Garden Damage By Neighbors

Do Unto Other Gardeners As You Would Have Them Do Unto You. Gardening can be such a delight. Yet having just one uninformed hapless neighbor or even an intentionally destructive neighbor can put a damper on anyone’s gardening success. Garden damage by neighbors is a regular occurrence even in the nicest and quietest of neighborhoods.

It seems that no matter where you live, there is always at least one individual who doesn’t believe that the law applies to them, nor are they respectful of others’ property. It could be that they allow their pets to run unrestricted in the neighborhood, that they don’t pick up after their pets, or that they are just generally disrespectful of others.

One of the first activities that I suggest during my garden design consultations is for my client to order a house location survey or property survey find the property corners and mark the property lines. Licensed property surveyors will find the property markers and can add stakes every so many feet along property lines to ensure you know where your property boundaries are located. It’s one of the best investments that a homeowner can make. Additionally, it will usually stop any trespassing by other neighbors. If the neighbors take issue with the survey results, they can always order their own survey. We certainly don’t want to landscape any property that doesn’t belong to the client.

Example of a House Location Survey showing the property plat (Photo Credit: virginiamls.com)
Example of a House Location Survey showing the property plat (Photo Credit: virginiamls.com)

Just let’s hope that the neighbors won’t move the property markers around as I’ve seen happen on other projects. Once the property lines are marked, I take measurements from immovable objects so we know if the markers have been moved. One neighbor kept moving the side markers anywhere from 4 inches to a foot inside my client’s side of the property line. She also installed a yellow string line where she thought (or wished) the property line was located. She never got a property survey of her own and never said a word to my client. However, she had already encroached several feet onto my clients’ property by cutting branches of the bushes and planting her own flowerbeds. It turned out that quite a few of that neighbors bushes and plants were on my clients’ property. My client ended up installing a 6 foot stockade fence two inches inside her side of the property line which seems to have resolved the encroachment problem. My client did have to pay for a second survey on the morning of the fence installation, while the fence installers were there, to be sure the other neighbor would not move the stakes before the fence went up. Some people just want to argue over a few feet of property. Let’s hope your neighbors don’t do the same to you!

It appears that the neighbor moved a side property line marker from the original stake hole about 4 - 5 inches into my client's side of the property line and didn't fill in the hole so we knew it had been moved.
It appears that the neighbor moved a side property line marker from the original stake hole about 4 – 5 inches into my client’s side of the property line and didn’t fill in the hole so we knew it had been moved.

One of the gardens that I was restoring a few years ago had neighbors on all three sides. Each set of neighbors had cut/pruned/removed the bushes on the edges of the restoration property, and in some cases, far across the property line. In this area, rather than erecting fences, some homeowners prefer to delineate property with shrubbery. For this particular property, the state law clearly touts that adjoining neighbors cannot cut or prune bushes ACROSS the property line — only UP TO the property line. Coming across the property line is considered to be trespassing. Also, according to that state’s laws, any trees ON the property line can be used as legal markers and require BOTH parties’ approval to be removed.

Next door neighbor didn't like my client's Leyland cypress bushes, cut their branches up to the trunk and then complained that one fell over
Next door neighbor didn’t like my client’s Leyland cypress bushes, cut their branches up to the trunk and then complained that one fell over

Aside from the legal issues of trespassing and property damage, what’s the issue with severely cutting plants on only one side? Plants are usually symmetrical. Think about it. A high wire balancing actor needs both of his arms, and sometimes a long pole, to keep his balance. It’s the same with a tree or bush. Cut off one side, and it may tip over in a strong storm. And one of the Leyland cypress bushes did tip over during high winds. Of course, the neighbor who severely pruned the Leyland cypress’ one side was the first to complain when it fell and wanted it removed immediately.

Improperly pruned bushes can cause them to fall over
Improperly pruned bushes can cause them to fall over

Additionally, severe pruning or cutting can invite the introduction of insect pests. Many large branches removed from a plant, and not sealed off, can encourage diseases. When I am pruning large branches or moving bushes, I’m very careful to seal any nicks or scratches or open wounds on the trunks and main branches as soon as possible with a pruning sealer.

Not sure yet why this neighbor cut several of my client's cedars to the ground, well inside my client's property line, and severely pruned several others
Not sure yet why this neighbor cut several of my client’s cedars to the ground, well inside my client’s property line, and severely pruned several others

Some folks like to see their trees “limbed up” so that they can walk under them. Evergreens are not meant to be “limbed up” like a fruit tree. I have no understanding for people who work against Nature.

A neighbor's day laborers improperly hacked these hemlocks' branches off at the trunk with machetes
A neighbor’s day laborers improperly hacked these hemlocks’ branches off at the trunk with machetes

Do you have a neighbor who takes it upon themselves to remove your weeds and grass for you? It appears that someone near another of my clients is “Round-up” happy. Seems a bit odd for one area of a property to have dead grass when we did not treat it. Also, there are similar dead grass areas in a circle around a tree and in a line along a flowerbed on the next door neighbor’s property. Note: If you are not happy with weeds on your neighbor’s property, talk to them about it. It’s not your property, so you cannot treat the weeds yourself. Most states have pretty clear laws about trespassing and property damage. And if you are treating your own property, don’t treat your neighbors’ too without permission — it’s pretty obvious who did it!

Here’s the “before” photo prior to someone’s application of Roundup or other grass and weed killer:

Before: Here's an area with some grass growing around cinder blocks.
Before: Here’s an area with some grass growing around cinder blocks.

And here’s the “after” photo a few weeks later:

Someone clearly applied a weed and grass killer to this area.
Someone clearly applied a weed and grass killer to this area.

I find it to be very interesting that the neighbors who feel others’ plants, bushes, and trees are encroaching would be quite livid if you were to cut their plants back to their trunks on your side of the property line. So why do they it when many times they don’t even prune their own plants? I have no answer, really, other than some people are just looking for attention, positive or negative. Get your own positive attention by planting some gorgeous plants well inside your OWN property line.

Now, I’m restoring an established yet unmaintained garden as my current project. One of the neighbors has already provided me with a verbal list of what plants she does and does not “like”, what she wants removed, and what she wants to be planted in the restoration garden. She likes knock-out roses, ornamental grasses, and lots of potted annuals and perennials such as pansies and mums. She wanted the pretty pecan tree, hazelnut trees, wisteria vines and butterfly bushes to be removed because they “drop stuff” onto the ground. Not dropping on her property at all, but being fastidious herself, she felt the need to push her views onto my client’s gardening habits and style. I listened quietly, but since she is not my client, I didn’t pay heed to her comments. My job is to satisfy my client — not the neighbor. And it very much surprises me that this woman would be so BOLD when it’s not her property. Had we listened to her, my client’s garden would have been an exact cookie-cutter version of this neighbor’s garden to include lots of unnecessary watering and pruning.

My in-laws had a second home where my father-in-law had a robust vegetable garden. I found it disturbing that the neighbors would wait until he headed back to his first home before they would raid the vegetable garden. I remember driving there one weekend expecting to harvest a lot of tomatoes and peppers. Nope — the neighbors had picked all of the ripe ones. And as we all know, there’s nothing better than a ripe tomato, warm from the vine. How did I find out what happened? Oh, they were not bashful at all about telling me. The nerve of some people!

My late father-in-law's vegetable garden
My late father-in-law’s vegetable garden

So what are the options if you have a neighbor who inadvertently or intentionally causes damage to your garden? Of course, the saying “good fences make good neighbors” is definitely an option. You can resort to legal action which is sometimes the only thing that stops bullying actions. Set up an outdoor security camera system which will record any movements on your property by intruders. Usually with such video evidence, either the neighbor will stop their actions, or you can get a judge to issue a restraining order and let the courts enforce it.

Improperly pruned and now split hemlock branch "over the property line"
Improperly pruned and now split hemlock branch “over the property line”

At this point in my gardening life, I’m more of the listening type. Sure, maybe you don’t like what I plant. I may not like what YOU plant. But I’m not going to tell you about it and I’m not going to remove anything you just don’t happen to “like”. Let’s agree to disagree. You might not like my cedar wall and I may not like your garden gnomes. It’s all about gardening together with the Gardener’s Golden Rule: Do unto other gardeners as you would have them do unto you. Be nice, and you might learn something, too.

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