As the increasing population in the Rogue Valley creates ever more demand, land that was once pear orchard or farm is divided into parcels just large enough to build a house. Landscaping these small properties is more than just choosing favorites. Homeowners often need to be aware of city ordinances around planting. Recommendations from the experts will help you be — and stay — a good neighbor.
Consult with your neighbors before drawing up landscape plans, says Medford landscape architect Bonnie Bayard. Good communication is crucial, but if you are uncomfortable talking to your neighbors, look over the fence and determine whether your planting choices will end up blocking sunlight from their fruit trees, gardens, solar panels or if the tree you are planning will continually blow debris into their pool.
Look up and then look down before choosing a planting location. Avoid planting a tree that will grow into utility wires. If wires are in the potential tree's growth zone, contact the power company and ask for their list of appropriate trees. Next, have the utility companies come out and mark where the underground gas, water, phone and cable lines are. Plant trees at least 5 feet away to prevent roots from breaking them. Properties can also have an easement where utility lines run for multiple neighbors. The city needs access to this area in order to make repairs, so it is wise not to plant trees or large shrubs here.
Plant only what you can care for. If plantings near the street are not maintained they can obscure drivers' vision, risking accidents. Unmowed grass or weeds can be a fire hazard as well as an eyesore. If you're not a gardener, choose low-maintenance and water-wise plants. Keep it simple and keep it clean. That's neighborly of you.
Bill Bumgardner, owner of Bumgardner's Landscape Gardening & Pest Control, Inc. in Central Point, says people need to pay attention to soil preparation before installing their landscape. He recommends owners of new homes identify whether their soil is compacted or whether poor soils were used in backfill. Neither will sustain healthy plant life. Unaddressed compaction problems can lead to water runoff, which could kill your neighbor's plantings as well as your own.
Tree choice and placement is the next thing to consider when designing your plans. Do some research to find out a prospective tree's mature height and width. Make sure your yard space is large enough. Trees that outgrow their area can become your neighbor's biggest nightmare — and your own. Local nursery staff or the Jackson County Master Gardener Association (776-7371) can help you choose, and you'll avoid a host of problems with a wise choice.
Some tree varieties have roots that are particularly aggressive and will damage sidewalks, driveways or interfere with your neighbor's property. Tree root barriers can help in certain situations, but choosing trees with non-invasive roots is the best choice for the health of your tree. The homeowner is liable for any damages that the tree's roots cause on public property. In most Rogue Valley cities, ordinance officers will assess damages to determine if the offending tree should be removed, which will be at the owner's expense. If damage occurs on your neighbor's property, you can be sued for compensation. This will just lead to more ill feelings, so the smart thing to do is to choose an appropriate tree or remove existing trees that are causing damage.
Other trees continually drop debris, which can be a hazard if planted near walkways. Your neighbors won't appreciate having to rake up the debris that continually blows into their yard. In some cities it is prohibited to plant street trees where they can drop messy fruit or nuts onto pavements and sidewalks.
Shrubs can make wonderful privacy screens and noise blockers, but plant them away from fences so they don't cause damage. Plants need good air circulation and some shrubs must be pruned a few times a year to keep them tidy and in bounds. Choose plants that you can easily manage to keep contained in the area. Avoid planting shrubs and vines such as wisteria, honeysuckle, or trumpet vine near lot lines since they can send up suckers. Certain bamboo species and ornamental grasses can be very invasive, as are many perennials and ground covers. If plants encroach into the neighbor's yard, they are allowed to remove them and an herbicide might be their approach.
Choosing landscape plants wisely can save you time, money, and problems with the neighbors. Consideration for each other is the key to happiness, creating neighborhoods that enhance our quality of life.