Pesticides and Property Lines: How To Talk to Neighbors About What They’re Spraying
Can sprayers and non-sprayers live side by side in perfect harmony? It's possible when you open the lines of communication.
Ask About Lawn Chemicals
What happens when you want to tread gently and eliminate the use of lawn chemicals in your yard, but your neighbor pursues grassy perfection and mosquito-free comfort? Issues like this can quickly devolve into a microcosm of our political landscape, creating animosity between neighbors who are committed to their positions or feel attacked by those who feel differently. But it doesn’t have to go that way.
Life is better when neighbors talk with one another. No one likes to be on the receiving end of passive aggression. Everyone hates being blindsided by HOA notices and lawyer letters. If you take issue with your neighbor’s lawn care practices, the best starting point is a direct conversation. Not sure what to say? Keep reading.
Overspray, or spray drift, happens when liquid or dust treatments are applied on windy days, or when they are carelessly applied near the property line. Other than directly witnessing overspray during application, you may find a zone of damaged or dead plants along the border. If you see or find evidence of chemical overspray, do not delay the conversation. Your neighbor must take responsibility for their own—or their lawn company’s—behavior.
Many homeowners hire pest control companies to spray for mosquitoes, roaches, spiders, and other pests inside and out. These businesses ostensibly hire and train their employees to apply their products according to industry and legal standards. The company sometimes installs a notice on the lawn after application. If your neighbor contracts one of these companies, ask when they are scheduled to spray, and what chemical is used. You may also ask them to avoid spraying near the property line.
Homeowners and lawn care companies alike use either lawn weed killers or broad-spectrum herbicides to control weeds. Lawn weed killers are considered safe for grass but detrimental to other plants growing in the lawn. Broad-spectrum herbicides, or weed and grass killers, are non-selective and will kill most types of vegetation. Herbicides are absorbed through foliage, and only kill the plants they land on. Other than spray drift, if your neighbor’s lawn company simply stays on their side, you should see no negative impact. If a dead zone appears near the property line, however, it’s time to have a conversation.
What are you spraying?
Whether it’s a contractor or your neighbor, don’t be afraid to ask what they are spraying and what it’s for. Look up the chemical to learn more. If you find that the product is linked to specific problems, share the research with your neighbor. Perhaps you can help them come up with a safer alternative solution, even if it’s not what you would choose.
Will you please let me know before you spray?
If you are concerned about spray drift, or the odor of certain chemicals, ask your neighbor to let you know in advance that they plan to spray. They may continue to apply lawn chemicals, but you can avoid the discomfort by closing up the house and staying indoors, or leaving for a few hours until the spray settles and the smell dissipates.
Explain Your Position
Your neighbor has their own motivations to use chemicals. Talk to them about it. Find out their perspective in an open, charitable way. Ask questions and take the time to listen to the answers. Clearly let them know your position and reasoning as well. You may or may not get the ideal result you hope for, but you could uncover a workable solution.
Continue the Conversation
Hopefully you can build a working relationship with your neighbor. You may not be able to convince them to stop spraying, but maybe you can help them find lower-toxicity solutions or suggest safer application methods. Doing so places the burden on you to learn how lawn chemicals work, how they break down, what the potential threats are, and which products are most effective. If your neighbor knows that you know your stuff, they might be more likely to listen.
Agree, or Agree to Disagree
In a perfect world, your neighbor adopts a lawn care plan that matches your ideal. But in the real world, it’s more likely that your neighbor will continue to spray. As long as overspray does not enter your landscape and your neighbor uses commercially available products in the ways they were intended, you have little recourse to force them to change. Just keep the lines of communication open.
Take Legal Action Only as a Last Resort
Rarely, but occasionally, spray offenders intentionally encroach across property lines. Applying lawn chemicals intentionally or accidentally on another’s property is against the law. If you’ve stated your case and provided the evidence directly to your neighbor, and the neighbor refuses to take responsibility or change their behavior, you may have no choice but to submit a complaint to authorities. Your HOA may be able to help, your attorney could send a cease and desist letter, or you may have to reach out to local law enforcement.