooded area, not piled in a “rats nest” fashion. If the common wooded area is determined to be an easement or stream area, the entire above ground portion of the tree will be required to be removed. If the trunk of the tree requires more than one cut above ground level base, the tree and all the cut pieces will be considered debris and are required to be removed. This refers to the trunk only and not cuts made to branches attached to the trunk. Additionally, if a tree is removed from a common area and not in a natural wooded area, unless there is a conflict with utility lines or another legitimate reason approved by the homeowner association authorized representative, the stump must be ground or removed and the hole backfilled to ground level.
Miss Utility must be called to mark for underground utilities before any stump grinding or other digging takes place. No stumps are to be ground within 2 horizontal feet of a marked utility, in accordance with Virginia law. All Miss Utility regulations must be adhered to.
Not all trees removed from common areas will be replaced. The authorized association representative will determine whether trees will be replaced based on the reason for removal and other criteria. Miss Utility must mark location prior to digging to mark for underground utilities per Virginia law.
All trees will be planted in accordance with the Virginia Cooperative Extension/Virginia Tech “Tree and Shrub Planting Guidelines” Publication 430-295.
An independent ISA Certified Arborist should be consulted prior to planting trees to make recommendations for species appropriate for the particular site.
All work must be inspected and approved by an authorized representative of the HOA prior payment(s) to the tree contractor.
Ideally, trees should be planted in “islands” rather than as individual trees surrounded by turf. Mulch should be spread in a 2-3 inch thin layer over as much of the root system as possible. Mulch should never touch the root flair or trunk of any tree.
If guying material is necessary -it usually is not, it should never be left in place for no more than one year. Contractor planting the trees must come back to remove all guying material on trees within one year of planting. Larger caliper trees do not adapt and establish as well as smaller trees. Except in rare circumstances, planted trees should not be larger than 6-8 feet tall.
DBH: Diameter at breast height, approximately 4.5 feet above ground level.
GM/Assistant: Association General Manager and/or Assistant General Manager
ISA: International Society of Arboriculture: The ISA is the organization responsible for training and certifying arborists.
ISA Certified Arborist: Must have at least 3 years full-time experience or a degree in the field of arboriculture, horticulture, landscape architecture, or forestry from an accredited institute to qualify for the exam. The exam covers a large number of topics. The candidate who passes the exam must also adhere to the ISA Certified Arborists code of ethics.
Search for an ISA Certified Arborist
TCIA: Tree Care Industry Association
TCIA Accreditation: Designation of tree companies meeting stringent criteria for professionalism, employee training, state and federal safety regulations, business ethics and customer satisfaction.
Problem tree list
- Box elder: Grows quickly, rots quickly, box elder bugs
- Norway maple: Can be an invasive, dense shade allows nothing to grow under.
- Silver maple: Short-lived, grows very large quickly, surface roots
- Ailanthus or tree of heaven: Short lived; invasive
- Mimosa: Short-lived, wilt disease, seeds volunteers
- Bamboo: Extremely invasive
- White-barked birches: quickly killed by bronze birch borers
- Paper mulberry: Weed tree, roots
- Catalpa: Brittle wood, seeds everywhere
- White dogwood: Discula anthracnose
- English hawthorn: Thorny; defoliated in summer by rust disease
- Leyland cypress: Dying from wetfeet and Seridium canker. Grows very fast, ice/snow damage
- Green ash: Numerous pest problems, especially borers
- Honeylocust: Multiple insect problems; thorns and seeds, except seedless cultivars.
- Black walnut: Drops large fruit and leaves early; allelopathic to other plants
- Sweetgum: Fruit gumballs are a hazard; litter and maintenance problems, unless a newer hybrid without gumballs
- Osage orange: Thorns; falling fruit
- White and red mulberries: Smelly fruit that birds use to paint cars and houses purple
- Princess or empress tree: Invasive due to massive seed production
- White pine: Not tolerant of poorly drained, compacted urban soils
- Cottonwood: Surface roots; cotton on seeds coats everything
- Lombardy poplar: Short-lived; grows too fast; aggressive roots
- Flowering plums: Black knot disease can cause severe dieback
- Bradford pear: V-crotch branch attachments split easily (self-destructing tree)
- Black locust: Thorns, shallow roots; suckers; insects; topples easily in storms
- Willows: Grows fast and split easily; trunk cankers; roots invade pipe openings
- Mountain ashes: Numerous pest problems
- Siberian elm: Breaks easily in storms; defoliated by elm leaf beetles
- All recommendations for tree work, excluding tree planting or stump grinding, must be approved by an ISA Certified Arborist.
- Tree contractor must have ISA Certified Arborist(s) and/or ISA Certified Tree Worker(s) on every job site while work is being performed.
- Tree contractor must be Accredited by the Tree Care Industry Association
Additional places to check qualifications:
Contractor must send a current certificate of insurance to the management office prior to bidding on and/or performing work. Association to be listed as “additional insured” on the certificate of insurance. The certificate of insurance must come directly from the insurance agency, not from the contractor.
All tree work must be performed in accordance with ANSI Z133 Safety Standards and ANSI A300 Industry standards.
Emergency Tree Work Priority: Storm damage
The following or similar wording to be included in any long-term agreement with qualified tree contractor:
“Priority will be given to association during emergencies. Emergencies are described as dangerous trees with an identified target (building, road, sidewalk, etc). Emergencies are often the result of severe weather. Priority timing is defined as work taking place within 48 hours of alerting tree contractor and work being approved by an authorized association representative.”
Trees over or near pedestrian or vehicle traffic areas such as walkways, drives, parking areas, etc. should be inspected on a regular basis in an ongoing effort to reduce the risk of injury or damage. Pruning should be performed as necessary to remove large deadwood, dying or disease branches. Branches are to be pruned back to allow clearance for pedestrian or vehicle traffic areas.