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7 Trees That Will Ruin Your Yard (and What to Plant Instead)

Let’s talk about the worst trees to plant in your yard!

We love trees. They can provide shade, spring, fall, or year-round color, and visual interest no matter where they’re planted. A yard without trees is indeed a forlorn space.

In other words, trees provide multiple benefits for both homeowners and the planet, but not all trees are suitable for home gardens. Some of the worst trees to plant can grow too large, while others make tons of debris from falling leaves and twigs, and still others break sewage pipes and clog drains with their aggressive roots.

Throw in invasive species, and your tree selection could create issues for you and the local ecosystem.

There are so many easy-care trees out there, so why choose one that will potentially ruin your yard? Here are some of the worst trees to plant in your yard. Plus, you’ll discover alternative choices for each that grow in the same conditions or have a similar look but won’t cause the same headaches.

Let’s get started!

worst trees to plant
Photo by Trong Nguyen from Shutterstock

1. Bradford pear

Bradford pear blooms are a sign of spring coming in many areas. The tree is easy to grow, fast-growing, and easy to transplant, with spectacular red fall foliage and showy spring flowers. These characteristics have made Bradford pear one of the South’s most overplanted trees.

It grows much bigger than people usually envision—for instance, in 20 years, it can reach 40 feet wide and 50 feet high.

Its lovely white flowers are impressive, but many homeowners have come to regret planting them, making them some of the worst trees to plant. The Bradford pear lacks a central leader—main branches grow from a common point on the trunk—often making the tree split during storms.

While Bradford pear’s flowers have a sickeningly sweet aroma, it’s one of the worst trees to plant because it’s exceedingly invasive.

What to plant instead: Newer pears like Trinity and Chanticleer are better choices for most gardens. Native serviceberries are also lovely small trees or shrubs that offer all-season interest.

2. Weeping willow

Weeping willows are lovely trees when planted in an open landscape next to a small lake or a pond. Their bright fall color and swaying branches look beautiful in the right place. However, outside of a spacious area, they quickly become overcrowded. In a yard, they are actually some of the worst trees to plant.

These large trees prefer moist to wet soils, which is awesome for planting near water bodies, but when planted near houses, they tend to invade and destroy sewer systems and water pipes, making them some of the worst trees to plant in a yard. Moreover, as weeping willows age, they become brittle and drop large branches.

But that’s not all; these trees can even crack poured pavement with their strong and aggressive roots, and they are also susceptible to pests and disease. Avoid the weeping willow at all costs.

What to plant instead: Swamp white oak is a great alternative to weeping willow. A native of the eastern half of the US, this oak has beautiful, large leaves and tolerates a wide variety of environments.

3. Norway spruce

Next on the list of the worst trees to plant in a yard is the Norway spruce. Hailing from northern and central Europe, this tree has been planted in gardens across North America for many years due to its dark green color, large yet manageable size, and drooping side branches that sway back and forth in the wind. It’s also a fast-growing evergreen tree, giving it a leg up on many spruces.

While Norway spruces might be lovely trees that grow quickly in the colder areas of their range, they tend to reseed and have become quite invasive in parts of the northern US and Canada, making them some of the worst trees to plant in those parts.

What to plant instead: Skip the Norway spruce and choose the similar-in-appearance Engelmann spruce. This native of North America features graceful, sweeping branches and presents less risk of incorporating an invasive species into your local ecosystem.

Photo by Ksuha Shcerbakova from Shutterstock

4. Paper birch

Birches are lovely specimen trees that have long been used in landscapes for their rustic yet graceful look. Often planted in groups of three or four, their beauty is obvious, and they are found throughout the US, far outside of their natural range in the far north.

Unfortunately, paper birches are among the worst trees to plant in a yard. Like all other birches, they have drawbacks that make them unfortunate choices for the modern landscape. They drop lots of branches, catkins, leaves, and seeds, making them some of the worst trees to plant near high-traffic areas or pools.

On top of that, paper birches are prone to being struck by bronze birch borers, insects that dig into the tree, eventually killing it.

What to plant instead: If you love the elegant look of a paper birch tree, try planting river birches. These trees grow in warmer climates and are less affected by bronze birch borers. They still drop leaf litter, but if strategically placed, these trees can be viewed from afar without the trouble of cleanup.

Our list of the worst trees to plant in a yard doesn’t end here, so keep reading to discover other specimens you should avoid at all costs!

5. Black, white, and green ash

Green, white, and black ash trees are known for their clean, rounded shape, quick growth, and buttery yellow to vibrant orange and red fall colors. They were heavily planted in the US during the 1960s and 1970s due to these attributes and were touted as ideal street streets.

Sadly, with the arrival of the emerald ash borer from Asia, thousands of dead ash trees have had to be taken down in most cities. Even with regular (and pretty expensive) treatment, ashes tend to succumb to these threatening insects eventually. In other words, they are some of the worst trees to plant in your yard, and it’s better to avoid the hassle and skip them.

What to plant instead: Until we have ash borer-resistant trees, the Kentucky coffee tree is a great alternative. A member of the legume family, this beautiful tree produces large compound leaves that turn a lovely bright shade of yellow in the fall.

By the way, if you’re looking for a gardening kit, this one is exactly what you need!

worst trees to plant
Photo by Spiroview Inc from Shutterstock

6. Norway maple

Another native of Europe, the Norway maple, and its numerous cultivars have grown in gardens and parks for many years owing to their lovely fall colors and large leaves. They come in the typical green leaf forms and purple and variegated varieties.

Their appearance aside, Norway maples are some of the worst trees to plant in a yard. They are exceedingly messy trees and produce millions of seeds each year. From these seeds emerge thousands of seedlings, and in certain areas of the US, they have become yet another invasive species, disrupting ecosystems and blocking out native plants.

What to plant instead: If you’re looking for a beautiful maple tree, go with a red maple. Native to North America and able to survive in several environments and soil types, these popular trees come in many varieties that showcase their amazing fall colors.

7. Fruitless mulberry

Originally brought to the US as food for a silkworm industry that never took off, the fruitless white mulberry quickly gained popularity as a shade tree for home landscapes. Being incredibly resistant to drought and hardy and reaching upwards of 60 feet, they were an obvious choice for homeowners and landscapers alike.

There are also smaller, weeping varieties of fruitless mulberries that get around 20 feet tall. All of this sounds amazing, but they are some of the worst trees to plant in a yard.

While fruitless mulberries are an improvement on the standard fruiting white mublerry due to being excellent shade trees and their lack of fruit, their benefits pretty much stop there.

Similar to other mulberries, fruitless mulberries drop their sterile flowers by the truckload, produce ample polen, and quickly destroy lawns and underground pipes in their search for water. Moreover, because of their extensive root system, they are able to damage nearby concrete and foundations, making them some of the worst trees to plant in your yard.

What to plant instead: Enter the white basswood, also known as American linden. With a height of about 100 feet in cultivation and large, shiny, round leaves, they make excellent, long-lived shade trees.

If you liked our article on the worst trees to plant in the yard, you may also want to read 6 Wild Animals Most Likely to Invade Your Backyard.


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