Trees You May Not Want in Your Yard
Think twice before planting pretty trees that also may be hazardous to your health or yard
There’s nothing worse than paying several hundred dollars for a gorgeous ornamental tree for your yard only to discover the globular seeds it drops in the fall smell like vomit.
The tree that does this — yes, there is one — is the female gingko biloba. It has stunning fan-shaped leaves that turn yellow gold in autumn and is nearly ubiquitous in cities across the U.S., where park commissioners may not have done their homework. If they had, they would have known to buy a male version of the tree, which doesn’t produce putrid fruit.
Asking the right questions at the nursery can save you from smelly trees, as well as those that have other unfortunate characteristics. Take the honey locust, which has demonic-looking thorns. “There are numerous varieties of honey locust that are bred to be seed-free and thorn-free,” says Wes Kocher, educational development manager for the International Society for Aborculture and a certified arborist. “That’s why it’s important to talk to your nurseryman before you buy a tree. There are no bad trees, only bad locations.”
Read on to learn more about the types of trees you may want to plan around carefully or even avoid altogether.
You may love the look of weeping willows, but they grow to be 40 feet high and wide and “shouldn’t be planted within fifty feet of a house,” says Kocher.
The same advice applies to silver maples. They can reach 80 feet very quickly. More important, they have invasive roots that can lift sidewalks, press on the foundation of a house and wreak havoc with water lines, sewer pipes and other utilities.
Better trees for close to a house include the serviceberry, Japanese maple, paperbark maple, Eastern redbud, Kousa dogwood and gingko biloba (male, of course).
Messy or smelly trees
Some trees can be responsible for slips and falls. For example, magnolia trees produce beautiful lotus-like flowers that are magnificent when in bloom, but create a slippery mess when the petals fall in the spring. Likewise, crabapples and other fruit trees drop, well, fruit, in late summer and fall. Walking on these can be like trying to walk on marbles or tennis balls. Don’t plant these types of trees near patios, driveways or walkways where they can become a hazard.
Other messy/smelly trees include the Kousa dogwood, which makes pretty red fruit that turns to slime underfoot, any maple tree (“Nothing wrong with maples," says Kocher, “but they they shed a lot of small leaves that can clog gutters and have you raking ten times a season”), mulberries (messy fruit), cotton woods (sappy cotton pods) and the Chinese chestnut (its flowers can be offensive smelling).
One popular landscape tree — because of its perfect rounded form — is the Bradford/Callery pear. However, it’s so weak-limbed it’s likely to split, fall apart or uproot in ice, snow or wind storms. Some arborists refer to it as “standing firewood.” It does produce pretty, fragrant flowers, “but they only last five to seven days, so if you’re buying one for the flowers, have your camera ready that week,” says Kocher.
Besides being fragile, the Bradford/Callery pear, which is native to Asia, also falls under the category of trees that are taking over American forests by nudging out native trees, thanks to birds that eat the fruit. Similarly, the Norway maple tree reproduces like rabbits and is crowding out more native species. Its dense canopy of leaves also discourages native wildflowers.
The exotic looking mimosa or acacia tree has beautiful, fragrant silky flowers. It also seeds prolifically. If you plant a mimosa, your neighbors may wind up with one as well.
Chinese chestnuts and sweetgum trees produce nuts encased in prickly burrs that can hurt worse than a stray Lego when stepped on. However, those sweetgum burrs make a fine slug deterrent for your hostas when you bunch them underneath the plant.
The honey locust’s long thorns — which can do quite a bit of damage — grow on the lower portion of the trunk, possibly serving as protection against animals that might eat its bark. Look for thornless versions of this native tree, which has beautiful leaves. Florida’s silk floss tree produces exotic pink-purple flowers, but its trunk is covered with sharp spines. Likewise, the Mexican lime tree, which produces the fruit we call Key limes because it’s grown in the Florida Keys, is covered with spines.
Don’t write these trees off if you really love them — just site them away from foot traffic and areas where children play.