Chris Lambton, pro landscaper and host of HGTV's 'Going Yard'

One of the biggest landscaping challenges when it comes to neighbors is privacy. Sometimes you want more than a fence. What are some good plants or trees for creating privacy or blocking unwanted views?
Chris: Many different ways you can go with this. I was just working at a house yesterday and we wanted to create a little privacy lunch area for this business. So we put up a piece of lattice and I got wisteria. In about a year or two that wisteria will cover the whole lattice and you'll have a privacy fence... that is probably $35.

For a hedge row, if you're in a city or a smaller back yard, you can get either privet or arborvitaes and put them in a planter, and that way you can have a wall that you make. If they're in a raised planter, you can move them pretty easily. With privet, that's something you can trim off at a certain height. If you only want that hedge to get 6 or 8 feet high, you can do it. Same with arborvitaes and Leyland cypress. I've done many green fences with Leyland cypress and arborvitaes, and you plant them kind of close together. Once they grow close to the height you want, you trim the top just as you would any hedge, and the plant will stop growing up and will just start thickening. Which makes it really dense and will start blocking out whatever you want to block, whether it be noise or the sight of a neighbor's yard.

Are you better off buying mature plants, or growing them over time?
Chris: If you buy a five-foot Leyland cypress or arborvitaes, they go for $75, and they grow like weeds here [in Massachusetts]. Two feet a year. They hold up well to cold winters and they grow well in Florida as well. I've seen them as tall as 20-25 feet. But my neighbor across the street, she only wanted them as tall as eight feet. So every year I trim it like I would any other hedge at eight feet and that's it.

Another good thing is holly -- pencil holly. Very thin. I'm making a hedge row out of pencil holly.
What if you've already got a fenced-in back yard but there's still an apartment building looming over you?
Chris: A vertical garden. We've put a couple 4x4 posts in the ground and at the top of those posts you can make a planter going across. I've used copper gutters going across the top and you can put some plants in that. Or you could just do straight window boxes. You get some height off of that as well. Depending on where you are, you could put in a nice perennial flower, or if you wanted something green year-round, you could put boxwoods for a nice little hedge row because those stay pretty short. We've done that on top of cement walls,f and that gives you two feet of planter space... and then you put a row of something and that'll give you an extra four feet on top of, in this case, your cement wall.

I've also used corrugated metal. You know those metal panels that kind of look cool? So you have a wooden fence, and then on the top of the wood fence you can build this corrugated metal, which gives you another three feet. And then you can spray paint it different colors to go with your back yard. That gives you added height and a little color in your yard.
What are some good trees for privacy? I've heard bamboo is a blessing and a curse.
Chris: Bamboo is great because it grows really quickly. But you have to be very careful with bamboo. Bamboo has a mind of its own. It's really hard to control it. I would not plant it in the ground unless you're ready for it to take over your entire yard. They make this [two-foot] metal container that you can put in the ground with it. It'll still grow great in containers, and you'll keep it confined. I've put it between a cement wall and a cement driveway, so it's like a natural divider. But be mindful of where you put it because the roots are the offshoot, so the roots will go right into your yard and just keep growing new bamboo stocks.

You can also do just layered plantings. You could do a row of layered evergreen bushes, like rhododenrons, which are pretty big. And then in front of that, you could do some nice perennials.
When do we need to inform neighbors if we're doing something to our own yard?
Chris: This came up on a job the other day. One of my clients wanted to rip out these shrubs and put in a fence and then put in some big new shrubs. She said, "My property line is right about here. Can you just rip out all these plants and put in a fence? My neighbor won't mind. This is a rental."

If you start doing anything to the property line, always get a surveyor. Stake it out so you see exactly where the property line is. That way if you're planting anywhere near the property line or if you're putting in a fence... Even though your neighbor may be your best friend in the world -- if you start cutting down his or her plants or putting plants out that are yours on their property, that's one way to start a neighbor feud. Always err on the side of caution. That will prevent future fights or lawsuits.

As far as doing construction in your back yard, like... a patio. You don't have to tell your neighbors anything.
What about fences along property lines? Who's responsible for upkeep?
Chris: It goes right into how friendly you are with your neighbor; if they want to spend the money on the fence. But if you've just moved into a house, and your fence around your entire property is terrible, ask the neighbors. Ask them if they put in the fence, and then say, "I'm thinking about putting in a new fence. What do you think about going in on half? I'll even let you have the nice side." (It doesn't matter which side's the nice side.) If you knock on the door and ask a few questions and are proactive and nice about it, that's one way to make it a little bit getter.
What time is it OK to start making noise?
Chris: Common etiquette for landscapers and construction workers is: Don't start before 7:30am, end by 5:30pm, and don't work on Sundays. It still kind of bugs me when someone I know mows his lawn on Sundays. So again, common courtesy is, don't do heavy machinery on Sundays. Whether you're religious or not, it's a relaxing day for people and you don't want to hear a chainsaw or a chipper shredder going.

And then in certain neighborhoods it's even more strict. If you're in a private [gated or association] neighborhood, a lot of times it's 8-4 when you can use machinery. And in lot of private neighborhoods you can't do it on Saturdays or Sundays.
What are the rules about trees that hang over each others' houses or have fruit on them?
Chris: Any part of the tree that's hanging over the yard is technically yours. If a branch is hanging over your yard and it's in a precarious spot, especially here in New England where we're susceptible to hurricanes... you can cut down a limb that's hanging over your yard. Courtesy would be to knock on the door and say, "Hey, this branch from your oak tree is hanging over my yard. I'm going to have a company take it down because I'm worried it may fall on my car during a storm." But technically you don't have to ask, you just lop it.
And perhaps the diciest of them all: People who have junky front yards that are bringing everyone's values down. Is there anything you can do about that?
Chris: This is a state-by-state, town-by-town thing you can research. But there are a certain number of cars you can have on the property. I just read in the paper that they're cracking down in Mass., especially on the Cape, on yards that have too much "junk" in them. But it's a hard rule -- it's one of those things where if you're living next to a pack rat who has too much junk in their yard, you can study the variances in your town and see if they are in fact in violation of something. You can do an anonymous reporting of it. But there are ways to report them and try to get them to clean up. It's a tough area.
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Chris Lambton is host of HGTV's 'Going Yard' and a professional landscaper, gardening and lawn care expert based in Cape Cod, Mass. He is co-owner of E. Lambton Landscaping with his brother, Erik. Keep up with Chris on his Facebook page or on Twitter @ChrisLambton13.


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