It’s always a good idea to give the gift of courtesy to your neighbors. Even if they’re not the type to fly into a yard rage, they’ll still appreciate a little kindness in the garden.
What do the basic tenets of neighborliness require? Keep your yard tidy (dazzling horticultural displays are always welcome, but not mandatory). Mow your grass (if you have any), rake the leaves, and try not to leave stuff like bikes, toys, and garden tools littering the lawn. A good rule of thumb is to consider how you’d like your neighbor’s yard to look, and then apply it to your own. Oh, your standards aren’t that high? Then try imagining yourself as a discriminating person with a penchant for orderliness and good taste.
City gardeners, you’re not off the hook. The neighbors whose windows overlook your backyard or balcony may be a tad jealous of your outdoor space. If you can’t invite them over for a barbecue, at least keep your outdoor space looking decent (and, OK, enviable).
For garden etiquette insights we talked with Melissa Ozawa, the gardens editor at Martha Stewart Living. Ozawa herself tends a small outdoor space in New York City and also gardens upstate in Columbia County. Here are 10 common-sense good-neighbor suggestions:
Respect Property Lines
Prune your trees, shrubs, and vines so they don’t encroach on your neighbor’s space. “And keep safety in mind,” says Ozawa. “Remove any big branches that look damaged or diseased—a storm could make them more precarious, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Trimming overhanging branches also helps prevent your leaves from falling into a neighbor’s yard—and you don’t want your leaves in the neighbor’s yard.
Don’t plant invasive species: they might decide to invade your neighbor’s garden after they’ve conquered yours. A better idea, says Ozawa, is to embrace native species well suited to your environment. They typically require less care than more exotic cultivars. The National Audubon Society has a native plant database to help you choose natives that thrive in your zip code (and create a bird-friendly habitat). “If you put in a beautiful native plant your neighbor didn’t know about, it’s a great way to teach people,” Ozawa says. “That’s something Martha likes to do.”
Say No to Chemicals
Be aware that noxious substances you spray or put in the ground don’t necessarily stop at your property line. Ozawa uses compost to fertilize her garden and beneficial insects to ward off pests. “If you’re spraying insecticide, it can go all over, causing harm to friendly insects, birds, neighborhood pets, and even children.”
Build a Friendly Fence
There’s a reason why they say good fences make good neighbors. Fences designate property lines, confine pets, and keep deer from eating the plants—but they can obstruct views and look unsightly. Give your neighbor a heads up if you’re planning to build a new fence, or to replace a fence with a higher one. New trees that might block a neighbor’s view should also be discussed.
Negotiate, Compromise, Accept
If there’s a property line dispute, suggest that you and your neighbor hire an expert to resolve it, and agree to split the cost. Then accept the resolution.
Keep Your Slope to Yourself
If you have a retaining wall, fence, or steep slope that’s collapsing onto your neighbor’s property, get it repaired.
Enjoy the Sounds of Silence
Keep it down over there! Be considerate in your use of power tools: for example, no leaf blowers before noon on a weekend. “It’s so much nicer to hear birds chirping and insects buzzing and children playing,” says Ozawa. “And there’s something wonderful about using hand tools, like a rake for the leaves—you feel more connected to the land, and that’s part of the joy of gardening.” A push mower isn’t just quieter; it’s good exercise and better for the environment as well.
And—no surprise here—loud parties won’t make you popular. A neighbor shouldn’t have to ask you to keep it down (especially if the hour is late), but if that happens, apologize and do so. Immediately.
Have a Light Touch
If you’re installing outdoor lighting—such as wall lights, spotlights, floodlights, or landscape lights—make sure they don’t shine right into your neighbor’s windows. Especially their bedroom windows.
Practice Pet Etiquette
Keep pets enclosed so they don’t go in your neighbor’s yard. The same could be said of young children—you’ve heard the expression, “You kids get off my lawn!”
Share Your Toys, er, Tools
Lend tools willingly. After all, you never know when your neighbor might have something you need to borrow. If you worry about getting your tools back, invest in a Bluetooth tracking device like the Tick. It’s $29.97 at Home Depot and when attached to an item you loaned, it will emit a beacon to show where your wandering shovel has ended up in the neighborhood. And if you borrow tools? Return them the moment you’re done.
The most important piece of general advice: Keep the lines of communication open. Tell your neighbors about any changes you’re planning that might affect them. If you’re bothered by a neighbor’s actions (or inaction), find a way to gently express your feelings without raising hackles. And about that neighborhood barbecue . . . ?
N.B.: More expert advice: