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Who’s Tree is It?

Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A

What is a boundary tree? A boundary tree is any tree in which any portion of the above ground parts of the buttress roots, buttress or main trunk or stem intersects one or more property boundaries. There may be different interpretations of this depending on:

  1. Local laws

  2. Whether or not the tree arose naturally or was planted

  3. Who planted the tree

  4. Whether or not the tree grew into the boundary over time

  5. Who has maintained the tree in the past

As a consulting arborist, we can help answer these questions when disputes over trees come into play. This is particularly important if construction activities are planned that could negatively impact a boundary tree. A tree valuation can be made so that if damage does occur, the appraisal can ascertain penalties or the cost of cure.

Photo: Globe & Mail on-line

Canadian law took a major change when a dispute over the fate of a mature maple tree in Ontario led to broken relationships and a year long legal battle – one wanting it removed and other to keep it. Definitions about trespassing and ownership are being looked at quite differently. Unauthorized pruning/removal of a boundary tree may be subject to criminal charges. Several years ago we had a resident contact us for advise on what to do. They went away for a long weekend only to arrive home to a butchered ‘fence line’ pruning job. At the time, the laws were not as clear. To see the full article: Globe & Mail June 19, 2013

Since residential yards seem to be getting smaller – tree selection and planting location can often result in conflicts between neighbours. What seems like a good idea in a 15 gallon pot can quickly require significant maintenance. It is important to take future growth into consideration at the time of planting. Understand form, growth rate and mature size. Unfortunately, in order to maximize use area and to create privacy in their own yard, homeowners frequently plant around the perimeter. They forget that the decision to allow room for their personal activities should include the potential impacts on adjoining properties. As a tree matures, it can cause conflicts as it spreads into neighbouring homes, service lines, driveways and walks or with trees in adjoining properties. While you many love the shade, your neighbour may not appreciate the caterpillars or sticky honeydew that aphids cause dropping on their very nice car. They may have trouble shovelling walks because your Juniper is overgrown. Mowing their lawn shouldn’t involve ducking under your branches. Dissension often results when fruit falls in their yard, branches are shed or break, seeds and leaf litter block gutters or branches overhang road/alley ways obstructing the flow of traffic. Be willing to help ‘clean up’ after your tree to keep peace and harmony. Root cutting or accidental herbicide events are also possibilities. Poor pruning and sabotage can be a real problem and a long process to correct if at all. Communicate with your neighbours to see if they are having any issues. Let them know that you have pruning planned so they don’t take matters into their own hands. Who knows, they may even be willing to pitch in a few bucks to help get problems addressed. Oversee the work being done. Better to have control of the decisions than someone else. Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbours about their trees too.

We see many ‘free’ trees or volunteers that have been left to grow to a size when they become a problem – pushing over fences or lifting walks. Free or not, if a tree does not have the space to mature it is best to remove it – or transplant it to a more suitable location in the yard. Replant something more appropriate in size and form if you want foliage to block views. As the tree owner, you SHOULD take responsibility for your tree care. Have regular maintenance pruning done every 3 to 5 years. This should address any dangerous branches, remove deadwood, control fruit production and keep elongating branches inside a reasonable boundary to keep them clear. It also spreads to cost over a regular cycle which usually results in being more economical. An experienced Certified Arborist will understand how fast the tree grows. Using key indicators from the tree or shrub, they can anticipate how much to remove to keep it safe distance until the next cycle. This helps maintain form, wind buffering and privacy issues in a healthy manner. A healthy tree that has received good irrigation and has adequate nutrients in the soil will help fend off most insect or disease issues. If not, address pests as soon as noticed. If knocking insects off with a jet setting on your garden hose is not sufficient, contact a licensed sprayer, preferably one that is also a certified arborist, to discuss your options. A tree under attack from insects can cause other problems. Diseases are another issue and cultural controls are usually the best or only approach. Don’t let anyone top your tree. Do not leave stubs when trimming branches. Hire a Certified Arborist to assess your trees and to develop a long term maintenance program.


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