Private Tree Care and Removal Permits

Pruning a tree

Trees are valuable assets, both for private property owners and the Arlington community. A few tips:

Prune. For the safety and visibility of our sidewalks and streets, private trees and shrubs overhanging public property, the community expects the homeowner to maintain the following clearance guidelines, using proper pruning. This will simultaneously help prevent damage to private plants by reducing breakage and accidental collisions.

  • Trees and shrubs that overhang into the street past the curb and lack a clearance height of 10 feet.
  • Trees and shrubs obscuring street and traffic signs.
  • Trees and shrubs overhanging sidewalks lacking a clearance of 7 feet.

For more information on pruning, visit this guide from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Mulch. Grass competes with the tree for water and nutrients, so use mulch to enrich the soil. Apply organic mulch over tree roots – up to 2 inches deep, or wood chips - up to 2 inches deep, under the crown. Avoid piling mulch or wood chips near or around the trunk (no ‘volcano mulching’).

Spreading mulch with a rake

Water. A thorough soaking once a week is much better than frequent but light applications of water. Water should penetrate the top 12-18 inches of soil, covering most of the roots. In dry periods, even mature trees need to be watered.

Remove invasive plants. Keep English ivy and other non-native invasive plants away from trees, which will weaken or die as ivy spreads over the crowns. Even if you keep invasive vines off the trunk, their presence above the roots can damage your tree. Native vines like Virginia creeper and native grape are often not harmful to trees.

Avoid topping. Topping means cutting off a large number of branches and leaving the stubs. This is an extreme form of pruning that severely damages trees, making them vulnerable to insects and disease. Trees should not be topped, and tree care firms that suggest topping should be avoided. To limit the height or spread of a tree close to buildings or utility lines, engage an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Certified Arborist or a Consulting Arborist (American Society of Consulting Arborists).

Consult an arborist. Get objective advice about tree maintenance when it comes to dealing with branches that appear to be dying; fungus growth on the base or trunk; planned construction activities that may encroach on tree roots; excavation for utility lines; and finding a competent tree care company. Consulting Arborists should also recommend competent tree care companies to carry out needed work.

Thriving willow oak by Nicole Merlene
Thriving willow oak, by Nicole Merlene

How to protect your trees when your neighbor is developing their lot

Damage to your trees from development can happen in many forms, but root damage is the most overlooked, and often highest impact side-effect of development. Tree roots do not care about property lines, but can get impacted by a neighboring project.

Find information on how to best protect your tree from development damage and disturbance.

Removal Permits

No permit is required to remove trees on private property in most cases

Exceptions requiring a permit to remove a tree:

The permit process is expedited for removal of a dead or hazardous tree in an RPA.

For by-right development projects over 2,500 square feet, a tree preservation and planting plan is required, per the Chesapeake Bay Ordinance. Please refer to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance for more information.