Weeds, trees and bad neighbors

It’s funny how plants can bring out the best and the worst in people. Want to make your wife, mother or grandma happy? Give her a spring bouquet or a nice hanging basket out of the blue! However, let some dandelions grow in the yard, or weeds grow on the neighbor’s side of the fence, and you might start a feud of Hatfield and McCoy proportions.

Of course, people’s idea of a weed may be somewhat subjective. For example, a local garden shop owner shared a story about getting hauled into court to testify about the nature of zoysia grass, a warm season grass that makes a nice yard if you live in southern states, but tends to be a tan colored, unattractive turf in our area during cooler months.

One person had ordered zoysia from a Sunday supplement in the paper, which proclaimed the grass to be a miracle grass, free from diseases, pests and thick enough to crowd out most weeds. The zoysia worked as promised, aggressively crowding out the bluegrass as well as other plants, eventually moving into a neighbor’s lawn, and of course, causing it to be tan most of the year. The invaded neighbor sued after “zoysia man” refused to control his turf.

Dandelions in neighboring lawns often bring out the ire in folks who work hard to keep their lawns weed free. The bright yellow flower against the green grass backdrop is something akin to waving a red cloth in front of a bull. Entire Facebook pages and Homeowner Association rules have been written about neighbors who don’t meet expectations. The urge to control neighboring weeds can become so strong that people are known to sneak over in the middle of the night to spray offending weeds. Not only is this trespass, it is also illegal use of a pesticide, a violation of state and federal laws.

Trees, too, can get into the good neighbor/bad neighbor conflict. Let a root or branch stray across a property line, and sometimes there is a price to pay. If the tree happens to have quantities of nuts or seeds or leaves that frequently drop into the neighboring yard, the odds of conflict seem to go up.

I really dislike it when people try to draw me into these neighborly squabbles. I hear from others in the landscape and gardening business that they get these requests too. Fact is, property rights being what they are, you can’t really do much about a neighbor who is not meeting your “weed growing” expectations, unless the weed in question happens to be a state designated “noxious weed.” And even then, the authorities charged with enforcing the laws shy away from doing so.

When it comes to tree limbs, or offensive roots, some courts have determined that limbs or roots that cross property lines are “trespassing” and give the “victim” the right to remove the offender back to the property line. Horticulturally speaking, stubbing off a branch or root to the property line is not considered a good practice, as this may invite misshapen growth or disease. It also can make a tree or shrub look hideous. 

As we edge closer to 8 billion people in the world, things are going to get even more crowded. Conflicts between neighboring property owners will likely grow in number. Talking, working together and looking out for one another are the high road to neighborly conflict resolution. And it is much preferred to using a leaf blower to blow dandelion seeds back into the neighbor’s yard.

Jeff Burbrink is an Extension Educator with Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Contact him at 574-5330554 or via email: jburbrink@purdue.edu.

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