Killing wisteria softly
January 3, 2013 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Neighbor's wisteria is attacking our fence and house. They refuse to do anything to keep it in check. We trim it back with hedge clippers but would like to do something a bit more effective to keep the vine on their side of the property line. This is a big old growth that is growing up onto their carport to provide shade. Looks more like a small tree than vines. All the vertical growth is heavily leaning on our shared fence and is making it warp towards my property. The final straw was when our exterminator determined that rats were using the wisteria as a way to access our roof. Is there a way to use Roundup or something similar to just kill what is on our side of the property line or will it kill the whole plant? Will it be really obvious that we did more than trim back the vine? It is all leafless right now so we were thinking it might be a good time to take preventative measures. I want to do something but I don't want to start WWIII with my neighbors, so I am looking for something less drastic than just killing their whole plant.

I just want to underscore that my very normal seeming neighbors act very strange and unreasonable about trimming back their beloved wisteria. Example: I asked our gardener, who also did my neighbor's yard, to trim only what was hanging on my side of the fence and they fired him for trimming about an armload of dead branches and leaves.

When I tried to arrange a time to discuss what to do (since it is pushing down the fence), they avoid me--tried visiting but they are too busy, tried e-mailing and they are mad I'd e-mail instead of talking so I tried calling and they are too busy.

Even though they are being unreasonable, I'd like to keep things as peaceful as possible because I know they're the kind of people that would pitch the hugest fit in the history of humanity if I accidentally killed their vine. I just want it to die back a bit from my side of the property to relieve pressure from my fence.

Maybe Roundup isn't the option and I should just keep trimming?

Also, will it be really obvious we use Roundup on our side if we do try that?

Any other suggestions welcome.
posted by dottiechang to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Roundup will kill the entire plant. Your neighbors like their shade and their privacy. You are (typically, depending on jurisdiction) within your rights to cut your side. If the fence needs repair because of their plant, they should fix it.
posted by sageleaf at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2013

Just to be clear, the "trunk" is pushing the fence in about halfway up so it is popping out towards my house and there's a big bushy mass of vines that is pushing the fence out near the top. One corner of their carport is against the fence so the vines are climbing that too and pushing between the post of the carport and the fence as it climbs up to the arbor.
posted by dottiechang at 1:32 PM on January 3, 2013

Roundup and other herbicides will typically be absorbed by the leaves (/needles/blades/etc) and kill the entire plant, or most of it. Pruning is called for here, but your neighbors obviously aren't being responsible about that.

If you have a statement from the exterminator saying rats are using the plant for access to your property, can you take it up with the city as a public health issue? Hate to have to take it to that level, but your neighbor is apparently uninterested in addressing the issue.
posted by xedrik at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you (maybe temporarily) put up a barrier the plant can't get as much traction against - like maybe a sheet of corrugated tin or something? Just something between where it's impeding and your fence, thin enough to not overstep the fence line? Seems like this would protect your fence and re-train the vine.
posted by batmonkey at 1:37 PM on January 3, 2013

There's some advice here.

If it were me, i'd be ruthless about cutting and removing every piece of it that crosses my property line. I'd also consider filing suit in small claims court for the damage to my property.
posted by empath at 1:38 PM on January 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

The only legal thing less drastic than killing the entire plant is to continue to trim back the growth as it crosses into your property. Without their help, that's all you can do.

But, if I were you, I'd sue them to repair or replace your damaged fence.
posted by inturnaround at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2013

Somebody owns the fence, whose property is it on?
posted by HuronBob at 1:43 PM on January 3, 2013

The fence is a shared double sided fence and it is along the property line.
posted by dottiechang at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2013

What if you made your fence higher by adding some corrugated metal there (perhaps citing the rats), and reinforced the fence at the locations where it is being pushed?

(Calling the city would not be consistent with your goal of not starting WWIII.)
posted by slidell at 1:45 PM on January 3, 2013

If it is actually damaging your fence/invading your property, and they refuse to be reasonable, you are going to have to be an asshole. Tell them your next step is to look into small claims court. Send a letter registered mail if they won't respond any other way. They are being ridiculous and destructive and they need to respect your rights as their neighbor to not have your fence downed by their giant invasive plant.

But the trick to being an effective asshole is: give them every chance to end it. Make clear that you don't want to go that far, but you will, unless they work with you. Keep the high ground.
posted by emjaybee at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

I would assess how much you are really out of pocket over the fence, and deliberately write that sum off to good neighbourliness. The rat problem sounds more serious, but I would look hard for a rat-proof barrier there.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:01 PM on January 3, 2013

Unfortunately, there's no good solution here. I'd leave them a voicemail saying that the plant is pushing into your property and causing problems, and in two weeks you will hire a tree service to prune anything that's over the line. If they want to come take a look and give input, you're available to discuss.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would send a letter, certified mail, letting them know that their plant is causing property damage and giving them the name of your homeowner's insurance company with whom you'll be filing the claim. cc the letter (clearly indicated on their copy) to an attorney.

I had a tree from my neighbor's property fall on my barn. My insurance company told me that, had I given the neighbor notice that I was aware it was dead and had requested them to fix the situation, the neighbor would have been responsible for damage. As it was, since I hadn't done that, my insurance covered it (less the deductible, which I paid). This plant is just a smaller version of my problem.

The point here is, give official notice of the problem, make it clear you expect them to fix it, and then, if they don't, and there is damage to the fence/your property, turn the claim for the damage into your insurance company and they will go after them for the cost.

You are really at the point that you can give up on being the "nice guy", they are being passive agressive, you owe them nothing.
posted by HuronBob at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

If you're in the UK, you're within your rights to cut back any overgrowth to the boundary line, as long as you return the branches you've cut off. I am not a lawyer, this is just my understanding of the law in the UK.

Pruning can sometimes encourage more growth - instead of a single leader, you can get 2-3 new ones. Can you retrain the growth to go in a different direction?
posted by Solomon at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Trim every bit of it that ends up on your property and put out some rat traps. If there are indeed rats and you catch one, tell them about it the rat, and show them a picture if necessary. Their self interest will take over and they'll have the tree (bush?) trimmed correctly.
posted by cnc at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get a statement from the exterminator, take pictures, document everything.

Call your city, check on local laws and ask for advice.

My friend just spent $250 on a brief consult with a lawyer over something analogous. A letter was drafted and sent. It was effective.
posted by jbenben at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your neighbors are being very unreasonable and have made it clear that the only peaceful resolution to this matter is you quietly putting up with the situation and accepting that there will be rats in your roof.

Call the city.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:35 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've just thought if the trunk is pushing the fence out of alignment then technically the trunk is partially over your property line and can therefore be trimmed. You could do it under the guise of fixing the fence. Take the fence down, make sure you know exactly where the fence used to be before being pushed out of alignment. Trim the trunk to the point where the fence should sit then put the fence back up.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 2:37 PM on January 3, 2013

People get really sentimental about wisteria. People also get really cranky about what they see when they look out their window.

Wisteria is an efficient plant, it grows fast. If you're going to trim it, you'll likely be trimming it multiple times a year. When I worked at a garden that had a couple of large, old wisterias, they were trimmed up to four times a year. To put it in perspective, the historic house they were growing on was actually the second house in the same location. The first one had burned down long ago. The wisteria survived the fire.

The only thing I can think of right now is to work with them to hire a professional (a real professional, and this may cost money) to do a thorough pruning to make the wisteria healthier (and you should emphasize this first goal, obviously) with the added goal of shaping it so it stays within the neighbor's property.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:40 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

2nding HuronBob. We had a similar incident, and our insurance company told us to take photos and send a certified letter to the neighbor. We did just that, and forwarded copies of the photos and letter to our insurance agent. (In our case the tree isn't pushing up against a fence, but is leaning and would take down our fence and a few others if it went down.)
posted by 6:1 at 2:45 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't want to cause you further alarm, but wisteria's no effing joke to deal with. If this is the wild variety (do the flowers have a strong, lovely scent to them? That's the quick way to tell), it is entirely capable of destroying your fench inch by inch. Wild wisteria is perfectly happy to crunch wrought iron trellises, trees, and everything else into the shapes it prefers. So if this is a long-term problem, it may not be just that two feet of fence, or whatever. A metal barrier is not going to stop it without constant attention to its feeling fingers. A better solution might be to plant some very very tall, flexible, strong stakes through or right up against the fence (I'm thinking bamboo) with a grid of wires strung between them. Make that biatch a high, cheap trellis and those tendrils will SHOOT up instead of out-- wisteria is, after all, basically trying to grow into the surface of the sun (which, if any plant could... I assume small wisterias gather around their grandmother vines at night to hear the tale of Wisteria Icarus, who Grew Too Close to the Sun). Of course, that's a temporary solution-- but in five years, when it hits the top, you could always hack it back and start again.

If that doesn't sound good, you can try trimming-- if you are aggressive, that SHOULD be enough to keep it back. Bear in mind that it will keep getting bushier if you go this route and the war will never be over. If you want to be a little vengeful, you might consider turning any seeking vines back towards their yard-- wisteria will find whatever's nearest to crawl up, so is there something ornamental nearby in your neighbor's yard that it can deform?

That being said, wisteria is a lovely and amazing plant and while I'm sorry about the property damage, please don't be tempted to advocate destroying the whole thing. When held properly in check, it's a gorgeous addition to the neighborhood.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:01 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, there are fragrant and showy blooms on the vine at one point in the year. It is pretty and I don't want it to die, I just want to manage things so no property is destroyed and more importantly, so my husband will stop constantly complaining about the vine to me!

You may be wondering--how did this become my problem to solve? That is a question for another Ask thread...

I have let the neighbors know that a rat was just trapped nearest where the vine touches my roof. I'll take some pictures as documentation and I'll trim back aggressively to the property line. There's still a mass of vine that is exerting lots of pressure on the fence that I can't reach, which is something to think about. I'll go to the local nursery and ask about the 25% solution of glyphosate herbicide mentioned in that helpful linked article.

I'm trying to avoid escalation because I don't have time to deal with court/insurance companies/city right now and, on this issue, I feel like they'd fight till the bitter end and cause all kinds of headaches for a vine that could probably be trimmed back to a nub and still thrive.

For now, I'll document. There are already e-mail exchanges between the two of us about the need for the vine to be cut back to avoid damage to the fence, so hopefully that is good enough for now.

The irony is that she is an insurance agent for my insurance company.
posted by dottiechang at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2013

Tell them that they either hire someone to regularly cut the vine away from the fence, or you will have that portion of the fence replaced and that person will do the trimming. If they don't want their vine hacked, they will have the sense to hire a professional gardener.

don't use the glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide technique on the cut sections, unless you are okay with severely damaging or killing your neighbor's plant. That article is talking about invasive runners and root suckers that you would like to have die under the ground. If you put herbicide on the cuts you make to above ground vines you will kill that vine at the least, and it will be quite visible. Your best solution is to point out the consequences of their not dealing with the problem themselves and having it nicely pruned, versus having some fence construction person hired by you to hack it back.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

We live in a semi-detached house in Toronto, with a neighbour with wisteria in the back, and we often need to have a few "Mending Wall" talks, back and forth about LOTS of things. The wisteria is only one of them.

Forget emailing and messages and arranging a time. You knock on their door. It's scary, your heart will thump - but they do it to us and we do it to them. The barking dog we were watching; their mulberry tree dropping its terrible staining fruit all over our walkway; my husband's stompy feet on the stairs; their backyard light that shone into our yard... but we also exchange bottles of wine at Christmas, Tourtière in times of need, and we collect each others' mail during vacations. You have to have some good neighbour relations if you're going to withstand the bad.

*Knock Knock* "Hi E." "Hi pea. There's a raccoon using the access from the crawlspace under your mud room that's trying to make its way into the insulated space under our kitchen. I need to get under your house when I can seal the nest off, and here are the repellents I'll be using first. If not, we need to call an exterminator and we'll split the cost with you." "Okay, but the feral cat in the neighbourhood also goes there in the winter - can you not do anything that would be bad for him?" "Okay!"

So, when their wisteria crossed over our fence and grew along our mudroom's eavestroughs, I thought it was pretty at first, and when I noticed it was pulling the gutters away from the house, and then it went like this:

*Knock Knock* "Hi E and J. I'm doing a backyard cleanup, and will be cutting away the Wisteria that's growing along our house from your vine. I can't afford to fix the problems it creates with the eavestroughs if they get worse, as pretty as I think it is. After this can you keep it from creeping on our side, so I don't have to worry about wrecking something you care about?" "Okay."

What I'm suggesting, with a simple and straightforward face-to-face conversation is these steps:

1) Remind them you're friendly neighbours. It's easy to ascribe all kinds of petty grumps to others when you're not face to face. Nobody can read your tone from emails, and too much back and forth without action just builds up a lot of dread. Get it over with and minimize the problem by being the nice person that you are, even if you're going to be really firm about it.

2) State the problem clearly as a problem for anyone; but really and especially, for both of you. "The wisteria is damaging something that's expensive to replace. Let's fix this." Problems are problems, they're not always personal attacks. Remove the sting as much as possible. Raccoons chew wires; barking dogs and stomping feet wake sleeping babies; lights are intrusive, for anyone. Rats are a hazard and leaning fences are expensive to replace, that's all.

3) State what you need, and offer a solution, not just the problem, and draw a boundary about your part vs. their part, but including some shared responsibility.

4) Seal the deal, reminding them that it's better for both. Sell them what they want - an upright fence, healthy wisteria, good neighbours.

If I were you, it would go like this.

*Knock Knock* "Hey there, we've had some communication about the wisteria. It's overgrown, we've trapped rats who use it for access to our roof, and we don't want it on our side of the fence any more. The fence will be expensive to replace if the vine continues to to push on it. We've done all the trimming on our side that we can, and now it needs to be addressed on your side so the fence doesn't need major repair in the future. What are you going to do to keep it from pushing the fence out of alignment - is a professional opinion needed? It's got to happen before the next growing season."

You can't do anything on your side that will kill the whole plant. In Toronto, we have laws about that (especially for trees.) But mostly what you want back is your good neighbour, so I'd work toward that end. I always tell myself "They're just people. They won't hurt me. Mostly we're all nice."
posted by peagood at 4:45 PM on January 3, 2013 [11 favorites]

If this is the wild variety (do the flowers have a strong, lovely scent to them? That's the quick way to tell), it is entirely capable of destroying your fench inch by inch.

Many cultivated varieties are highly fragrant.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:47 PM on January 3, 2013

IANAL but I am someone who deals with zoning regulations and property issues for our town. I would take pictures and document any contact you have had with them over the wisteria. Also copy any reports you have rec'd from your exterminator re: the rats. Verify the property boundaries as well. Sometimes the old fences do not necessarily follow the property boundary. IMO some issues like the one you are having can be reduced by having a survey done prior to closing (but I digress). Contact your public works dept/building inspector asap. Rat issues are usually taken seriously since they pose a public health hazard. Verify with your town/city that you have the right to trim or otherwise cut back any large growth on your property (some towns have different regs regarding a tree on or abutting the property line). Most of the time minor (or hanging branches) are not problem.

In my experience I have seen if your neighbors are being unreasonable now, most likely they will not respond no matter how nicely you ask. They will only respond by notice. My question to you if you came before me would be who owns the fence? If you can't answer that I would then ask you who put the fence in? I would also ask you to verify that any property markers are clearly seen and to clear them or photograph them for me.
posted by lasamana at 4:52 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry I now see that you had said that it is a double sided fence along the property line. I would still ask you if you are sure of where the property line is. I know that some subdivisions have a cinder block type fence that cannot be moved but wooden fences sometimes migrate a foot or more in the wrong direction. I strongly urge you to contact your city and verify your rights as a property owner. You may not have to hire an atty. but you should consider all the possible players in this; you and your husband, your neighbors, the city, your insurance company, her insurance company and if applicable your HOA. You should notify all of the players of your distress and forward your documentation. See if your city has a copy of your property map with any markers on it.
posted by lasamana at 5:06 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll go to the local nursery and ask about the 25% solution of glyphosate herbicide mentioned in that helpful linked article.

Roundup = glyphosate
posted by slidell at 6:22 PM on January 3, 2013

Photos to present your neighbors are a great idea (per lasamana).
They might not know how extensive the problem is on your side of the common fence.
posted by artdrectr at 9:56 PM on January 3, 2013

Everything peagood said, seconded.
posted by desuetude at 11:28 PM on January 3, 2013

Depending on where the fence is in relation to the rest of the yard, another possible solution is to move the fence into your property enough so that the wisteria has enough space to grow without breaking the new fence (maybe put up a trellis in the space of the old fence to give it something to grow on), and have the neighbor compensate you for the loss of that property. Get appropriate legal advice before you do this, of course.
posted by CathyG at 7:37 AM on January 4, 2013

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