My neighbour has a huge oak tree literally on my boundary fence. It's so
massive that it takes all light from the middle section of my garden.
The trees on my side (an apple and rowan tree) are bending, trying to
look for light. My neighbour has let us cut the branches overhanging our
property before. I have asked if we can take it down but she says she
wants to keep it for 'shade' on her side. As a compromise, we agreed we
could take the height down to the levels of the trees next to it, and
leave the branches on her side as they are. I've consulted a tree
surgeon who says he can make a good job of trying to make a compromise
(without, in his words, "it looking like a helicopter has crashed into
it"). My neighbour is now starting to get difficult and saying she
"doesn't want a lot taking off" and that she doesn't want it "lop
sided". When we had the overhanging branches taken off a couple of years
back (with her blessing), she never said a word. Now she's saying he
"cut off half the tree and didn't shape it". But, it didn't change the
aspect on her side at all, just stopped the branches completely
overshadowing our side. It it right that we have absolutely no right to
take some of this tree down when it takes our light so badly? I'd never
want to make it look ugly or odd, or to upset my neighbour. But frankly,
I can't see how we can find a compromise if she won't allow us to cut
the branches that overhang our property. It feels grossly unfair. This
tree is about 30 feet high...
My understanding is anything that comes over into your property is fair
game for you to do with what you want. (Check with you City/County
government to make certain.) I had a neighbors' tree hanging over my
driveway and had a couple of their dead branches cut before they fell on
someone or a car in the driveway. As a courtesy, I did tell them before
hand. They actually seemed glad it was being done... They ended up
cutting down the tree the following year since it was dying.
The power company here comes by and butchers trees so they are not
hanging over power lines. They literally cut a big V in some, and there
are some where half the tree is just gone. Looks terrible. They claim
that you can't shape a tree, it is actually unhealthy for it and have to
cut the way they do. They give no notice to property owners, just show
up one day and hack off limbs and then leave.
In some areas, oaks are protected by law. A special permit is required
even to trim them. In other areas, this is not so. If a permit is
required and you don't have one, the fine can be as great as the value
of the affected tree, which can be quite substantial.
However, you should also check to see if sudden oak death (SOD, caused
by the water mold Phytophthora ramorum) is a problem in your immediate
area. It is now known not only on the Pacific coast of the U.S. but
also in the U.K. If SOD is a problem in your area, you might even be
able to get an order to remove the tree. Fortunately for me, SOD does
not yet seem to be a problem either in my area or with valley white oaks
As to utilities trimming trees, I have see a large number of palms
topped by the utility companies in my area; cutting off the top of a
palm kills it. The trunks remain. As they dry, they can become
horrific torches during even a minor wildfire (common in this arid area)
and destroy all overhead wiring. I just cannot understand why the
utilities do not cut the palms at ground level to avoid future problems.
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
This is a legal question whose answer will depend on the jurisdiction that
you are in. It is not sensible to ask an international garden group such a
thing as we are probably not in your area and probably not lawyers either.
On Tue, 6 Aug 2013 09:26:28 +1000, "David Hare-Scott"
Then it is on the neighbor's property line as well... here in the US a
tree on the property line is a no brainer, the portion on your side
gets removed, in fact in most US municipalities if one land owner
wants it gone the entire tree goes... most zoning laws specify a set
back for large trees, may be that no large trees can be planted closer
than 15' from the property line.
That's not a very large oak tree, but it's not a small tree either.
I've been in this situation before, including having the
passive-aggressive neighbor who is fully aware that the tree is a
nuisance to you - but instead of candidly discussing the problem, she
prevaricates, promises, and complains.
I'll tell you what I finally resorted to (and this was after a third
of the tree crashed down onto my parked car during a storm, leaving me
responsible for the removal and cleanup, since it fell onto my property):
I acquired a bottle of brushkiller (failing that, the most
highly-concentrated formulation of Roundup could be used). In the
middle of the night, I quietly went to the tree and dug away some of
the soil to expose a spot on one of the larger roots. I scraped off a
small patch of the root's surface with the knife, applied a goodly
spoonful of the brushkiller to the exposed area. I then patted the
dirt back over the spot and went back to bed.
Within a week, the tree began to show some browning of a branch or
two. I said nothing, but repeated the process in a couple of weeks,
this time finding another root to treat, as well as hitting the
original root with another dose. By the time the damage from the
second application showed up, the neighbor noticed the tree was in
distress and had it removed. Good thing; I was prepared to continue
until the tree died.
You can also kill a tree by girdling it - removing a collar of bark
from the base of the tree - but that is much easier to detect than a
few scraped patches on some roots.
Yes, vandalism or destruction of property means hiring an attorney,
court costs and, especially with so much being online these days,
anything on your record will have far-reaching and long lasting impacts
on a person's life.
You really need to check your local council website. Search for "Tree
Preservation Order" on it (sometimes called "Tree Protection order").
Be very careful - there are severe financial penalties for damaging
trees which are subject to a TPO. This is from my local council's FAQs:
"I am having problems with a tree in my neighbour's garden blocking
light. What can I do?
Alleged blocking of light to the house or garden involves complex legal
issues and there is no legal right to light. The council will not
generally prune healthy trees to allow greater access for light.
Technically, your neighbour only has a duty to ensure their trees are
safe. There is currently no height restriction on trees and hedges. If
you have concerns regarding a hedge or tree, ask your neighbour how they
intend to maintain it. You may be able to cut the overhanging branches
back to the boundary. However, before either you or your neighbour
undertakes works to any trees, it is important to check the trees are
not covered by a Tree Preservation Order or located within a
Note the final sentence. The previous FAQ ("My neighbour's trees
encroach over my boundary. Can I cut them back?") has the following
final sentence " If a tree is protected by a Tree Preservation Order, or
because it is located within a Conservation Area, the Common Law right
is removed and you will need to seek formal permission from the Council
before undertaking work to living parts of the tree."
Laws are laws and neighbors are neighbors. Of course find out your
legal standing, then negotiate. Maybe your arborist could do some
thinning over a period of several years.
Chances are the roots of the tree will be a worse problem that the
branches. In a city setting trees can be quite valuable, as the
poster who claims to have killed one must have found out. It probably
enhances the value of your property as well. Gardening on a small
plot is a challenge, and this tree is just one more added variable to
be overcome. Was the oak was there before the apple and rowan?
One of the oaks on my place is truly massive so they can get quite
If the trimmer took checks from both of you, she can deal with him about
any shaping on her side. You can cut off any limbs on your side without
If you paid the trimmer and then she paid you, then both you and the
trimmer will have to work with her.
PS -- Be sure that when you cut the limbs that it doesn't kill the tree.
When I have to prune a tree that is important to keep, I always make up
a disinfecting solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorox in a gallon of water,
wipe it around where I'm going to cut and wipe the saw blade. Then
after cutting, paint the open wound with a pruning seal. Cheap, easy
and helps to ensure the tree survives. I do this even with small cuts
if the tree is important to keep.
I've read this advice, too, even in my pruning "Bible" on which
I've depended for years. However, my experience (mostly with Florida's
native hardwoods) has been that use of a good pruning paint seems --
anecdotally, mind you -- to prevent fungus growth and to speed callus
formation, particularly on larger wounds. For the past thirty-or-so
years, I've abandoned the use of specialty products, which AFAIK no
longer contain creosote, in favor of the spray-on product sold as
"undercoating" by automotive parts stores.
Undercoating is the worst... a thick coat of tarry goop that won't
disolve with water is far worse... the whole concept of coating tree
wounds is to prevent insect entry during healing... an occasional
spritz with soapy solution works well; 1 oz Murphy's Oil Soap to 1 qt
H2O. Also a poultice of water and Octagon brown soap applied to tree
wounds goes a long way towards keeping the creepy crawlies out.
Sorry, but I'll continue to believe my own lying eyes. Who said
anything about "a thick coat of tarry goop"? The "whole point" to
coating a wound is to prevent water intrusion and the resulting invasion
of fungii which quickly destroys hardwoods, especially oaks, from the
inside outward. Blocking insects is a fringe benefit. Hardwood trees do
not seal wounds by "bleeding" thick tarry sap as do true pines.
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