12 Trees That Will Ruin Your Yard
We love trees. They can provide shade; fall, spring, or year-round color; and plenty of visual interest no matter where they're planted. They’re habitats for our avian neighbors. They’re just plain pretty. A yard without trees is a forlorn space indeed—however, there are more than a few tree species that are more trouble than they’re worth. In fact, there are some trees you just shouldn’t plant. Ever. These are the trees that will invade. They have roots that will tear up your lawn. They’re short-lived and high-maintenance, and they’re terrible choices for your yard. Because there are so many easy-care trees out there, why choose one that will potentially ruin your yard? Keep an eye out for these trees, and avoid them at all costs. For more information, and if you’re planning to plant this season, check out our guide to Tree Planting 101.
Skip Planting These Trees. Trust Us.
(Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’)
Why not? As you probably already know, The Grumpy Gardener hates Bradford pear trees. If this is news to you, he’s on the record saying, “It explodes in windstorms, its flowers smell like fish, it grows too big, and thousands of its thorny seedlings now consume roadsides and the woods,” and “If you have a Bradford pear in your yard, yesterday would have been a great day to cut it down.”
Learn more about callery pear.
Chinese Flame Tree
Why not? The seed capsules of this tree (which is also known as bougainvillea goldenrain tree) travel widely and sprout everywhere—and we mean everywhere. According to The Grumpy Gardener, who has deemed this tree the ‘Worst Tree I Ever Planted,’ “During fall and winter, the papery capsules blow everywhere, bringing the seeds in contact with soil. Every time this happens, every single seed germinates. Let all of them grow and in a couple of years, your entire yard literally becomes a forest of Chinese flame trees.”
Learn more about Koelreuteria.
Why not? Skip planting this tree unless you like to deal with mess. Cottonwood produces a bounty of fluffy, cotton-like seeds that will stick to everything. This tree also has a combination of undesirable root characteristics: Its root system is aggressive, shallow, and rather pliant, which makes the tree very unstable. It also has a weak wood structure. All in all, these factors add up to a tree not hardy enough to withstand years of exposure to the elements, so any cottonwood you plant may come down sooner rather than later.
Learn more about cottonwood.
Why not? Disclaimer: Gingko trees are often a fine choice for yards. Their leaves turn bright yellow and drop in a great big pile, a vibrant seasonal effect that requires only a bit of maintenance. They are a hardy, easy-care choice—as long as you don’t plant female gingko trees, which drop messy fruit that is so smelly, it will make your time outside unbearable. By sticking with male gingko tree selections like ‘Autumn Gold,’ ‘Fairmount,’ and ‘Saratoga,’ you can ensure a fruit- and odor-free yard year-round.
Learn more about gingko.
Why not? These trees may be pretty, but they’re also short lived and their seedlings spread ferociously. The Grumpy Gardener sums it up, calling them, “Weedy, short-lived, insect- and disease-prone, [with] invasive roots, [and] unattractive most of the year.” Still not convinced? Grumpy explains, “After the flowers fade, the tree grows hundreds of 6-inch long, bean-like, brown seedpods which hang from every branch. The seedpods persist all winter, even after the tree has dropped its leaves. Few trees look as ugly or more forlorn.” Just say no.
Learn more about mimosa.
Why not? This fast-growing tree has a root system that will tear up your yard in no time. According to The Grumpy Gardener, “Its roots are infamous for clogging water lines and breaking sidewalks. Its weak branches fall in storms. And look at all the seeds it drops in one season, each destined to become a baby silver maple!” All in all, it’s not a great choice for your yard or any nearby sidewalks that need to remain intact.
Learn more about maple.
Why not? We know, we know: Everyone loves a magnolia. But hear us out: Many magnolias grow far too big for the average yard. Leaf drop happens year-round, which means that the addition of a magnolia ups the messy-yard factor significantly. Added to the trees’ development of those notorious and knotty surface roots, these factors point us to other—better—tree choices for our yards. (Also, have you noticed? Thanks to the crowded under-soil space the roots occupy and the dense canopy of magnolia leaves, it’s almost impossible for any other plantings to thrive near it.)
Learn more about magnolia.
Why not? While sweet gum is known and appreciated for its lovely fall color, it is also despised for its seeds. If there’s a sweet gum in your yard, you can forget about walking around barefoot once the seedpods fall in autumn and winter. The pods have sharp, spiny exteriors that will elicit a shout if you happen to be stuck with one. Ouch. Their surface roots can also create issues across the lawn.
Learn more about sweet gum.
Why not? Sycamores are notorious for making messes. An immense leaf and bark drop coupled with large, long-hanging, and frequent-falling seedpods will litter the ground around the sycamore year after year. If you’re looking for a tidy yard, the majestic sycamore will work against you—and fill your yard, rain gutters, and driveway with piles of leaves. They grow to enormous heights very quickly and also have aggressive roots. High maintenance indeed.
Learn more about sycamore.
Why not? Talk about aggressive roots. White mulberry roots have been known to shoot out through yards, cracking pavement and upending landscaping along the way. No one wants that in their yard. Plus, white mulberry trees are known to be messy neighbors, and the species’ male trees emit pollen notorious for triggering allergies. While birds love the fruit of mulberry trees—a phenomenon that will also cause unwanted messes in your yard—we must admit that we do not.
Learn more about mulberry.
Why not? If you have a small yard, you are going to want to avoid this particular tree, a species in the Magnolia family, which can grow upwards of 100 feet tall. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, “It also tends to drop twigs and small branches throughout the year. Don't park cars beneath it, because aphids feeding on the leaves drip sticky honeydew. […] It's not a good street tree either, as rising heat from hot pavement may scorch the leaves.”
Learn more about poplar.
Why not? Again, the root system is the reason we avoid this tree. The roots of the willow are aggressive and strong. They’ve been known to ruin underground water lines and crack poured pavement. The willow is susceptible to disease and pests; it grows wide—often 50-60 feet—and its branches hang low. Avoid at all costs. You’ve been warned.
Learn more about willow.