The little-known gardening rules where you might be breaking the law

Britain is said to be a nation of gardeners, but unfortunately for some green-fingered public enthusiasts, it also seems we are a nation of nosy neighbours. Whether you’re pruning a neighbor’s trees and picking someone’s fruit from the bushes on your street, neighbors can report you.

It’s a relaxing pastime for many and has been a comfort to millions during pandemic shutdowns, but one misstep in the garden and your neighbors could land you in trouble with the law. Even if you have the best of intentions, breaching someone else’s boundary, pruning overhanging branches, and planting all have definite rules.

A neighbor’s garden can be a source of many conflicts, especially if plants start shading your property or even leaning over your green space. To avoid litigation and potential police action, we’ve compiled some of the most common offenses to get people in trouble.

Planting

Under light rights law, if a window has had natural light for 20 years or more, neighbors cannot block it with a new tree. This rule also applies to fences and new garden buildings such as summer houses or sheds.

If you’re installing something that might block the light from your neighbor’s windows, they might rightly object. Apart from that, you have the right to plant whatever you want, wherever you want within your property boundaries, as long as it is not an invasive species.

However, it is advisable to ask your neighbor before making any drastic changes to your garden that could impact them. Ultimately, you will be responsible for any damage caused by the plants in your garden, whether trees or hedges.

Fruit

Perhaps the most broken law in all neighbor gardening is picking someone else’s fruit. You cannot pick and store fruit from someone else’s overhanging branches, even if they are bent over in your garden. This is indeed theft, because the fruit belongs to the owner of the plant.

You also cannot save fruit that falls into your garden, as it still belongs to your neighbor. By law, you must either leave it alone or return it to your neighbor.

Cut

You can cut overhanging branches from your neighbours’ garden on your property, as long as you don’t come in to do so. You can also climb the tree, as long as you don’t have to enter your neighbor’s garden or land to do so.

You also don’t have to give your neighbor notice to cut branches and you don’t need to receive permission. However, once you have cut branches or pruned them, they must be returned to the owner of the tree, as it is still their property.

You cannot cut further than the limit to prevent regrowth. You are also responsible for any damage caused to the tree, for example if it dies as a result of your cutting.

The possession

If a tree base is on the boundary of two properties, it belongs to both parties. One owner cannot perform any kind of work on the tree without permission from the other as this counts as trespassing.

When it comes to climbing plants, the plant belongs to the soil it grows in, not the property it grows on. However, you can remove it from the walls of your property as long as you don’t kill it or remove its roots from your neighbor’s garden.

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