Hedges: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage it?

Discussion in 'Gymnosperms (incl. Conifers)' started by TomHarris, Apr 8, 2006.

  1. TomHarris

    TomHarris Member

    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Ottawa
    About a year and a half ago I moved into a new home with a large cedar hedge (not sure of species, so will include an attached image I just scanned in of a piece of it I just broke off a few minutes ago in the next post). The hedge is about 14 feet high at its highest and perhaps about 7 feet thick at its thickest and has not been well maintained by the previous owners on either side so it is pretty wild in places (I have trimmed back some on my side but the other side is quite rough indeed). The survival of this hedge is very important to me and my family as it provides considerable privacy to us in our very small backyard.

    All was fine until last fall when a fellow bought the property behind us and knocked down the old, medium sized house and put up a very large home in its place that fills nearly the entire property and is now very close to our property (though still within legal limits). The cedar hedge becomes even more important now if we are to have any privacy at all.

    There is another problem with the new development - the new owner has elevated the whole backyard of his property considerably (approaching a 2 foot rise at the house) and, with our lower windows at only a few inches above ground level, we (and some other neighbours) are concerned about potential flooding since the backyard of the property behind us used to flood quite a bit before the new owner came in (which is undoubtedly why he brought in so much earth to rise elevate it so much). The survival of the cedar hedge becomes even more important as I understand it is a significant water sink and so could help prevent flooding.

    The hedge trunks are a good one foot on our property but the hedge overhangs the new neighbour’s property considerably, perhaps 50% of the total hedge by volume. Legally, he can cut the hedge to the property line in one go, and indeed this is what I undesratnd he was planning on doing until I objected. He clearly still wants to cut the hedge right back to the property line and put in a solid fence just his side of the property line and he would obviously like to do it right away. I have been told, and I relayed the message to the new owner, that if one kills vegetation owned by a neighbour, you are liable legally, even if one can legally cut to the property line right away. I suspect (but don’t know, hence this posting) the solution is that he cut back a modest amount each year for, say, five years, until the hedge is pushed back far enough to put in his desired fence.

    So my questions are these

    - how much of a cedar hedge of this variety can be cut at once without killing or seriously damaging the plant?

    - Should the pruning (if that is what it is called when so much is to be removed) be spread over several years for the hedge to recover (the inside of the hedge is largely dead of course with the greenery on the outside portions only)?

    - What time of year should the pruning be done to minimize the damage to the hedge?

    Any other advice you can provide would be much appreciated – if I don’t come up with a plan soon, I am afraid the new neighbour will simply handle it quickly himself in the manner most convenient for his fence installation.
     
  2. TomHarris

    TomHarris Member

    Messages:
    4
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Ottawa
    Re: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage

    Please find attached a scanned in image of the piece of the hedge I just broke off - what kind of cedar is this?
     

    Attached Files:

  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

    Messages:
    20,207
    Likes Received:
    328
    Location:
    WA USA (Z8)
    Thuja occidentalis. If he scalps the hedge all the way up that could be a problem, if he just cuts enough away to fit the fence in underneath that may not matter. You really need to deal with people there where you are, starting with neighbor, garden consultant or arborist to look at hedge in person if you need one to tell you what might happen (and what has already happened, if they have altered the rooting environment). Other issues, like drainage call for appropriate local participants as well.
     
  4. Rima

    Rima Active Member

    Messages:
    992
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Eastern Canada
    I think you need to speak to a real estate lawyer as well. It's always been my understanding that regardless of how much (or little) of someone's 'foliage' is on my property, I'm in completely within my right to hack it all off to the property line. I doubt, however, that his cutting back your thuja will kill it, but if it does, that may just be unfortunate, but not actionable, and expecting him to wait 5 years while gradually trimming it back may not be realistic. I really hate being the 'messenger' here, though, which is why I think you should see your lawyer, if only to prove me wrong!
     
  5. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    1,058
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver
    Looking around, I see so many butchered Thujas that obviously the plant can take selective cutting. He can probably scalp it on his side and it may well survive on yours. I'm making the assumption that the plants have not been pruned as they grew over that way, and so where he wants to cut is now brown, not green. The plant will not sprout from old wood (ie beyond where it has green growth) and so it doesn't matter if he cuts once or cuts over 5 years; that old wood will not sprout (the variety is immaterial - it is a characteristic of the species). I agree too that it is not reasonable to ask him to wait 5 years till he can have the property as he wants it because of shrubs that are on YOUR property.

    The mistake made here was not by the new neighbour but by the previous owners of your house, in letting the hedge grow that far onto someone else's property without, I presume, ever pruning it. The plants selected may also have been a bad choice for the site; there are hedging plants that grow more upright. Otherwise, you have to prune them consistently as they grow to keep them tight and within bounds, and I think you are responsible for plants growing on your lot. What you two new owners can now do is kind of up to you, but I don't think you need to be married to the hedge as it is. It sounds like a honking big thing that is probably best replaced anyway sooner or later, so I would let him cut, and see what happens. You will, after all, have the benefit of his fence for privacy once he gets that up... and you can have another hedge grown within 5 years :-). A shame, but when you inherit plants that have become thugs, you are responsible, and must often oversee their demise.

    The soil-raising issue is separate, and far more alarming. Your dry basement should not depend on the vegetation (the effect of which might not be that enormous anyway), but on responsible development practices by builders. I'd be at city hall in a big way - did he have a permit if he needed one to do that, and how does the liability get distributed when your basement and property floods? That is, to whom do you send the bill? If city hall can't help, I'd also see a lawyer.
     
  6. Dunc

    Dunc Active Member

    Messages:
    95
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Port Alberni B.C. Canada
    Likely your best recourse, in this situation, is to agree to remove the cedar hedge, on your conditions.
    Like Karenl states, that cutting back once, or over 5 years doesn't matter, the greenery will be dead on the trimmed side. Your side will not likely appear much different. Perhaps the best solution is to come to an agreement. A 12-14' hedge may be nice for privacy, but so is a stone wall. Maybe you can agree to let them remove the whole hedge row and split the costs of removal and disposal as it will make their property appear much nicer through the fence that they will build and finance! If you still need additional privacy from their fence, Lilacs grow like weeds in the Ottawa area and you can let them attain the same height in a few years, they will take any pruning that you want.
    As for your drainage problems if they happen, that is not a gardening question, or something that would have been reduced by that hedge. Here on the west coast, houses are built a floor or more above their neighbors on sloping hillsides and it is your responsibility to provide adequate drainage for your property. The good side of that is that you may not have to water your deep rooted perenials at all. I have a gunnera that likely drinks 50 gal a day of the runoff water.
    Besides all of that a 14' cedar hedge isn't really that attractive, except to the owner. They may turn out to be nice neighbors too!
     
  7. Laurie

    Laurie Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

    Messages:
    428
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Re: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage

    Some things to consider here are the long-term relationship between you and the neighbors, the motivation for a fence, alternative plantings for privacy, and money. While consulting a real estate lawyer is a fine alternative, personally I would avoid it in this situation and at this time, as it invariably sours relationships, and these are neighbors. I think that this is a sensitive issue since it appears that you have already mentioned legal issues regarding the responsibility of paying for plants that die. I would rather use that money to work toward a reasonable solution such as offering to pay for part of the fence or purchasing alternative plantings for a hedge. If you have a very small backyard, then the hedge and fence cannot be that long. Some neighbors share in the cost and design of a fence, including removal of a current fence. It sounds as if this neighbor has planned for this expense and may have more money for this project. What is their motivation for a fence; obviously a dense hedge is not enough or else they just don’t like the hedge? If it is for a dog, then I am sure that you will understand the need for quick resolution of the matter. Most people seem to understand privacy, and I am sure that you have already made it clear to them that that is your motivation. They may appreciate the privacy as well.

    It sounds as if you are comfortable with the hedge as it looks from your side or you would not have sought our opinions on saving it. For the least expensive options, they could either limb up the hedge for 4’, 6’, or 8’ at the property line or at the trunk. If the fence lets light into the hedge, then perhaps you can limb up a little bit and add some contrasting plants below. It seems to me that the neighbors have likely built at least a two-story house, so the typical 4’ to 8’ fence typically zoned in an urban area is not going to provide the privacy you are attempting to preserve. For a more expensive option, if you do agree to let the entire hedge be felled, then definitely insist on a hardy evergreen alternative of the same height since a deciduous one will not provide what you are trying to save. There are suggestions on various websites for appropriate hedging materials for your zone in Ottawa.
     
  8. cmrad

    cmrad Member

    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Ottawa
    I had a very similar incident happen when I moved into my house in Ottawa a few years back where the first words out of my neighbors mouth were that she wanted the hedge cut down. The good news for you is that the Ottawa by-laws are on your side. A quick call to them and they'll hook you up with their hedge and fence person (613-580-2400).

    What I learned is that a backyard fence in Ottawa can only be 6 feet tall - so if your neighbor is on a hill a fence wont provide much privacy. If the hedge is on your property (and hedges are considered trees) and there are over-hanging branches into your neighbor's property they do have every right to hack them off and put up a fence. However, if they kill the hedge due to aggressive trimming or if they construct a fence that blocks all the light to the hedge or the fence poles damage the shallow roots and the hedge dies then they're on the hook to replace it.

    What I would do is talk to your neighbor, educate them on the city by-laws and get a real arborist over to your house to trim the hedge on your side AND your neighbors side, give it a nice shape and record the health of the hedge. (Then if anything happens you'll have a record and someone to testify in any litigation proceedures). The arborist could also assist with putting in a fence so as to limit the damage to the roots. If it's a 14 foot hedge then a 6 foot fence probably wont affect the health of the hedge too much (as long as the roots don't get damaged) - these hedges seem pretty tough.

    Anyway - talk to the city, talk to an arborist and talk to your neighbor!

    Good luck
     
  9. haul0348

    haul0348 Member

    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Lebanon Tn
    I dont know about your local law but here in tn we are required to keep hedges,fencing,etc at least a 6 inch setback from the property line. I set mine back 2 ft but as mentioned by the other members you may not want to create bad relations with your neighbor. But i would check your local codes department/city and find out what is required. I do think to much pruning would kill it or make it very unpleasing to the eye.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2006
  10. joZ

    joZ Active Member

    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    North Vancouver, BC
    Re: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage

    Those reading this thread might also want to review the thread in "Conversations and Chat" called "Legal question about severe shrub pruning by neighbour ". This has a great discussion about legal matters, local law, bylaws, etc.
     
  11. Leylandii Lad

    Leylandii Lad Member

    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Britain
    Re: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage

    No problem. I cut a neighbour's cypress hedge/trees right back to the almost the trunks on one side a few years ago.
    Now they're thriving and needing cut back again.
     
  12. Gerry413

    Gerry413 Member

    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Coquitlam
    Re: New neighbour wants to massively cut back my cedar hedge - will this kill/damage

    How is the cut Back done? Chain saw?
     

Share This Page