Landscape Trees to Avoid

According to the U. S. Forest Service, trees remove pollution, capture rainwater, reduce heating and cooling costs, add value to a property, and even create safer and more sociable neighborhoods. But there are some trees that are a nuisance for you and your neighbors, and others that are prone to disease. Moreover, some trees are invasive species that can disrupt an entire ecosystem as their effects reach far beyond your own yard. So it's important to plant species for the long-term enjoyment of your family and community and avoid problematic trees that will eventually need to be removed or which will cause long-reaching environmental problems.

Cottonwood tree.
credit: Mike Grandmaison/All Canada Photos/GettyImages
Cottonwood and weeping willow trees are beautiful in a country setting where their messy tendencies don't pose a problem for you and your neighbors.

Nuisance Trees

A few of the nuisance species that experts caution against using in landscape applications include:

  • Boxelder (Acer negundo) is a fast-growing maple tree that's considered a weed by gardeners. The trees are brittle, easily breaking in wind and ice storms, and the seeds are messy. On top of all that, the female trees attract boxelder bugs that often enter people's homes in the winter.
  • Cottonwood (Populus deltoids) is a large, majestic tree. However, it's very messy as it releases cottony seeds that stick to window and porch screens. Cottonwoods also drop a lot of leaves and small branches continuously, so they're better suited for rural areas.
  • Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is a messy, weak tree and largely inferior to the sugar, black, and Japanese maples.
  • Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is not suitable for the average yard because it's too large and messy. Plus, the roots grow in search of water, causing problems for sewer pipes and septic systems.
  • Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) causes allergic skin reaction in many people; it's actually related to poison ivy. Aggressive roots send out runners that expand the plant's territory.
  • Mulberry (Morus spp.) is another messy tree with fruit that readily stains everything it touches, such as a sidewalk, deck, or pool. Birds who eat the fruit will leave their droppings in your yard. The seeds germinate easily, which means you'll need to do a lot of weeding. Note that the white mulberry (Morus alba) is invasive in all 50 states.
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has beautiful form and foliage. Unfortunately, the female tree has messy fruit that gives off a strong, offensive odor as it begins to rot. Therefore, nurseries sell only male trees.
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) has a weak branch structure and peeling bark that necessitates annual cleanup. It's also very flammable, so it shouldn't be planted in fire-prone areas.
Ginkgo tree.
credit: ViewStock/View Stock/GettyImages
The ginkgo foliage provides stunning fall color, but the female plants are very messy and smelly.

Trees Susceptible to Disease or Pests

  • Ash (Fraxinus spp.) is a beautiful tree; however, it's very susceptible to the emerald ash borer, which is decimating ash trees across North America
  • American elm (Ulmus americana) is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease (DED), a lethal fungus. Consider planting one of the newer elm cultivars that resist DED. Popular American elm cultivars include Valley Forge, New Harmony, Princeton, Jefferson, and American Liberty
  • Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii) is prone to disease, wind damage, and drought. Also, it grows too large for an average home landscape.
  • Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra) has weak branches and typically succumbs to disease within 15 years.
  • All oak trees (Quercus spp.) are susceptible to oak wilt, a destructive fungus; however, members of the red oak family (Quercus rubra) are most susceptible. Since white oaks show some tolerance to the disease, consider planting members of the white oak family (Quercus alba).

Invasive Trees

  • Amur maple (Acer ginnala) produces massive amounts of seed and resprouts easily from a cut stump. The small trees were planted to create living hedges and shelterbelts for wildlife, but they displaced native shrubs, grasses and herbaceous plants. Now amur maples are considered invasive across the northern United States.
  • Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) has brittle branches that are covered in thorns, plus they seed heavily, which qualifies them as invasive in some areas of the United States.
  • Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) sends out runners and spreads its seeds via ants and birds. The thick canopy blocks sun so other plant life can't grow beneath it. (It's illegal to plant this tree in Florida.)
  • Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) is considered either a weed or an invasive species if you live in Florida or Tennessee. Fallen leaves increase the alkaline levels of the soil, preventing other plants from growing beneath its canopy.
  • Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) threaten native habitats and host crown rust fungus and soybean aphids.
  • Callery/Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) are invasive in much of the United States and has a weak branch structure that's prone to damage.
  • Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is incredibly invasive as it freely seeds everywhere and is nearly impossible to eradicate.
  • Norway maple (Acer platanoides) self-seeds everywhere. The heavy shade and shallow roots also preclude anything else from growing beneath it.
  • Princess tree/Royal Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa) is an aggressive ornamental tree that grows quickly in nearly every soil type.
  • Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) grows easily from seed, which is widely spread by birds eating its fruit. A single tree quickly becomes a thicket that crowds out other plants and will resprout if cut down.
  • Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) is aggressive and messy, plus it has a weak branch structure that's prone to damage.
  • Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima) is invasive primarily in the Northwest and West. Tamarisk grows in thickets along waterway, which can divert water flow, and they pose a wildfire hazard. The leaves hold salt, so when they fall, the soil is no longer suitable for native plants.
  • Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a messy, invasive tree that produces a chemical that kills competing vegetation.
  • White mulberry (Morus alba) is an invasive tree that can spread long distances, thanks to birds who eat its fruit.
  • White poplar (Populus alba) is an invasive species that covers most of the 50 states. It has a weak branch structure and is prone to disease.
young tree growing in garden with sunrise. eco concept earth day
credit: lovelyday12/iStock/GettyImages
"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - Anonymous

The Arbor Day Foundation provides resources to states, communities, and individuals to inspire people to plant and nurture good species of landscape trees. To celebrate Arbor Day during April, many communities sell trees at a reduced price to ensure healthy species diversification. Communities may also offer replacement options for homeowners who remove invasive or nuisance trees.


Tracie Henkel

Tracie Henkel

Tracie is a technical writer who earned her home and garden expertise while extensively remodeling two homes, custom-building a new home, and designing and building a cabin. Additionally, she and her husband, a former landscape professional, have created gardens that feature native plants and locally-sourced limestone. Tracie loves a cozy minimalist home and sews her own pillow covers, quilts, and curtains. Learn more at RicefordStreams.com.