Mature trees are handsome things, and beyond their aesthetics, they can provide a property with lots of other benefits, like shade, privacy and bird life. But they’re also giant living entities, and can occasionally complicate your life a bit.
Tree preservation orders
Larger, older trees might have tree preservation orders on them, meaning you’ll need to get permission from the local council before you can carry out any work. So if you’re thinking it’s high time you dropped the sycamore that’s interfering with your Sky reception, consider that you could be risking a maximum fine of up to £20,000. Any trees with preservation orders on them should show up during the preparatory surveys you get done during the purchase process, so you’ll struggle to claim ignorance.
Big deciduous trees will drop vast quantities of leaves and seed pods or nuts, which will need sweeping up (horse chestnut trees are the worst, since their big, prehistoric-looking leaves don’t biodegrade very well). They will chuck saplings all over your garden (ash saplings are particularly prolific), and lime trees will shoot dense bushes of twigs from the base of the tree, necessitating regular trimming.
These can hit your pocket hard. Trees can get old, sick, or damaged by storms, and when they need work it can often be very expensive (and urgent, if an injured tree is leaning ominously over the roof of your house). Depending on the site, road or pavement closures might be needed to carry out the work. And trying to get the job done on the cheap by some bloke in a white van with a chainsaw is a very bad idea. Inexpert tree surgery can leave a tree unstable, or can introduce infections which can ultimately kill the tree (costing you more in the long run).
Damage to the property
Trees can knock over walls, push up flagstones, drop boughs on your car without warning (several of our most common natives are prone to a phenomenon called ‘summer branch drop’, where they spontaneously lose heavy limbs without warning in hot weather) and they can mess with underground pipes. They’ll also take a lot of water from your garden (a mature oak can suck up 50 gallons a day) and often shade out lower-level plants, meaning that you might struggle to grow other stuff.
Trees can cause allergies at certain times of year. Beyond the ones in your own garden, it’s worth casting your eye over the other trees in the neighbourhood. An avenue lined with majestic London planes is a beautiful thing, but when the street is filled with drifts of their spiky pollen, you might feel differently.
The usual suspect
Above all others, beware of Leylandii. These monstrously fast-growing conifers, beloved of paranoid suburbanites hoping to create quick and effective privacy, soon get out of control. They plunge gardens, houses and occasionally whole streets into darkness, and are responsible for more neighbourly disputes than any other plant. Leylandii hedges are such a menace that there’s even legislation surrounding them (Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003).
None of these factors should stop you buying a property with mature trees, but it’s just worth going into it with a full understanding of the possible implications.