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Making a case for conifers, but are they good or bad?

Carefree conifers, are leylandii friend or foe?

Did you know that there are almost as many leylandii conifers in the UK as there are people? The numbers are estimated to be in the region of 55 million. That’s a lot of fuel to fire up hatred, but why do we love to despise this plant, which is correctly called x Cuprocyparis leylandii? It’s all about perception, but also size. People do tend to plant this tree inappropriately, then they neglect to keep them under control.

Leylandii conifer hedge dispute with neighbours Spot the difference! Many different types of conifer look similar to Leylandii (below). Don't tar them all with the same brush!
Leylandii foliage easy to confuse with other conifers Close-up of Leylandii foliage

Contrary to popular belief, leylandii are more-or-less British, being a cross that took place in Wales back in the late 19th century. The parent species are both from the USA, being Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Xanthocyparis nootkatensis, the Nootka cypress. One parent gives leylandii its hardiness, whilst the other has donated its extraordinary fast growth speed. It stands to reason that the tree is unable to reproduce without human help. All the trees you see today have been deliberately planted as they all come from cuttings.

Looking at Leylandii foliage Classic Leylandii foliage is 'flat' when you lay the branchlets on your hand.

The fact of the matter is that nobody really knows exactly how tall this tree might grow. Because they are relatively new, there are none that are ancient. It is possible that the leylandii could grow to over 61metres or 200ft tall. This is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact from a forestry angle, it’s highly beneficial. If, however, you are a householder who lives next door to a leylandii hedge, it might feel like a blight on your horizon. Legal disputes involving this tree run into thousands in terms of feuding neighbours.

tall conifers much larger than surrounding trees leylandii Leylandii trees are majestic in their own right, but they can dwarf a small space. It's all about right plant, right place.

Beauty at Bedgebury

But for those curating the National Pinetum in Bedgebury, Kent, the Cypress leylandii is a positive feature. Bedgebury is home to what is believed to be the world’s tallest and oldest leylandii hedge in Britain, measuring over 39 metres (130ft). The pinetum is proud of its leylandii, having found the trees to be robust and strong, making a great statement.

Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent is a Forestry Commission site open to the public Ever been to visit Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent? It's the most amazing home to about 10,000 trees, around 70% of which are conifers.

Neighbours from hell?

It’s another matter within domestic gardens, where such trees can be guilty of blocking light and restricting views. Which can be a blessing if you happen to live next door to a naturist, as happened in Keighley, West Yorkshire! Privacy represents the main reason for people to plant such a species. But few realise just how fast and furiously the trees grow. They sprout upwards and outwards at a rate of at least one metre per year. It’s one thing to snip the top off a young leylandii plant, but quite another to attempt to trim an entire hedge, which can often be wider than it is tall. And, of course, the trees suck up moisture which can make difficult soil for planting nearby.

angry person Angry neighbours won't like your Leylandii hedge unless you keep it under tight control!

Back in 2003 and 2005, legislation was passed under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act and this can incur fines of up to £1000 for those who are deemed to be in breach of the rules. Before this happens, neighbours are expected to ‘exhaust all avenues of negotiation’ before involving the local council. This is expensive, in itself, with fees chargeable for those wishing to lodge a complaint. It’s no laughing matter, with some neighbour disputes even resulting in death.

A ‘high hedge’ is now considered to be anything taller than two metres. It would apply to evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges, excluding bamboo and ivy.

dense hedge taking the light away from neighbour You can see how a dense hedge sucks out the light - it's no wonder that out-of-control hedges can cause so many neighbour disputes

Taking legal steps

So, what do you do and where do you go for hedge help?

  • If you feel that a tall hedge is affecting your enjoyment, the advice is to firstly try communicating with the owner of the hedge. Keep copies of correspondence as evidence.
  • Then, contact the local council if you want to lodge a formal complaint. This will incur a fee, which can be as high as £500.
  • The council will consider the arguments on each side and will make a decision.
  • This will result in a rejection of the complaint, or they will issue a notice for the work to be carried out. It will include a timescale within which work needs to be undertaken.
  • Warning: hedges continue to grow! You might need to go through a similar process in the not-too-distant future!
conifer hedge, neatly trimmed Conifer hedges can look stunning! Just make sure you keep them under control if they might affect neighbouring properties.

By Perfectplants.co.uk