Evergreen tree in neighbor yard

briergardener_gwMarch 20, 2011

My neighbor has a big evergreen tree couple feet from our fence. Roots are destroying my garden. I read on internet that arborists consider Cedar tree an invasive pest plant. I told this to my neighbor but he wants to see a source of this information, he thinks that cedar tree is very good, that it kills bugs and does not believe me.

Does somebody know a source of information about the danger of having cedar tree in small backyard (roots invading sprinklers pipes, sewer lines, ruining the foundations on homes). I want to show this to my neighbor, maybe then he can consider removal of this tree.

Also, looks like Washington state law allows me to prune roots of the tree along my property line. Does somebody knows will I’ll be responsible if something happens with this tree after I prune its roots?

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I'm sorry but I don't think you have much of a case. There is no documentation to support that cedar - in this case, most likely Western red cedar, Thuja plicata - is an invasive pest. As a native species, it doesn't fit under the definition of an "invasive" species. These trees are extremely common in our area and are considered a valuable timber resource. 'Cedar' is a very common name for a lot of conifers and it may be that what you read was in reference to Eastern red cedar or Juniperus virginiana. And while that IS considered a weedy species, as a US native, it is also not considered "invasive".

WRC roots tend to be quite shallow if widespreading and certainly can be a gardening irritant but unless you have already compromised or damaged piping, plumbing or foundation, the roots pose no damage. The only potential damage would be if the tree's health or stablility was in some way at risk and there was a danger of it falling. An arborist or tree hazard assessor can help with this.

You should check to make sure but it is my understanding of WA state tree laws that if YOU do something that compromises the health of your neighbor's tree and cause its death or failure (i.e., toppling), you could very well be liable for any damages. A mature, established tree can tolerate quite a bit of damage to its roots or removal of them but severing or removing any large roots can create an unstable situation. And removal of the smaller feeder roots is only a temporary measure at best.....they will grow back.

This may be a "live with it and make the best of it" situation. There are quite a few plants that will grow within the canopy or root system of WRC.....maybe you just need to reconsider your planting choices.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:41AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

it may be that what you read was in reference to Eastern red cedar or Juniperus virginiana

Or perhaps saltcedar (Tamarix ramossima)? It's on Washington State's list of noxious weeds, and is apparently not native in the New World.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 1:05PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

If you and your neighbour are arguing about the effect of the tree on you, the species of the tree is pretty much irrelevant. It is not the tree that matters, but the property line. The fact that the tree is a living thing tends to make us a lot more tolerant of infractions across the property line, but we should think of this as if the tree were a large RV, parked on the patch that the tree canopy and roots occupy. In effect, the neighbour is using your property to house (and nurture) his tree, and you should consider whether you wish to continue lending your property to him for that.

All big trees are serious pests when you are trying to compete with them for space, water, nutrients, clear ground underneath, or what have you. But to complicate things, all trees also have benefits including shade, wind protection, air quality, and whatever they produce, whether nuts or needles, which may also fall to you. A dispute across the property line is all about balancing the pros and cons to you and to the neighbour. Some trees have species-specific behaviours, such as willows invading sewer lines, but mostly the kind of tree doesn't matter.
What matters here is the effect of HIS tree on YOUR property. You have a legal right to peaceful enjoyment of your property, and if the tree seriously undermines that, your neighbour should remove the tree.

We had a very similar argument with our neighbour about a tree a few feet from the property line on their side. They refused to remove it, and I would have taken them to court if they had not sold the house to people who were more reasonable, and who soon removed it. We actually paid half the cost of removal (and actually loaned them their half of the price to start with), just to keep things friendly.

We experienced four negative impacts from the tree, and one positive one. The negative ones were the ROOT invasion, which destroyed my garden and which may eventually have threatened our house; the DEBRIS, which also destroyed my garden, filled our eaves, and also tracked uncontrollably into the house; the CANOPY, which was enveloping our house and thus destroying our roof and siding and also making it impossible to clean the eaves and also made it very unpleasant to be in fully half of our front yard nor could you see out from our house, and the THREAT of the tree falling. The positive one was the shade in summer, and we enjoyed that shade for many years, but the time came when the tree got so big that the shade no longer outweighed the negative impacts, especially the feeling that the tree was going to crush our house and family one stormy night.

The funny thing (not funny ha-ha!) about all the tree's effects were that they fell only to us, not to the actual owners of the tree. We were in the tree's windshadow as prevailing winds went, so all the debris blew to our side, and it would have fallen on us if it blew over. It was further from their house than from ours, so their house was untouched while ours was enveloped in the canopy. They had no problem with tracking tree debris into their house, but our sidewalk and thus hallway was always littered with it. We are also downhill of the tree, so our yard tended to be wetter, and as such we had more of a root problem - and I am an avid gardener while they were not, so they didn't care.

You do have a legal right to prune the canopy and the roots at the property line, but if you do this knowing it will kill the tree or make it fall, you will probably be liable. You should consult a lawyer - we did; in Canada we have a lawyer referral service where you can get a half hour with a lawyer for $30 or so, and that made it easy. What our lawyer advised was to take them to court to ask for permission before doing the pruning, not to do it first and then be on the defensive. We also have small claims court in Canada, so this would have been achievable.

We began by getting a quote for the pruning work, and then we sent them a registered letter telling them what we were planning, but asking again that they remove the tree and offering to pay half the cost. At that point the house had sold, so the new owners stepped in and, being reasonable people, immediately understood that they could not mitigate the effect of the tree on us so agreed to remove it.

Arborists are often brought in to argue about how real the threat actually is of the tree falling. On this point the species of tree is relevant, because its root structure influences how vulnerable it is. But even if the tree is not a falling risk, YOUR FEAR, if you have it, is real enough. And the problem you have when you have fear of the tree is that you are ethically constrained from selling your house because putting someone else in what you consider to be a vulnerable situation is no better. Speaking of which, the tree was so big too that it would have reduced our resale value, while paradoxically, it represented a selling feature on their side.

It was the most unfair tree placement EVER! :-)

I hope your situation is better, and good luck.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 2:29PM
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depending on your local municipality/ area, some local bylaws allow pruning trees upto property line, your property line, straight up and straight down. Normally we would recommend you asking the tree owner to do it, but if they refuse let them know you have the right too, after ensuring with your local government, let them confirm and hopefully they will take care of the problem. Also the type of tree may be an issue as some are protected after a certain size and others when they are certain species.
Best to check to make sure you are on the up and up.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2011 at 5:45PM
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