The recent passing of a new city ordinance regarding view preservation and restoration has created quite a stir. In response to many people’s concerns I have attempted to provide ideas for dealing with view issues between neighbors.
1. Selecting the right tree for the right place is the simplest strategy for view preservation. Good information and planning can create a beautiful landscape with the fewest long-term problems. Here are some tips to get you on the right path:
- a) Decide if you want an evergreen or deciduous tree (loses leaves in the winter). Choosing a deciduous tree will allow for winter sun and summer shade at the selected site.
- b) Determine the ultimate size and shape that fits your planting site (the most important). Some trees are upright, conical or spreading. A spreading tree along a property line may encroach into the neighbor’s yard. A conical shape tree may conflict with the overhead utility wires. Look for several mature species in the neighborhood for comparisons and ask a qualified professional for advice.
- c) Consider leaf color, texture, shape, flowering and fruiting habit of the desired tree prior to selection. All trees shed, however some species are messier than others. The Sunset Western Garden Book can be a good resource for some of this information.
- d) The majority of most root systems are in the upper 18 inches of soil. Surface roots can be a problem between neighbors or in your own landscape. Ask a qualified professional for information on the rooting habit of your selection. Root barriers installed during planting can often reduce problems.
- e) What are the water needs of this tree and is it compatible with other landscape features? Native oaks and some other species do not like year round irrigation.
- f) Are there any common pests, diseases or structural weaknesses of this tree species? Certain species are highly susceptible to annual leaf blight or defoliating pests. These species generally look sick throughout the year. Others trees have common structural weaknesses that frequently result in branch splitting. Sometimes varieties of a tree species are developed without the negative characteristics of the tree you desire, such as fruitless varieties.
- g) Have you observed unusually small or discolored leaves on plants in the chosen site? Soil problems often damage or restrict the growth of trees. A field inspection or a soil sample collected by a qualified professional and analyzed at a laboratory may reveal correctable or limiting conditions that can guide you towards a better tree selection.
- h) Do your homework; ask questions, educate yourself and avoid problems for yourself and your neighbors.
2. When trees already obstruct views, other strategies need to be explored. Crown thinning or creating windows is one way to preserve or restore a view. An arborist can often selectively remove limbs and branches that open up attractive windows in trees or provide filtered views. This strategy can be a good compromise that may be the least injurious to a landscape if done properly. In some situations, it may even improve the structural condition of the tree. Crown thinning may allow the tree owner the continued tree benefits and provide an acceptable view to the neighbor.
3.Other strategies may involve crown reduction or tree removal.
- a) Crown reduction is a form of pruning that reduces the overall size of the tree. Crown reduction should not be confused with topping. Although both reduce a tree’s height, crown reduction shortens limbs with appropriate thinning cuts versus the drastic heading cuts from topping. Crown reduction pruning cannot always be achieved without damaging the tree and usually requires annual or bi-annual maintenance. A qualified arborist can determine if crown reduction pruning is an appropriate strategy.
- b) Sometimes tree removal with optional replacement is the only reasonable alternative. However, trees may be specimen quality, historical, sentimental and aesthetically or environmentally beneficial to their growing site. Tree removal or severe crown reduction may result in the appreciation of the view owner’s property and depreciation of the tree owner’s property. An arborist experienced in the tree appraisal process can help determine fair monetary compensation for making acceptable landscape changes that are satisfactory to both property owners.
- c) Very often, combinations of crown thinning, crown reduction and tree removal within a row of trees can frame views without total loss of the canopy cover. Sometimes the removal of a portion of a tree or staggered removal of several trees in conjunction with new plantings can significantly reduce impact to the appearance of a property. A creative eye and good planning will achieve the greatest success.
Every situation is different. It is important to understand the needs of each person involved and the condition and growth habits of each tree prior to determining which strategy is best. It is also probable that the strategies above will not solve all conflicts. Only when each neighbor feels that he or she has benefited from a compromise, can success be achieved.