Last year, the local electric utility sent out a letter. The first sentence was this: "We need your help." Hmmmmmm... It is not very often that a utility company reaches out to its customers for help. I think we would all agree that some cheery plants in a mulched landscape bed give us great satisfaction. BUT.... if asked if we would rather have power to our home or a nice landscape, I am sure most people would choose the convenience and comfort of electricity over the beauty and bounty of landscape material.

The question remains: how can we as homeowners and landscapers help our utility coop? Well, the short answer is this: by heeding the co-op's policies. The letter I received last year was as a member of the co-op; the letter wasn't addressed to this business, but I thought it was interesting for our industry.

How many times do landscapers hear, "Help me make that dreadful electric panel box pretty; put some plants around it!" from their customers? As I was reading the letter from the utility company, I wondered how many times a homeowner made this request, spent hard-earned money on landscaping around a pedestal box (or whatever), only to have to rip it up once the utility company did the maintenance on the right of way.

My whole point of this post is this: know your property. If you are just purchasing a home in Myrtle Beach or the Pee Dee area of SC (or anywhere!), know your property. If you are renting a home and considering sprucing the landscaping up, know your property. Utilities communicate their policies in a number of different ways. Next time you get a little flyer in with your bill, READ IT instead of throwing it out with the envelope.

The linemen that work for the utility company probably really like that beautiful variegated liriope you had planted in that cute little mulched bed around the electrical equipment, but they will remove it if it encroaches on their boundaries. Their boundaries are usually known as their "right-of-way" or "ROW."

What can you as a homeowner do?
  • Check your property
  • Read your utility company's policy for clearance boundaries
  • If you can't find it on the webpage or publication, call them
  • Usually a "right-of-way coordinator" if the job description of the person you want to speak to
  • Transplant anything you love that falls inside the defined boundary of the landscaping equipment
  • Trim plants that grow into the boundary

What can you as a landscaper do?
  • Don't let an uneducated homeowner talk you into landscaping in / around / under / over / across a utility right of way
  • Help educate the homeowner you are working for
  • Make yourself familiar with the policies of the utility companies in our area of SC (and NC if you travel that far)
  • Offer an added service of a right-of-way landscaping assessment
  • CYA (Cover Your Ass). If a persistent homeowner wants you to landscape in / around /under / over / across a ROW, get it in writing, with the homeowner's signature, that you are not responsible when the utility company destroys the landscaping

Here is an actual quote from the letter that spawned this whole post: "Obstructions include shrubs, trees, fences and anything else that falls within 10 feet of the front of the equipment or 4 feet on the other three sides of the equipment. If there isn't anything you want saved and relocated, no action is necessary on your part. Any obstructions that remain in place when the crews arrive to do work at your location will be taken care of by [name of utility company] in the easiest and most efficient manner deemed possible by the crew leaders. Items inside the established boundary will be completely removed. Plants growing into the established boundary will simply be trimmed back."

You decide. Do you want the crew leader of the utility company trimming back your landscaping or do you want to do it?