Is it antisocial to have an overgrown hedge? Avoid upsetting your neighbors with our expert advice

Is your yard a blot on the local landscape with its too-tall trees and scruffy foliage? We look at the etiquette of keeping your borders in check

swimming pool with hedges and loungers
(Image credit: Perry Mastrovito / Image Source / Getty Images)

A hedge is a natural way of marking a boundary. It has been used for thousands of years to split land into fields for growing crops. In a residential setting, closely planted shrubs and bushes are most commonly used to form a boundary to your yard that can provide privacy and change with the seasons, especially if they are flowering hedges.

If you choose to go with a living, growing divide rather than an inanimate fence panel, you need to be ready for the upkeep. Unkempt hedges can be a blight on good neighborly relations. What to you might be a lush and vibrant barrier to noise, inquisitive eyes or intruders, could be a messy sunblocker to the people living next door.

But what is the etiquette of proper hedge maintenance? We spoke to the experts to find out. 

A pyracantha hedge with berries in the front of a property

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Yuriy Chertok)

Is your overgrown hedge a problem?

There are a lot of questions around hedge maintenance in relation to your local area. How often should you cut it, and who is responsible if your hedge is overhanging your neighbor’s yard, for instance. We have spoken to experts to discover the essential considerations when it comes to keeping your hedges in check. 

Consider the aesthetic of your local area

Trimming an evergreen yew hedge

(Image credit: Future)

A quick walk round the neighborhood will tell you whether your hedge is sympathetic to the local aesthetic. If yours sticks out like a sore green thumb because of its height or untidiness, or because it impedes progress along the sidewalk, you may find yourself being side-eyed as a neglectful gardener.

‘Tall hedges are much more acceptable if they're well maintained,’ says Rafi Friedman, an expert in outdoor design. ‘You should prune them at least once a year in order to keep them from getting out of proportion, no matter how tall you want them to grow.

‘Let your neighbors be your guide here. If your hedge isn't much taller than a neighbor's fence, there's probably nothing wrong with it. Also, make sure you're following your HOA's regulations around hedge height.’

Headshot of a dark haired man in a blue polo shirt
Rafi Friedman

As CEO of Coastal Luxury Outdoors, a Florida-based pool-building and cleaning company, Rafi has years of experience at creating high-quality custom backyard experiences.

Know your local laws around hedge heights

Idyllic springtime patio in Italian garden with small wrought iron table and chairs against dark laurel hedge.

(Image credit: Rosmarie Wirz / Getty Images)

One thing you should take into account is that the upkeep of your hedge might be as much a matter of law as it is of good manners.

‘In the United States, local ordinances often regulate hedge height and maintenance,’ says Tommy Mello, a leader in the home service industry. ‘These regulations can vary significantly from one municipality to another. For instance, some cities might restrict hedge height to six feet to ensure that neighbors’ views and sunlight are not obstructed. 

‘It’s crucial for homeowners to check their local laws to ensure compliance. HOAs can impose their own rules, which might be stricter than municipal regulations.’

For maintaining hedges of all sizes, an adaptable trimmer like this EGO power multihead combo kit from Lowe's is an essential purchase.

Headshot of man with dark hair in a white shirt
Tommy Mello

As the founder of A1 Garage Door Service, a $100M+ business that he started in Phoenix, Arizona, Tommy has become a leader in the home service industry. An author and podcaster, he is always happy to share his knowledge and expertise.

Understand HOA rules and regulations

pruning a hedge

(Image credit: Andrii Shablovskyi / Alamy Stock Photo)

‘Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) often have specific guidelines regarding hedge maintenance to ensure uniformity and aesthetic appeal in the community,’ continues Tommy. ‘These can include regular trimming schedules, specific height limits, and requirements to keep hedges neatly trimmed. 

‘HOAs might also impose fines or penalties for non-compliance, making it essential for homeowners to familiarize themselves with and adhere to these rules.’

But as well as being the guardians of neighborhood orderliness, the HOA can provide mechanisms to find equitable resolutions to disputes over hedge maintenance

‘This can include mediation services or a formal complaint process, which helps address grievances in a structured manner,' Tommy adds.

Choose the right plants for your hedge

boxwood hedge

(Image credit: Camomile / Alamy Stock Photo)

The bushiness of your hedge will depend on the plant, as some grow more quickly than others.

‘Boxwood, Pittosporum tenuifolium, bay laurel, English laurel, Carolina Cherry Laurel, Texas privet, camellia and plum pine are all commonly used,’ says Aileen Carroll, a garden consultant from California. ‘Boxwoods don’t have to be hedged nearly as often as pittosporums because they have a slower growth rate. However, they often need more maintenance because they are more susceptible to pest and disease pressures.

'It’s best to consult with a garden professional local to your area over the right choice of plant,' continues Aileen. 'While a hedge of pineapple guava might be fantastic in Napa Valley, it wouldn’t be a suitable choice if you’re not living with a Mediterranean climate. You can also take a walk through your neighborhood and see what’s working well for other people.’

These versatile laurel varieties from Fast Growing Trees all make excellent hedges that you can sculpt into neatness. But always ask how easy they are to care for before you buy.

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Aileen Carroll

Aileen describes herself as a ‘professional green thumb’, living and working in the Napa Valley. As well as being a manager at Van Winden Garden Center, she is also an author and regular commentator on garden topics.

Take care of the cuttings

Hedge shears

(Image credit: Cristian Baitg via Getty Images)

If you are establishing a new hedge along the border of your yard, it is worth considering how it will impact the people next door and your relationship with them. If you get on well you can easily come to an agreement on who cuts it and how often. If you don't and it becomes overgrown this may lead to tension.

‘If you are planting a hedge on your property line be prepared to have a conversation with your neighbor,’ says Aileen. ‘Almost inevitably some branches will hang over the fence and need to be dealt with. 

'I have clients whose gardening crews have permission to go onto the neighbor’s property to keep a hedge tidy on both sides. With other clients, either the neighbors don’t mind an unruly hedge popping up over their fence or happily take responsibility for its maintenance.

‘If you have a contentious relationship with your neighbor, you should choose your hedging material wisely.’

If you are starting your hedge from scratch and need to know what to plant and when, you can discover our helpful guide on how to plant a hedge. It is packed with practical advice on how to create a lush and colorful garden divider.

Alison Jones

Alison is a contributing writer for Homes & Gardens. She was previously Co-Editor of Real Homes magazine and now works as a freelance writer for a variety of homes publications. Originally a newspaper journalist, Alison has worked as a film critic and celebrity interviewer, and has also written on property, fashion, lifestyle, entertainment and the arts. Having purchased a Victorian property in severe need of updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.