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How to save 20 year old citrus trees from new construction?

8 years ago

have two citrus trees near the property line in my backyard. One is some kind of orange (small and really sweet) and the other is some kind of grapefruit (small and completely yellow with light pink inside.) They are approximately 25 feet tall, one of the neighbors says he thinks they were planted in around 1991, so they're really old. They are basically growing wild, with no cold protection in Zone 8b and no fertilizer or pruning, watering, or anything else.

Despite complete and total neglect, these trees were doing fantastic. I must have had at least 500 grapefruits last year. It was so out of control that when i realized I could never eat it all myself, I got so desperate to give it away I literally ran out of friends and neighbors and had to start shipping it to family in new york. I still ended up with hundreds of grapefruits rotting on the floor underneath the tree. (The tree is 25 feet high, even with a ladder i can only pick maybe the bottom 10 feet.) The orange tree was not quite as insane, but still had a sizeable crop.

With my fantastic luck, a spot developer ("Destination Homes LLC") bought the vacant lot next door to me. He decided to build two houses, one in the front and one in the BACKYARD, on a mountain of fill dirt 7 feet high ensuring that I will never have privacy again (or drain properly I imagine). When he cleared the pine forest off his lot, (promptly burying it under the foundation of his new homes) he destroyed my fence in the process. He refused to pay for the damage, but I never bothered to sue because he built his own fence on the property line. (Also my fence was very old, even if I won in court it wouldn't have been much.) The problem this is causing is that my citrus trees were planted only a couple of feet from the property line, and the branches extend over the line by around 2 feet. When he built his fence, he built it 2 feet higher than my original fence, and built it right into the branches of my trees, located around 3-4 feet from the trunk of the tree. (He broke many of the branches in the process, he didn't cut them, he simply crushed them back with the fence leaving them to die on my side. I would not be surprised if this whole thing was intentional.)

Because he is to my south, and my area is already heavily shaded with many very old trees nearby, this fence is now blocking the light from all portions of the tree less than 7 feet off the ground. My fence was 5 feet, but there was a space for light to shine through to the branches on the other side. That space has now been closed off. All of the branches that fruit at a height where i can reach them have died. The nearest developing grapefruit is 8 feet off the ground, and nearest orange is maybe 10 feet up.

I live in Jacksonville. Florida has some pretty lax laws on what you can and cannot do on your property. Legally, he can put that fence there, and I'm pretty sure that legally he's not responsible if it kills my tree, or blocks all of my light, or whatever damage he can cause with a fence. Its a gardening forum so I'm not going to go into what the city has allowed him to get away with, but the list of things you would think he's not allowed to do that he has done leaving me with no recourse are pretty astounding. I can also assure you that the builder is NOT a reasonable human being and no matter of diplomacy will result in him lowering his fence or moving it over. The last time we tried diplomacy it degenerated to tresspassing charges.

I don't think its realistic if even possible to move the trees given their size. At minimum it would be a very costly process and a gargantuan effort, I would require professional help and heavy machinery. I would also damage the fence he built getting the roots up as it is located well inside the drip line. (And unlike me, he wouldn't hesitate to sue me.)

I COULD plant new trees away from the property line but a three year old tree simply cannot compete with a 20 year old one. (Nevermind that it would require care and cold protection which these two trees somehow don't.) Also, supposedly citrus greening is rampant in my area. My trees don't have it. If I start bringing stuff in from nurseries I worry about raising their risk of being infected.

How much can i cut off the top of the tree to allow light to reach the lower branches? I hear "topping" a tree is harmful but I think these trees are 15 feet higher than they need to be. I have also seen pine trees usually near power lines where all the branches on one half of the tree have been cut to the trunk to prevent it from touching them. Is it safe to remove everything on the side of the tree where the fence is? Right now the trees are alive and producing fruit but harvesting any of it will be extremely difficult. I don't want to try to solve the accessibility problem and end up accidentally killing them instead.

This builder has already made my life a nightmare in so many ways. Hes taken my privacy with his elevated homes and my sleep with the floodlights he's put on the sides of them. He's taken my peace of mind because my yard floods when it rains now, and I don't feel safe anymore because his construction crews call the police and tell them stories about stuff I didn't actually do. I can't let my dog in my yard anymore because his fence doesn't actually touch the ground like mine did and I can't back out of my driveway safely anymore because he put a new fence to screen me (because he believes hes having a hard time selling his house because mine is so ugly) that obstructs my view of the road. I don't want to lose my fruit trees to to him too.

Any advice?

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