Neighbors' hedge is shading out my garden

girlndocs(8 WA)April 26, 2006

This is becoming a major issue for us and I don't know what to do about it.

Many years before we moved into the house we now rent, our neighbors planted a laurel privacy hedge. I can see why they wanted it, as otherwise our bedroom windows directly face each other, which is a wee bit too friendly for my taste.

However, they planted it literally *on* the property line, as far as I can tell. I don't know what they were thinking -- as if a large robust hedge would somehow magically not grow over the property line and intrude in "our" yard? Geez.

Since the hedge is in a spot where it doesn't bother them no matter how big it gets, they have done zero maintenance on it, ever. And now it's huge, a towering, looming 15-foot monster 10 feet thick, and it's literally blocking the sun to my garden, robbing us of several hours of morning sun my roses need.

They're OK with us cutting it back as long as it remains as high as their gutter line for privacy. But we can't cut such a big hedge back ourselves -- we tried and gave up for fear of losing a major limb -- and we can't afford to hire someone for such a huge job, either. And of course, the reason it's such a big job is because they planted a monster hedge they had no intention of keeping in bounds. Grrrrrr.

It just seems so unfair that their hedge that they've failed to maintain could literally kill my garden. Surely they're responsible in some way for their plants affecting property that isn't theirs? I wonder if I have any legal recourse about this? I'd rather not use it, to be honest, since they're nice neighbors all told, and I'd like to stay on good terms with them. But neither do I want to give up gardening because they refuse to take responsibility for the gigantic hedge they planted.

Any advice?



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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

You can, legally cut any branch of your neighbor's plantings thatc rosses your property line. But your neighbor is under no obligation to do so.
Since you also get benefit from the privacy afforded by the hedge, I would move the roses, or trim the hedge.
Am i understanding you correctly? That you recently moved into this house and the hedge was well established before you moved in....and that you don't own the property?
Not sure you really have any business to complain...if I am understanding you.
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 2:44PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

"Am i understanding you correctly? That you recently moved into this house and the hedge was well established before you moved in....and that you don't own the property?"

We rent here and we moved in 4 years ago. Yes, the hedge was established neglected at that time, but being a novice gardener, I didn't realize it then.

"I would move the roses, or trim the hedge."

I can't move the roses, I have a small yard. And I planted the roses when the hedge was some 6 feet shorter than it was now, not realizing that no matter how monstrously huge it got the neighbors had no intention of maintaining it. It grows about 2 feet a year in every direction.

As for trimming the hedge, I wonder if you read my original post all the way through. We can't trim such a gigantic hedge ourselves, and we can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars to have someone else do it.

And frankly? It burns me that we should have to consider it. I accept that they might not have a legal obligation to do it, but it seems to me that simple consideration dictates that they take responsibility over what they plant in THEIR yard if it's so out of control it's effectively taking over MY yard.

You don't think I have any business to complain, well, I might not legally own this property but it is my home. I planted the roses. I don't see how being a renter somehow entitles me to less love and concern for my garden than if I owned the house.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 3:34PM
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Kristin, I understand your frustration as I deal with shade from neighbors' tall oak trees (as well as my own) ... the tree canopy was much more open when we moved in almost 30 years ago! I just try to remind myself how much cooler it is in summer because of those trees ... and do my best to find plants that will thrive in dappled shade (many more than I thought). Roses are a little tougher, but I've had pretty good luck with mine in partial sun - they seem fine as long as they get a good half-day's sun.

Have you seen the roses begin to decline? If they still receive good afternoon sun, maybe the problem is that the roots of the laurel are competing for water and nutrients?

I'd be very careful about trimming that laurel hedge for a couple of reasons.

First: We have a lot of laurel growing in this area and, of course there are different varieties, but I've never had, nor have I seen anyone else have, any success trimming them back. Anything less than cutting them down to a stump results in a scraggly, wretched looking thing. (Cut them down to the stump, however, and they come back full and beautiful ... go figure.)

Second: Trimming them back could have a significant, possibly negative, effect on the value of your landlord's property (you might not mind a thinned-out scraggly hedge, but a future renter might).

How about posting over in the "Shrubs" forum to see if anyone has any advice on prudently pruning back those laurels? In the meantime, I'd try to figure out if water and nutrient competition is having more impact than loss of morning sunlight.

Best of luck to you. Again, I understand how frustrating it is. I have several new rose bushes, some grown from cuttings I took last fall ... and can't figure out where to put them! If my neighbors spotted me the other day, they probably think I've finally gone 'round the bend ... ambling around the yard looking straight up to try to identify spots that are NOT under the tree canopy!


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 6:17PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

Thanks, Diane. I actually haven't seen any decline in the roses yet but I'm looking ahead to this hedge growing larger ... and larger ... and larger ... you get the picture. And every year it gets larger, it also gets less practical to cut it back. So, I'm feeling real pressure to find some kind of solution now and not later.

Plus the roses in that spot don't actually get good aftermoon sun; they're on the east side of the house and there's a big pear tree shading out the sun from noonish on. So they *need* that morning sun.

We had it trimmed 3 years ago by a neighbor down the street who volunteered his kind of slapped-together, not-very-reputable hedge trimming "business". It did fine and filled back in bushy very quickly. Now it's bigger than it was when they trimmed it! We're not on good terms with that guy now, though, and I don't want him in my yard anymore.

I've pruned laurels many a time, myself, in fact: it used to be a family project every summer to do the ones in my Grandma's yard. So it's not so much that I'm intimidated by the trimming task, it's just that we don't have the right equipment and skills for such a big job. My husband gets vertigo on ladders and that leaves me to do all the high-up work, and the ground by the hedge is uneven. So I feel really unsafe trying to tackle it ourselves.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 6:28PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

gardenstateof....the laurels commonly seen here can be lowered from 20 feet to knee level with a power saw and they bounce right back, healthy and full, oversized again in no time - lots of people have done it, and equally as many people have regretted planting them. They do make for privacy, but also dense shade while being rather boring, vigorous (as on steriods) shrubs. So many prettier choices!

Kristin, I don't really have an answer for you; I honestly don't know the legal aspects of encroaching shade. Any possibility of having a pizza and beer party for willing friends? Friends with trucks to haul away branches? (serve the beer when the ladder work is done :) )

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 10:22PM
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'the laurels commonly seen here can be lowered from 20 feet to knee level with a power saw and they bounce right back, healthy and full, oversized again in no time'

Please take another look at my post, morz8; I believe we are in agreement on that point.

however, Kristin said the neighbors had approved their 'cutting it back as long as it remains as high as their gutter line for privacy', not cutting it back to knee level with a power saw.

You have a much different climate in WA than we do here in coastal NJ, but around here when people have 'cut back' mountain laurels as described by Kristin, they don't put out much growth below, but, rather, just keep growing from the top and wind up thin and scraggly ... 'Pruned' back to a stump or knee height, however, they will do just as their cousins in WA and produce lush new growth.

In their natural environment - the woods - these laurels can be lovely when in bloom, but they certainly present challenges on most residential properties.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 12:39AM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

"In their natural environment - the woods - these laurels can be lovely when in bloom, but they certainly present challenges on most residential properties."

You said it. A laurel hedge is a stupid, stupid, stupid thing.

I've thought for a long time that when I have my own property I'll plant a single laurel as a shade tree. They are so graceful (and evergreen, too). Planting them where they have to be continuously butchered into a hedge shape is just idiotic.

The variety we have is "skip laurel", BTW.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 12:42AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

agardenstate're right. I read too quickly and only got as far as the part about trimming not being successful. Sorry....

But I still don't have a good resolution for Kristin this morning. I have a big laurel next door too, and while I don't enjoy the big, boring, dumb green mass, it's not causing me any problems and my neighbor has volunteered the info she feels that hard pruning it would improve my view. :)

I did find it interesting that for the first time ever, the deer were seriously munching on the laurel in the last few months when I'd never noticed they had touched it.
I spent many mornings watching them nap nearby, then get up and strip entire stems for a snack :) It's the first time since she was a child my neighbor has lived someplace other than a large city; she was enjoying the deer so much too she let them have their fill.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 1:44PM
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The change is the increased shade in your yard, not that the laural hedge is taking over. As landscapes mature, this happens. As gardeners we deal with it, sometimes by chaning they type of plants we have.

The fact that the hedge was planted on the property line is really an issue for the landlord. Obviously, it's something that wasn't objected to years ago. They may have even had the landlord's permission since it does give privacy to both homes. You've stated you benefit from this.

Yes, you have the right to enjoy your rental home. As a former landlord, I wouldn't have even let you plant the roses. I would have had to deal with them when you leave. I'd rather have the privacy issue solved.

I can tell you are really angry about this. It's just shade. My trees shade my neighbor's yard. They've mentioned a couple of times they wish we didn't have so many trees so they could grow more sun plants. No way would I ever cut down these trees. The main selling point of the house was all of the mature shade plants.

I try and plan in advance for what needs to be planted. Just like it would have been nice for you to have a smaller hedge the next people who rent the house will probably be mad they have to cut around rose bushes.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 9:07PM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

Wow, what's your major malfunction? I don't believe I asked for people's opinions on what I would be allowed to grow if I were their tenant, nor for opinions on what future renters might think of my plantings.

For the record, I moved into a yard that 1) had last been used to house two very large, bored, neglected dogs and 2) was "cared for" by a property management company whose idea of maintenance consisted of weedwhacking all the 3-foot tall grass and leaving it on the spot to kill 90% of the lawn just before we moved in. I don't mind this too much: the advantage is that they don't give a dang what I plant where and just about anything I do is going to improve the property.

It's *not* just shade. The point is that these neighbors (who I'll remind you I like, although I'm frustrated with their hedge) planted something they had no intention of maintaining and probably no idea how big it would get or how to care properly for it. It's irresponsibility. Um, yes, it *is* taking over -- a neglected hedge is not the same thing as mature shade trees. It's not even the same thing as a properly cared for privacy hedge.

Do you have some resentment issues from your days as a landlord you haven't dealt with, or something?


    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 10:06PM
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No malfunction Kristin. Just tired of dealing with hard to please renters.

Sorry you were so offended.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 3:17AM
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girlndocs(8 WA)

Well, there will be no hedge trimming for us right now! A pair of robins have nested in it. I don't want to disturb them, so I guess we'll try to save some money to have it trimmed this fall instead.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2006 at 2:24PM
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annette_g(z7 NJ)

Hi, I have to tell you.. be very very careful what you do about this. No matter HOW friendly you think your neighbors are. I am going through the same identical thing right now but.. I am your neighbor. I put up a row of forsythia bushes on my property line. This was done to stop the neighbor from mowing straight across on to my property making it look like his. I had asked him several times to stop but he yessed me to death. So.. up went the hedge. I have about 8 of them and they are big now. Well.. were. Yesterday, his wife came out and hacked the heck out of them. On my side, I can now see through them and their side looks like plain hell. They never ever take care of their property but this year they go the bug. In retaliation, back when I did the bushes, they put up an October Glory Oak which is now huge, annoys me with it's helicopters in the spring and leaves in the fall.. in fact.. they put up two. NOW they want grass to grow.. they have surface roots all over the place and they thought by 'trimming'.. hacking the bushes.. the sun would shine through and give them grass. I doubt it. In fact.. now I am so mad I am going to make sure it doesn't. See what happens? Like begats like. I don't care if I lose them as friends. I feel she could have told me she was going to become the garden hairdresser. Ugh..

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 1:31PM
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chris_ont(5a Ont)

I cannot imagine what sort of monster would be such trouble to maintain.
If trimming it encourages new growth, well then trim it more often. Grass gets cut more than once a year, too. A shaky ladder on uneven ground can be remedied by having enough people on hand to steady it. It takes only a saw and some elbow grease to top the hedge or remove key branches. Can you post a picture of this behemoth? I am curious now.

As urban neighbood gardeners, it's often necessary to roll with the punches and put up with light-robbing encroachments. That means rather than expecting "them" to do something about your problem (even if caused by their trees, hedges, cats, ineptitude), it's only you that can make the best of it.
While painful, perhaps it's time to give up on the roses (or let them go into decline) and look to shade gardening, which is an extremely satisfying way to garden. Can you move the roses to another side of the house? Switch to climbing roses if those spaces are smaller?

A compromise like that may, in the end, go a long way to making you feel better and maintaining your good relationship with the neighbors. At this time, you are as stuck on keeping your sun-garden as much as they are on keeping their hedge in this state.


My neighbor, with an eye to selling his house, took an electric clipper to my huge cedar hedge that, so far, provided 100% privacy between us. It was growing through the chainlink but there wasn't anything on his side but grass, anyway. Guess he didn't realize that this hedge would NOT easily regrow (his side is north and cedar doesn't grow back well on old wood). So now, although still lush on my side, there are big holes and there is no more privacy. The hedge just looks dead on his side. What a way to reduce the appeal of your backyard! Wish he'd talked to me so that I could have done some selective pruning instead of shaving the branches down to stubs. (No point here, just ranting in response to Annette's tale of hacked forsythia)

    Bookmark   May 26, 2006 at 11:01AM
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marie_of_roumania(z6 MA)

girlndocs, call your city/town hall & ask about your local 'spite fence' ordinance. maximum fence/hedge height varies from town to town & anything taller is considered a spite fence. the owner of the fence needs to reduce the fence/hedge or get fined.

where i live, it's 7 feet & i'm using it to force the rassin'-frassin'-jackass across from me to cut his evil wall-o'-sumac.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2006 at 9:14PM
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Did you say you are renting? How long do you plan to be there? I hope I don't get bawled out, but I think I would just plant shade-tolerant plants and try to be content with them. There are a whole lot of beautiful plants that can take total shade.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2006 at 3:11AM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

What some of you don't seem to understand is that this laurel hedge isn't just shading the OP's yard.

Laurel gets very wide as well as tall. This hedge is most likely six feet or more over the property line, robbing the OP of space.

Now, for those of you who live in the country this might not seem like a problem but for those of us who live in the city six feet less of garden IS a problem. I would imagine it is more than six feet though....

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 11:04PM
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cateyanne(zone 5/6 Northern Ohio)

I was a renter for several years before buying but I was always a gardener. I have treated every home I lived in as if it were my own. Although changes to the interior were small and had to be approved by the landlord I was lucky enough that every landlord was happy to let me add plants to their yards. It made the houses look more like homes and increased their property values. More importantly, it let me feel like I could make a real home while I was saving up for my own. Keep in mind there are just as many landlords who take the rent money and never make the needed repairs or improvements allowing their valuable properties to deteriorate as there are renters who trash homes and neglect the daily upkeep. Being a renter shouldn't mean you are not allowed to add your own special touches and pursue your passions,to really "live" in the house and make it a home. At the same time being a renter means you do not own the property. You should not do things inside or out without the landlord's permission and anything you do should be easily reversed when you plan to move. Above all, since the property is not yours you really cannot worry about what you cannot do because of the situation with the neighbors. You'll just have to grow what you can grow in the space as provided to you and save the roses and any other plans you may have for the next home. On the other hand if the laurel is really causing a problem with the property line I would talk to your landlord. Unless he actually comes over and "walks" the property periodically he will have no idea how things are really looking and he might take it up with the neighbors or take legal action to protect his property value. Best of luck

    Bookmark   September 23, 2006 at 5:01PM
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