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The Neighbour’s Tree

The Neighbour’s Tree

Rarely a week goes by that we don’t get a call from a prospective customer to inquire about their neighbour’s tree.  The one variable in most of these situations is the reasons why the customer is interested in the neighbour’s tree to begin with.

Perhaps the neighbour’s tree has branches that are flapping on the roof.  Perhaps the neighbour’s tree is creating too much shade.  Perhaps the trunk of the neighbour’s tree is too close for comfort to the foundation of the customer’s house.  Perhaps the neighbour’s tree drops berries that your pet is allergic too.  Perhaps the customer is worried about branch failure overtop of their garage.

The common question that customers ask us is, “Since it’s not my tree, what can I do about it?”

There are two paths I like to explore with customers when they present this question:

  1. What is within your right to do?
  2. What IS the right thing to do?

The straight, clear cut, simplified answer to question one is the following: locate your property line, create an imaginary line straight up, everything on your side of the property line can be removed and everything on their side of the property line stays.

This is within your right to do.

Now for the more complicated question; what IS the right thing to do?

If we think for a moment about what is right for the tree’s health and longevity, then the response given in question 1 can be quite detrimental for a number of reasons.  For starters, this usually involves a lot of cuts to the branches.  The more cuts, the more opportunities for pests to have a foothold in the tree.

Another common downside of this type of pruning is epicormic growth, which in many cases will actually amplify your problem in a few years time.  Epicormic growth may arise wherever the branch is tipped back so that in less than a year’s there will be a proliferation of new branches.  The problem you originally had may become an even bigger problem.  In addition, the branch that was tipped back will have an increased likelihood of failure in future than if it wasn’t pruned back.

So, for the sake of the tree, what is the right thing to do?  If the branch needs to be pruned, avoid pruning it at the boundary for your property line.  Prune the branch at the branch collar; this is where a branch intersects with another branch or with the trunk.  This should be done by a Certified Arborist as a poorly placed and poorly executed cut can have adverse affects.

In order to do this cut properly requires the neighbour’s permission to be on their property and to prune from their tree.  Therefore the right thing to do, is to have a conversation with the neighbour.

Experience says that the conversation will go over smoother with a neighbour if there is a pre-existing relationship to build off of.  In other words, avoid introducing yourself to your neighbour and then in the following sentence asking if they would mind if the tree that has been in their family for 5 decades can be pruned back a little bit. Or worse yet, asking if they will split the cost for removing “this messy tree”.

Have a little bit of sensitivity and empathy when dealing with neighbours’ trees.  For many people, their tree isn’t just a tree, it is much more.  It is akin to a memory bank, that collects, stores, creates, and recreates memories.

I met a customer once who planted their daughter’s favourite tree in their backyard after their daughter had passed away 30 years earlier.  While we never did work on it, I can remember feeling the gravity of the responsibility of caring for such a sacred memory.


Still not sure what the right thing to do is?  Give us a call and we would be happy to help.