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A List of the Worst Trees to Plant in Your Yard

You might think that any tree that grows in your yard is a good tree, but many experts and homeowners would disagree. While just about every tree has some redeeming quality, there are quite a few trees that have too many problems associated with their growth to make them a valuable addition to your landscape. Issues can range from disease, size, fruit, pests, appearance, odor, and life span.

You might think that any tree that grows in your yard is a good tree, but many experts and homeowners would disagree. While just about every tree has some redeeming quality, there are quite a few trees that have too many problems associated with their growth to make them a valuable addition to your landscape. Issues can range from disease, size, fruit, pests, appearance, odor, and life span.

Sweetgum

The sweetgum is a native tree to North America and grows well in many parts of the country. In the past the resin under the bark was collected and chewed like gum; the spiny seed balls provide winter food for birds and mammals; and in general the tree has a pleasing shape, fall color, and good shade. The three main issues with this tree are that it has a tendency to produce large surface roots that damage lawns; it can grow to a height of 80 to 100 feet, and the spiny fruits are difficult to collect, clog gutters, and are painful if walked on with bare feet.

Mulberry

The mulberry is another tree with large surface roots, produces large quantities of pollen, and the fruit is very messy unless harvested. The tree also produces very deep shade that is makes it difficult for grass to grow. If you plan on raising silkworms, you would need access to a mulberry tree as mulberry leaves are their only food source.

Lombardy Poplar

The Lombardy poplar is very fast growing tree that produce an instant wind and privacy screen for your property. The problem is that they are short –lived, around 20 years or so, they have frequent branch die offs which must be removed, and the male trees produce pollen.

Sycamore

The Sycamore is a stately tree that is often grown along streets or long driveways.  The main issue is that the tree can become enormous and can dominate the landscape. Large burls or cankers can form on the trunk or branches during times of stress or drought.

Norway Maple

The Norway Maple is a tree not native to North America, but it grows well in most climates and soil conditions.  The tree has dense shade making lawns impossible to grow. The tree also has shallow fibrous roots that draw most of the moisture out of the ground.  The Norway maple also has an aggressive primary root system that can girdle the tree eventually killing it.

Norway Maple with stem girdling roots

Mimosa

The Mimosa is short lived tree that produces large brown seed pods which often germinate in the lawn and surrounding area. The wood of mimosa is very weak and the branches are prone to breakage. In addition to the breakage, the tree attracts webworm and vascular wilt which shorten its life. While it does have attractive pink flowers and can withstand drought conditions, this throwback from the 1950’s should stay out of your backyard.

Bradford Pear

The Bradford pear tree was brought to the United States from China in the early 20th century to help replace native pear trees that were dying. The USDA released the tree for planting in the early 1960’s and it gained popularity in urban settings, parking lots, and residential developments. The main problem with the Bradford pear tree is that it has closely packed upright branches growing on the trunk to form its characteristic pyramidal shape. This narrow angle makes the branches prone to splitting especially in strong winds or heavy snow and ice.  The splitting occurs after the tree has become large, around 20 to 30 years, meaning that the trees are reaching their breaking point as many of the trees were planted during the housing boom of the 1980s. The tree can be pruned to reduce the risk of breakage but pruning is best done by professionals. The other problem is that the white flowers that cover the tree in spring are not particularly pleasant smelling. When large numbers of trees are planted along streets, the odor can be overwhelming.

A better choice for an ornamental pear in the Cleveland Select which has a rounder shape, does not split as easily, and the scent of the flowers is not unpleasant.

Bradford pears are prone to splitting due to the growth habit of the branches and dense, weak wood

Black Walnut

The Black Walnut is a prized tree for its nuts and wood, but in a backyard setting, the tree is not worth the trouble. The black walnut tree produces toxins that kill many other popular landscaping plants, flowers, and vegetables. The walnuts have a fleshy covering that turns black after they fall to the ground making clean up messy and difficult. The nut, while very flavorful, is encased in an extremely hard shell and removing the inner nut meats is difficult.

Leyland Cypress

The Leyland Cypress is a quick-growing tree that can overwhelm a typical yard unless properly and regularly trimmed. Leyland cypress live for twenty to twenty-five years and they can be easily uprooted during high winds. While the Leyland cypress is a dense evergreen that produces a fast privacy screen as they can grow two to three feet a year, the maintenance involved to keep in manageable may not be worth your time. Leyland cypress prefer moist soil, so they can be damaged by drought, but removing the dead branches will allow the tree to fill in with new growth. The tree is also susceptible to bag worms which can only be treated by a licensed professionals and the dense growth make reaching the interior of the tree difficult.

Bag worms on the Leyland Cypress

Cottonwood

Cottonwood is a very large tree that has brittle wood and a shallow root system making it easily damaged in severe weather. Cottonwood trees are damaged by many insects, fungi, bacteria, and disease. Since the cottonwood grows rapidly they are not recommended for residential planting. Dry weather will cause the cottonwood to drop its leaves to conserve moisture which can continue until autumn.

Large Cottonwood

Keep in mind that the trees in this article have a place, but maybe not in your yard. They all have their use, but you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each tree with the conditions on your property and the amount or work and risk you are willing to take on.

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Comments (4)

I have an acreage with many poplar trees, indeed they do tend to break in the wind very easy.

Thanks for this helpful information. With our HOA we are only allowed a limited selection of trees to choose from for our yards. I will keep this list in my bookmarks.

Thanks for this helpful information. With our HOA we are only allowed a limited selection of trees to choose from for our yards. I will keep this list in my bookmarks.

You've once again displayed your vast knowledge with this useful article.  Great job!

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