Property Line Trees -- Who Owns What and How to Avoid 'Property WARS!'

Hey fellow growers…

We bought our 27 acre farm/forest 1.5 years ago, and are converting it into an edible forest/orchard. Since we’re new to the property we don’t know two of our property line neighbors (the ones that own the farm-esc land that’s adjacent to ours). Yesterday a mystery began, and I need advice:

There are 8 giant sugar maples growing along the property line to our south. They’re almost certainly over 50 years old and were planted in a line to demarcate a border. Behind them (not running through their trunks) is an old barb wire fence that still stands. There’s also a survey stone and pole that exists to mark the corner of our property that sits just behind the trunk of the first tree in the row.

Yesterday we noticed someone had come onto our side of the property and setup maple syrup taps on every single tree (3 lines each, and a 5 gallon bucket for each tree). We asked our neighbor who also owns 2 of their own maple trees in that same line of property that were tapped on their side if they knew who did it, and they were clueless (they winter in Florida and so aren’t in upstate New York right now). We and they both share a border with a farmer we’ve never met (the land on his/her side of the trees is a swamp).

One extra piece of info to make it more interesting: At the end of the maple tree line and offset just enough to be straddling both sides of the actual property line is a full grown apple tree. The apples are quite good (small but good) and probably was a chance seedling at some point since it’s in the bend of a creek (roots extend into the creek bed). We took the apples from it (both sides, so we were the trespassers at that point last fall) and made hard cider which was delicious.

What would you do in this situation? I’m particularly interested in advice from those who have had fruit/tree property struggles before, and those with large farm borders where things get murky.

This is already pretty long but to answer the question, what did we already do? After mulling it over for a day and never being able to get a hold of anyone in the town sheriff’s office because they just don’t answer the phones ever, we laminated an index card with our names, number, and request to call us, identifying ourselves as the property owners (of at the very least , the side of the trees they were operating on). We tied up the maple lines and took the buckets to our barn but didn’t take the hoses or the taps. We also put our wildlife camera on a fallen branch that looks down the line of the trees.

More info: This did not happen last year. There are no signs of these trees previously being tapped (no evidence of it that I could find). We plan to tap these trees starting in 2024 to add a small batch of syrup to our farm sales offerings because this is a business we’re starting.

Thanks everyone, I hope at the very least this mystery provides the group with a thought experiment for the day. Stay safe out there.



FWIW, many areas have a property information system you can access online. Ours includes a satellite view of the entire county and the ability to overlay bright blue demarcating property lines. It takes me just a couple of minutes to type in our address, click on the appropriate buttons and see just where our property lines run. And in fact, the three big maples that are well inside our fence line are the actual property line, so we’re encroaching significantly on city property. If you are able to do something similar you can quickly see just how accurate that line established by the maples is. It could be that they’re completely on or off of your property.

Of course you may already have had a surveyor out and know precisely where your property lines are, in which case unread the above!

But again FWIW, I would not let anyone tap my trees. It isn’t particularly good for the trees, and besides, they’re not theirs! (If you wanted to be difficult -which I am not recommending- I think you would be within your rights to confiscate and keep the tapping equipment.)


Has the property been surveyed? Was the survey recorded with the county?


Yes! The survey is in our kitchen. Done in 2018 in preparation for the previous owners to sell their property.


The reason we already confiscated the buckets was to give whoever did this a reason to contact us.
One scenario is that the individual just takes their equipment, tears up the note, and disappears into the night.


It’s quite possible that whoever tapped the trees did so thinking that the new owners may not know/care where the property lines are.
I would think that if they aren’t complete aholes, they will contact you to get their buckets back and have a discussion about where the property lines actually are. Good luck


Also it’s possible they had an arrangement with the previous owner, and they don’t realize the property has changed hands. This does not 'splain why you didn’t encounter them last year.


We definitely thought of that, but couldn’t find signs that anyone had tapped in years we didn’t own the property.
It would be easy enough to ask the previous owners if we didn’t firmly believe (without joking) that they’re now in witness protection and can’t be reached.


My advice, based on growing up in very rural Wisconsin and currently living in very rural Vermont, would be that you should start by meeting your neighbors! Find out who owns the adjacent property, call first if you can, otherwise just knock on their door sometime during daylight hours. Introduce yourself, and ask if they know who might be tapping the trees. It might not be them, but they probably have a better guess than you do. I would definitely avoid involving the sheriff, although asking other locals would be fine.

Leaving notes is OK although a little bookish, but I probably wouldn’t try to confiscate the buckets. I also wouldn’t be too certain that trees are solely yours. Your survey means you definitely have claim to them, but it’s not impossible that someone else’s survey also shows that they have claim. Surveys aren’t centrally coordinated, and occasionally they conflict. We’re currently trying to remark our boundaries, and are pretty sure that our deed includes some land that is also covered by the neighbor’s deed.

Another likely possibility is that the previous owners gave permission to someone to tap the trees some years ago, but they didn’t get around to doing it until now. If so, you could rescind the permission right now, but unless you were planning to tap those same trees this year I probably wouldn’t. If they are mature trees, and the person tapping knows basically what they are doing, they are not going to be harmed. Whoever put the taps is in probably local, has already put a lot of effort and planning in, and your future relations with them and everyone they know will probably be better if you let them collect this year.

I’d probably suggest this approach even if they were just pure trespassers who thought you wouldn’t care. Consider your example with collecting apples. If someone found out, how would you want them to react? It’s a little different, because it’s not in progress, but I’d assume a good outcome would involve you giving the owner some cider this year, and either getting permission for the future or agreeing not to collect in future years. I think the priority should be having good relations going forward, regardless of who is legally in the right.


Very well said !
It’s important to be on good terms with the neighbors !


Valid point. I am not a “turn the other cheek” kinda guy when dealing with my property. However, in addition I would never even entertain the idea of entering another person’s property without specific permission to do so.


I really like that analysis. We’re in the process of trying to find out who owns the swamp on the other side of the trees (it’s a swamp until the land rises to a hill which is 2/3 steep farm acreage and 1/3 scrub). There’s no house on the property so no one to go meet. It’s all farm parcels from there south till the main road.
We have games out many scenarios and hadn’t planned on stopping them if they’d agree to just talk to us and explain everything.

Another X factor (D factor) that I forgot to mention is we trained our two really large and menacing looking dogs where their “home” is and lines they are not supposed to cross. This particular border has a barb wire fence behind the trees so it was easy for the dogs. But we’re definitely worried that a stranger or two coming that far into the home the girls know to be theirs will elicit a very powerful reaction from them when they’re out with me and I’m working the property.


Maybe put the buckets back. ?
Adding a few of your own too.
With a note saying we will split it. ?
Maybe cook it together ?
Have a beverage . Be neighbors
That’s what county living is all about. … or should be…?
Seams like you and ——? Have the same goals .!
Work together !


100% agree with you. Confiscating their buckets can send the wrong message. Put them back and just let them know next year you will be doing that yourself. If they are reasonable they will understand and maybe even offer to do it for you and give you the end product (and access to even more than you can produce) in exchange for a share of the profit. Or maybe just a syrup for cider apples swap. :man_shrugging:


I wish someone would take the time to tap my big maples. I’d ask for a cut of the resulting syrup in return for the use of my trees.

As others have said, this is a great way to make friends. Whomever is doing this is probably a well connected local who taps trees all over the place and would be super useful to know. If it were me I’d probably leave a note with my phone number asking them to please call me.


Mr Kevin,

I am a Certified Appraiser and a Broker in Charge in northwest NC, (Not a Registered Land Surveyor(PE) or an Attorney).

My work in rural NC for 35+ years is land/farm/forest related and I have been involved with points you ask. In 2000 I quit brokerage except aiding buyers seeking properties fitting their “land needs.” And I’m on my farm for the past 47+ years.

Line trees and fences are know as evidence on the ground. Surveyors often make judgment calls based on these even if a variance exist in the metes and bounds calls of the deed, historical evidence.

Modern surveys are more sophisticated and mathematical as you know. I love to read old deed descriptions: “beginning on a marked 30 inch red oak and running along the north ridge at Bald Rock…” Well I’ve gone on and on, sorry.

Appears you have legal rights to tap the trees if within the deed/survey description, cutting them to the ground is not suggested.

Most Important are your Neighbors, might take this opportunities to knock on doors and introduce yourself? You have made a written declaration of your ownership, hard to beat the effort you have made.

Just one funny example I’ve run across, nothing like your question however. My business partner and I were never deterred by terrane, snakes, heavy brush, but we didn’t like having guns pulled, (not a joke).

Once we were flagging a line in a swampy area in eastern Wilkes County. It was badly overgrown and thorny/snakey. We saw a break in the boundary line and emerged into a pretty sizeable pot patch, people here are proud of their licker and weed.

The survey crew was due in the following week, so my partner asked for some paper and a pen and writes a note to the farmer to the effect that we didn’t want to cause any disturbance…and I must mention, the buds were superb.

Here’s the funny, years later I was at an old country watering hole in Boomer, yep, it’s a real place with a flashing red traffic light. The juke joint was known as The Hilltop, a real knife/gun joint.

A younger guy than me comes up and says, “you don’t know me but you did me and my wife a favor years back.” How’s that? “You left me a note at the farm, and we appreciate it.” HaHa, he had left one big bud, (neither of us smoked).

I like workn’ for a livin,’ enough said.


I love that story!! So real life meets unintended consequences.
We’re the good natured sort. We don’t work our property with guns ever (it’s New York State, gun culture is different here even though we are full blown “rural” New York State.
If this were Florida or Texas I think this story might have a different dimension simply because of property defense laws (not to mention no maple syrup taps I’m aware of).

Our road, and its member families, is a bit of a mixed political and partisan bag that span the entire spectrum, so we approach all meetings with caution and humility when we can. As soon as we find out who owns the swamp we’d want to meet them, but since we’re not sure it’s even them or their representatives we still are hoping someone calls us.

Another possibility we’re exploring is it might be the gentleman who rents 10 acres to harvest alfalfa from us where his rent area plot is 30ft from the property line we’re discussing. He may assume all agricultural products on our land belong to him since he rents 10 acres. He’s the largest dairy producer in the county and notoriously impossible to get a hold of. He ignores 9 out of 10 correspondences. We’re trying to ask but don’t think he’ll even bother to write us back.

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It ain’t only FL and TX where rural people are armed most of the time. I either open or CC more days than not. Most every rural property owner in this area almost always has ready access to a firearm(s).

IMHO, allowing people to access your land for any reason without permission is simply asking for more problems down the road.


I agree with not taking the buckets, that might have been a little aggressive. Setting up a trail cam and leaving a note seems reasonable. If you arent planning to tap the trees, and they belong to you, id say splitting the syrup seems reasonable, it is a lot of work to collect and cook it down, maybe they give you 25% of final product, feels like it might be a fair compromise, if you for sure own the trees and dont want them to be tapped, Id leave the equipment there, take the taps out and leave a note asking them to call you to discuss the situation.


I had a property line issue a while back and did some reading. in my state, a fence (or customary use), maintained, accepted and unchallenged, becomes the new property line after 10 years (this is a simplification, but not by a lot - it’s called adverse possession). a fresh survey doesn’t change this, it’s just another piece of evidence that you can take to court, and an old undisputed fence is probably going to outweigh the survey. I don’t know how this applies to your situation but it was really unintuitive and felt unfair when I learned this, but it is what it is.

here’s a blog of a guy who used to work in this area in WA, if you read it from the beginning you can sorta chart his descent into madness as he was exposed to so many neighbors being nasty to each other (he eventually left the field):

the takeaway is, you need to walk your property line and check it at least every 10 years! (in Oregon) so you’re doing the right thing by pursuing this (obviously be neighborly above all else). if you do nothing then it can essentially be annexed by your neighbors