Neighbours and Plants
Any Questions?

Inappropriate planting or neglecting large trees and hedges can lead to problems and disputes between neighbours, maintaining good relations early on is as important as maintaining those potentially troublesome plants.

    Talk to your neighbour! The majority of questions that I get asked in relation to neighbours could be easily solved by talking them over in a reasonable manner. I appreciate this is not always realistic, but many problems could be solved if people tried to do this first - and sooner rather than later.

    "Will this large tree next to my house damage it?" - with advice goes liability. I will always say if there is a danger, chop it down. Maybe many will be ok, but those few that aren't could be pretty disastrous, you can risk it, but I'm not going to suggest you do. The main danger with trees is drying out the ground causing it to expand and contract more than it would if the tree wasn't there, and most importantly, at a different rate to the ground nearby buildings are on. This can lead to cracking of concrete and brickwork. Direct damage to foundations by the roots is less likely though not impossible, and don't ignore the possible damage by falling branches (even quite small ones) or in the extreme case, the whole tree.

    "Will the roots from this hedge damage my / my neighbours, house / drive etc.?" as above - the variables of soil, local climate, plant variety, building standards etc. make specific advice impossible to give online.

If you are concerned about damage to your property from yours or your neighbours plants, or that your plants may cause damage to your neighbours property, then the best immediate thing you can do is to ensure you are properly covered by your buildings and liability insurance.

Removing the plant altogether will of course remove the threat.

High hedges and neighbours - legal information

Q.  What chemicals or otherwise do I use to get rid of ivy growing all over my fence from next door. Its starting to envelop my shed which is alongside the fence.

A. Unfortunately all you can do is cut off what comes on your property. Chemicals would cause a plant that is in your neighbours garden to be damaged which is against the law. It might be worth mentioning to your neighbour, as he/she may not be aware of the problem that you see it as.

Q.  Please tell me of the problems that occur when Ivy is grown up outside walls. Rendered brick, I have problems with neighbours growing Ivy on my outside walls which I need to discuss with them.

A. Unless a wall is already in bad shape, then ivy won't damage it. If you remove the ivy, you'll get some marks that are unsightly for a while, but they can soon be removed.

If the brick is rendered however - or pebble-dashed, then there is a possibility that the ivy could in time pull this away from the wall - possibly quite spectacularly in large pieces (by the square metre), self clinging climbers should be avoided on such surfaces. The underlying wall itself is less likely to be damaged however.

Q.  My backyard is about 50 feet by 30 feet. I have a chain link fence around the yard. I would really like to plant something all along the fence to create a wall (undesirable neighbors.) So it needs to be fast growing. I would prefer something that blooms in pink or white. But at this point speed & cost is our main factors. I have heard about the ameri-willow but this doesn't bloom. So could you give me some suggestions, prices, and tips on how much to order and how to plant the item. Thank you very much.

A.  If the problem is your neighbours, then the quickest solution is a wooden panel fence. Any hedging plant is going to take several years to grow tall enough and dense enough to make an effective barrier.

As for which plant, a fast growing hybrid willow would probably be the quickest solution, but as with any fast growing plant, you need to keep it trimmed back 2-3 times a year once mature if it is not to become unruly. Non-flowering plants will be the quickest, anything that flowers will put it's energy into the flowers instead of growing upwards and that will make it grow all the slower. Also, flowering hedges are less formal - shabbier if you're unkind - than a regularly trimmed hedge otherwise you cut the flowers off.

Your best bet would be Cherry Laurel or ordinary Privet which will flower if left untrimmed until after the flowers have done their stuff. Small plants will establish well and grow quickly, but no-where near as fast as a fence!

Q.  If my neighbour wishes to trim my tree that is over hanging into her garden am I obliged to have the branches that she has cut or am I entitled to get her to dispose of them?

A.  The law says they belong to you, so your neighbour is obliged to return them to you. This is their only obligation. Depositing them on your neighbours land would be the equivalent of dumping refuse, so from that perspective the legal obligation to deal with the branches is yours.

After all, they're your trees and your neighbour neither planted them nor chose to have them growing in her garden.

Q.  Our neighbour has a fixed trellis on the boundary wall which we believe is causing damp problems in our kitchen. Our neighbour is very unreasonable so is there any legal way we can make her remove it?

A.   Trellis is allowed on top of walls and fences without permission being needed - depends on how big it is of course, but a fence over 6 foot would require planning permission whereas a small trellis on top of a 6 foot fence wouldn't. I suggest you measure it and contact your local council planning office.

As for the damp, I'd have a word with your insurance company. Potentially it is causing damage that could lead to a claim. If the insurance company pay out on that claim, they would seek to claim it back from your neighbour who caused the claim to occur. Do you have legal assistance as part of the home insurance?

Q.   My neighbour has several Leylandii trees that are over 25 feet tall. They are planted about 9 inches from our boundary fence. the closest is about 20 feet from the rear of the house. I have cut them back to the fence. Am I allowed to dig a trench along the boundary fence on our side down to the roots and cut the roots off as the trees prevent anything growing under them? would this kill them?  Also how far down would the roots go.

A.   As I understand the law, yes you can dig a trench and sever the roots as the same laws apply to the soil under your property as the air above it as regards the growth of neighbours plants.

While you can cut through the roots, if this leads to the death of the trees then you are liable for that damage. I would check the legal situation with a professional though before engaging on such a drastic (and hard work) course of action.

How far the roots go depends on many variables, but major ones probably to 2-3 feet down.

An easier approach may be to inform your neighbour that boundary hedges should be no more than 7ft tall for a 3m+ run of evergreens. You could potentially take legal action to address this, though it will cost you money.

Q.  Please let me know what the law stipulates regarding overgrown trees from my neighbour.

A. Applies to the UK only - You can freely remove any overhanging branches or foliage to your property from your neighbour - the law says that you must return it to them though (maybe not a good idea however if they don't like you cutting it in the first place! - this part was designed for things like apples and other fruit that still belong to the neighbour). If they're likely to be acrimonious about it, I'd keep the trimmings to one side for a while just in case.

What you can't do is reduce the height of any trees as to do this you are encroaching on your neighbours property. You can however get them to reduce the height of a hedge to 7 feet, a hedge is defined as a continuous run of evergreens that is 3m or more long, the law is with you in this, though it may cost you to enforce it if your neighbour is unwilling to do it of their own accord.

Q.  We have a back garden fence that divides our house with our neighbours. They are very nosey and only come out when we go into our garden. Both myself and my wife don't feel comfortable going into our garden which we take pride in because of them and are desperate now as we have thought about planting Leylandii to gain privacy.

The houses are on a slope and their house and garden is slightly higher than ours. Our fence is 1.8 metres high on our side and from their side is only 1.5 metres high so they can be standing in their garden and look straight into ours.

We are thinking of adding trellis to our fence to add height but would also consider another form of plant rather than Leylandii to put in our garden that would grow to about 2 to 3 metres height very quickly and not require constant trimming. Can you recommend anything? This is our dream home and is being spoilt by these inconsiderate and nosey neighbours.

A.  The quickest way is to add a 2 foot high trellis to the top of the fence and grow a climber along it, honeysuckle, golden hop or crimson glory vine are all quick growers and twiners rather than clingers so wouldn't start to damage the fence, they are deciduous, though evergreen honeysuckle are available. An alternative to Leylandii is laurels, but anything fast growing is going to need regular trimming by definition, in any case with a hedge you're looking at a few years before it forms an effective barrier with branches knitted together. I'd be inclined to go for trellis + climber in the shorter term with laurels growing up for the longer term if you still feel that you want them.

Q.  How high can I grow Leyland's in my front garden, my garden is very unusual and faces on to 3 other houses which are separated by a shared drive, at present the trees are about 3ft high and some one keeps cutting them, I am unable to catch that person at present and they were put in to stop my dog jumping the fence is there any legal height that I have to follow, I am unable to find any information on this problem

A.  7ft is a common maximum height that you can let your hedge grow, beyond this there are often steps that neighbours can take to make you cut it back to this height. It is however illegal to cut down someone else's hedge on their own land without their permission.

Q.  (Virginia USA) We are having a very expensive wood privacy fence installed in our back yard. our one next door neighbor grows ivy along the property line, and he lets its grow up the sides of his trees, his shed, everything, he says he doesn't trim it. The fence people suggested we put the fence on that side one foot inside our property line so we could go around and trim the ivy from growing up our very expensive wooden fence, the neighbor said "I don't think I like that" .

How can we stop his ivy from growing up our fence (one foot inside our property line) he plans to plant ivy to the fence once it is up. we thought we could put a border of two by fours on the actual property line to define the one foot space we are leaving, but I am told ivy will grow right over that. please help, we have put a LOT of money into this fence and can't afford to pay for repairs that ivy damage will cause.

A.    Well it sounds like a combination of what the law is in your state and what your neighbourly relations are - not too good by the sounds of it.

I live in the UK where the law says that you can cut off any growth from your neighbours plants that stray across the boundary line as long as you return what you have removed (not always a good idea!). So if that applies where you are, your solution is fine, if your neighbour doesn't like it, then tough - he can erect his own fence to cover in ivy.

There could be an intermediate solution, put up chain link fencing between your 2 x 4 boundary markers to intercept the ivy and cut off anything that strays across.

Finding what the law is where you are should be your first port of call, local laws can vary widely on such matters.

Q.    Two years ago our neighbours built a large concrete and brick summerhouse at the top of their garden, right on the boundary, removing some of the boundary wall to do so. Last year we landscaped our garden and I planted a Parthenocissus to screen the ugly grey side wall of the building that now faces us.

I have been very careful to trim it and ensure it doesn't grow round onto the front of their building, although it had started to grow onto their roof and I hadn't trimmed that yet (I'm a new gardener and didn't realise how quickly it grows!)

It's taken 18 months to cover the area, and was about to come into its full Autumn glory. Yesterday I saw to my shock and dismay that they appear to have ripped it off the side wall and severed the stems down to a few feet below the height that it was when I bought it (it was quite an expensive plant as I bought a tall one). I presume they did this from their roof with long handled shears.

I feel very upset as it was my favourite secluded part of my garden, and they didn't say anything to us before doing it, even though I thought we had a very good relationship with them. Before I approach them about it, I'd like to know if they were within their rights to do it as it's their building, or whether it's OK for us to screen the side that faces us in this way (they never consulted us about putting up this type of building when they built it).

A.    That they didn't consult you about the building may mean that planning permission wasn't needed, or it may simply mean that they didn't bother about it, phone your local planning office to make sure. Even non-permanent structures such as sheds have rules about what you can and can't do, though the situation is complicated here  by having an existing boundary wall that was replaced.

As far as your plant growing up their building is concerned, this is the situation as far as I am aware.

    Your plant was growing in your garden, at the point where it strayed into your neighbours garden, they were within their rights to cut it back to the boundary. If it was up to the roof, there was a good chance it could grow through the tiles to the interior and start to lift and remove tiles.

    Your neighbours had no right to cut it back as they did as they were doing so in your garden and no matter what the perceived threat, even if it may have caused damage, they can't cut plants back that are growing in your garden, except for those parts that are over the boundary line.

Now, a realistic approach - You shouldn't have let it grow so high up the wall and approach the roof, maybe they thought you were just going to leave it? No plant grows so fast that it can't be kept in check in such circumstances.

They certainly shouldn't have cut it back so far, but they have and the damage is done. By rights they could only cut to the boundary. Can you let your plant grow up their property? That's the bit I'm not sure of, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't. Maybe a wall shrub rather than climber would have been a more diplomatic solution?

There is another possible issue here of the removal of part of the boundary wall to make room for the building. Who did the wall belong to? Does the building now take the place of the boundary wall? Do different rules apply in that case? These are questions that only a lawyer or maybe your local council can answer.

Diplomatic solution? Let them know how upset you were at them cutting your plant down (illegally, though maybe keep that word in reserve to start with!) that was growing in their garden and replace it with a wall shrub maybe.

Q.    Some 4 years ago my neighbour had a block drive laid about 3 feet from my conifers that have been there for about 32 years. He now says that the trees are taking water and his drive is sinking in some parts. Whilst I know this is possible is it my responsibility when he knew of the trees when he had the drive laid?

A.    There is also the possibility of course that the drive wasn't laid properly, the specifications of building work should vary according to local conditions, did the installer take the hedge into consideration or just lay the driveway as they would anywhere else? He could also be using heavy vehicles on it that he wasn't previously. After all if the trees have been there 32 years, why should the sinking occur just when the drive was laid?

This is a legal matter rather than gardening, I suggest you approach your local council or Citizens Advice Bureau in the first place if he starts to get awkward about it.

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