Poison hemlock and Canada thistle are making unwelcome appearances across Ohio, and that raises the need to talk about Ohio’s noxious weeds law. The law provides mechanisms for dealing with noxious weeds—those weeds that can cause harm to humans, animals, and ecosystems. Location matters when we talk about noxious weeds. That’s because Ohio law provides different procedures for dealing with noxious weeds depending upon where we find the weeds. The law addresses the weeds on Ohio's noxious weeds list in these four locations:
- Along roadways and railroads
- Along partition fence rows
- On private land beyond the fence row
- On park lands
Along roadways and railroads. The first window just closed for mandatory mowing of noxious weeds along county and township roads. Ohio law requires counties, townships, and municipalities to destroy all noxious weeds, brush, briers, burrs, and vines growing along roads and streets. There are two mandated time windows for doing so: between June 1 and 20 and between August 1 and 20. If necessary, a cutting must also occur between September 1 and 20, or at any other time when necessary to prevent or eliminate a safety hazard. Railroad and toll road operators have the same legal duty, and if they fail to do so, a township may cause the removal and bring a civil action to recover for removal costs.
Along partition fence rows. Landowners in unincorporated areas of the state have a duty to cut or destroy noxious weeds and brush within four feet of a partition fence, and the law allows a neighbor to request a clearing of the fence row if a landowner hasn’t done so. If a landowner doesn’t clear the fence row within ten days of receiving a request to clear from the neighbor, the neighbor may present a complaint to the township trustees. The trustees must visit the property and determine whether there is a need to remove noxious weeds and if so, may order the removal and charge removal costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.
On private land beyond the fence row. A written notice to the township trustees that noxious weeds are growing on private land beyond the fence row will trigger another township trustee process. The trustees must notify the landowner to destroy the weeds or show why there is no reason to do so. If the landowner doesn’t comply within five days of receiving the notice, the trustees may arrange for destruction of the weeds. The township may assess the costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.
On park lands. If the township receives notice that noxious weeds are growing on park land or land owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the trustees must notify the OSU Extension Educator in the county. Within five days, the Educator must meet with a representative of the ODNR or park land, consider ways to deal with the noxious weed issue, and share findings and recommendations with the trustees.
Even with noxious laws in place, we recommend talking before taking legal action. If you’re worried about a noxious weed problem in your area, have a talk with the responsible party first. Maybe the party isn’t aware of the noxious weeds, will take steps to address the problem, or has already done so. But if talking doesn’t work, Ohio law offers a way to ensure removal of the noxious weeds before they become a bigger problem.
We explain the noxious weed laws in more detail in our law bulletin, Ohio’s Noxious Weed Laws. We’ve also recently illustrated the procedures in a new law bulletin, Legal Procedures for Dealing with Noxious Weeds in Ohio’s Rural Areas. Also see the OSU Agronomy Team’s recent article about poison hemlock in the latest edition of C.O.R.N, available through this link.
Despite the fact that “pumpkin spice” everything is back in stores, it is still summer, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still dealing with weeds. In fact, we have been receiving many questions about noxious weeds lately. This blog post is meant to be a refresher about what you should do if noxious weeds sprout up on your property.
What are noxious weeds?
The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is in charge of designating “prohibited noxious weeds.” The list may change from time to time, but currently, noxious weeds include:
- Shatter cane (Sorghum bicolor)
- Russian thistle (Salsola Kali var. tenuifolia).
- Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense ).
- Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).
- Grapevines (Vitis spp.), when growing in groups of one hundred or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for two consecutive years.
- Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense ).
- Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).
- Cressleaf groundsel (Senecio glabellus).
- Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
- Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
- Mile-A-Minute Weed (Polygonum perfoliatum).
- Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
- Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes).
- Marestail (Conyza canadensis)
- Kochia (Bassia scoparia).
- Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri).
- Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata).
- Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
- Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureasculata), when the plant has spread from its original premise of planting and is not being maintained.
- Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
- Heart-podded hoary cress (Lepidium draba sub. draba).
- Hairy whitetop or ballcress Lepidium appelianum).
- Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis).
- Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens).
- Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula).
- Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium).
- Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma).
- Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum).
- Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
- Forage Kochia (Bassia prostrata).
- Water Hemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus).
The list of noxious weeds can be found in the Ohio Administrative Code section 901:5-37-01. In addition to this list, Ohio State has a guidebook that will help you identify noxious weeds in Ohio, which is available here. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the weeds in the book, so you can be on the lookout for noxious weeds on your property.
When am I responsible for noxious weeds?
The Ohio Revised Code addresses noxious weeds in different parts of the code. When it comes to noxious weeds on the property of private individuals, there are two scenarios that may apply: noxious weeds on private property, and noxious weeds in line fence rows.
Noxious weeds on your property
If your property is located outside of a municipality, a neighbor or another member of the public can inform the township trustees in writing that there are noxious weeds on your property. If this happens, the township trustees must then turn around and notify you about the existence of noxious weeds. After receiving a letter from the trustees, you must either destroy the weeds or show the township trustees why there is no need for doing so. If you do not take one of these actions within five days of the trustees’ notice, the township trustees must cause the weeds to be cut or destroyed, and the county auditor will assess the costs for destroying the weeds against your real property taxes. If your land is in a municipality, similar laws apply, but you would be dealing with the legislative authority, like the city council, instead of township trustees.
What if you rent out your land out to be farmed or otherwise? Are you responsible for noxious weeds on your property in that situation? The answer is probably. The law states that the board of township trustees “shall notify the owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” that they have received information about noxious weeds on the property (emphasis added). Furthermore, the law says that the “person notified” shall cut or destroy the weeds (or have them cut or destroyed). In all likelihood, if you own the land, you are going to be the person who is notified by the trustees about the presence of weeds. If you rent out your property to be farmed or otherwise, you may want to include who is responsible for noxious weeds in the language of the lease.
Noxious weeds in the fence row
The “line fence law” or “partition fence law” in Ohio requires landowners in unincorporated areas to cut all noxious weeds, brush, briers and thistles within four feet and in the corners of a line fence. A line fence (or partition fence) is a fence that is on the boundary line between two properties. If you fail to keep your side of the fence row clear of noxious weeds and other vegetation, Ohio law provides a route for adjacent landowners concerned about the weeds. First, an adjacent landowner must request that you clear the fence row of weeds and must allow you ten days to do so. If the weeds still remain after ten days, the complaining landowner may notify the township trustees of the situation. Then, the township trustees must view the property and determine whether there is sufficient reason to remove weeds and vegetation from the fence row. If they determine that the weeds should be removed, the township trustees may hire someone to clear the fence row. Once again, if this occurs, the county auditor will assess the costs of destruction on your property taxes.
Being aware of noxious weeds is key.
As a landowner, it is really important for you to keep an eye out for noxious weeds on your property. If you keep on top of the weeds, cutting them or otherwise destroying them as they grow, it will certainly make your life a lot easier. You will avoid awkward conversations with neighbors, letters from your township trustees, and extra charges on your property taxes. Additionally, you will help to prevent the harm that noxious weeds may cause to crops, livestock, and ecosystems in general.
To learn more about Ohio’s noxious weed laws, you can access our law bulletin on the subject here. While the bulletin addresses the responsibilities of landowners, it also goes beyond the scope of this blog post, addressing weeds on roadways, railroads, and public lands, as well as how to respond if your neighbor has noxious weeds on their property. Additionally, the bulletin has a helpful section of “frequently asked questions” regarding noxious weeds.