Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (177)

Sometimes in order to get people to do something good, you have to make them understand what’s bad. With that thought in mind, I’ve selected five of the worst things you can plant in front of your house. Some are ugly; some are monstrous; some get bugs and disease; and some manage to do all of these things.

Undoubtedly, some of you have these plants in front of your house and will shortly be greatly offended. That’s OK. Feel free to make disparaging remarks about my worthless, parasitic cat. He won’t know. He can’t read (though he does watch TV). Kinda like Rick Sanchez on CNN.

Awfulest of the Awful — Golden Euonymus



If you plant this in front of your house, you probably gave your girlfriend a pop-top for an engagement ring. I used to call golden euonymus a “gas station plant,” until gas stations cleaned up their act and substituted plastic palms. Plants like this do nothing for the housing market. They are a sign that says, “For Sale by People with Absolutely No Taste.”

So what’s wrong with golden euonymus (Euonymus japonicus‘ Aureomarginatus’)? Let me count the ways:

1. Mildew and scale eat it up.

2. The foliage often reverts to green, so you wind up with a bush that’s half green and half yellow.

3. The garish foliage is about as subtle as a working girl’s wardrobe.

4. Out-to-lunch people pair it with ‘Rosy Glow’ barberry, a look much favored by legendary garden designer Ernest T. Bass.


Awful Plant #2 — Bradford Pear 


Every Grumpian should have seen this one coming. I hate Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’)! It’s everywhere. Bragging about having one in your front yard is like bragging you have a toilet in your house.

This is why I despise it:

1. It gets too big for the average yard — 50 feet high and 40 feet wide. The only excuse for planting a row of them is if you’re trying to block the view of a highway overpass.

2. Surface roots and dense shade makes it impossible to grow grass beneath it. Of course, if you’ve already blacktopped your yard, this won’t be a problem.

3. Weak branching structure makes it very prone to storm damage. Photograph it when it’s pretty. It won’t stay that way long.

4. Its spring flowers smell like fish.

5. Although its flowers are self-sterile, they can cross-pollinate with other selections of callery pear, such as ‘Aristocrat’ and ‘Cleveland Select.’ When they do, they produce thousands of tiny pears, which give rise to thousands of thorny seedlings are are now invading the countryside.

Awful Plant #3 — Redtip Photinia


Now I know what a lot of you are saying. “How can he hate such a purty plant? I love those shiny red leaves and the white flowers. What a churlish Grump!”

Here’s my beef with redtip, AKAFraser photinia (Photinia x fraseri):

1. Like Bradford pear, it’s planted everywhere in the South. Find me a trailer park, parking lot, or chain-link fence without one. It’s about as common as clipping your toenails during the sermon.

2. It grows fast and big — up to 15 feet tall and wide, much too big for the front of your house, unless you’re hiding from the law. So you have to shear it often, which brings us to problem #3.

3. Most people grow it for the bright red new leaves that gradually turn green. The more you prune, the more red leaves you get. Trouble is, the new growth is extremely susceptible to a disfiguring disease, called Entomosporium leaf spot. Unless you spray regularly with a fungicide, the disease eventually kills the plant — which, come to think of it, isn’t so bad.

Awful Plant #4 — Leyland Cypress


Very few people who plant this monster have any idea how big it gets — more than 70 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. And because it can easily grow 3 feet a year, it doesn’t take long to resemble a Saturn 5 rocket. Still, people love planting this thing on the corner of the house. The only house big enough for this is Biltmore.

In recent years, Leyland cypress (x Cupressus leylandii) has come under widespread attack by a potentially fatal fungus, seridium canker, which often causes trees to gradually die from the top down.Drought stress  favors development of this disease.

Awful Plant # 5 — Privet


I know a guy named Dr. Dirt who calls these shrubs “privy plants.” He doesn’t know how right he is. I’ll admit that some of the broadleaf species, such as waxleaf privet (Ligustrum lucidum) and Japanese privet (L. japonicum) have some use in the landscape as limbed-up trees, but the small-leaf hedging types, such as California privet(L. ovalifolium) and Chinese privet (L. sinense) are absolute garbage that belong in a privy.

Many people refer to privet by its botanical name, Ligustrum. A more accurate name is “Disgustum.” How come?

1. In spring, privet produces white flowers, whose sickeningly sweet odor reminds me of the deadly dikironium cloud creature on “Star Trek.”  To be fair, the cloud killed people by robbing their blood of iron. Privet flowers just cause allergies.

2. The flowers give rise to hundreds of blue-black berries relished by birds, who spread them all over the universe. As a result, privets are incredibly invasive and weedy. Plus, they grow really fast and need trimming about every two minutes or they’ll swallow your house and dog.

Now here’s the weird thing. Of all the variegated plants in the world, I think variegated Chinese privet (show above) is one of the better-looking. In fact, it’s perfect for next to your privy. But if I could snap my fingers and make all the privet in the world disappear, I would. I’d do the same for spammers.


  1. Wrich

    Absolutely right about the Euonymus and the powdery mildew and scale. I’ve spent hundreds of $ on fungicides, etc. and can never get rid of it. The mildew and scale then jumped from the Euonymus to the adjacent rose bushes and infected them…

    April 28, 2016 at 10:17 pm
  2. Myste

    Wow! I for one am somewhat shocked that you would insult your readers! Thanks for making this my last article on this website and with southern living. I have to go now and plant 5 golden Euonymus but that’s right after I give my girlfriend a pop tart engagement ring, you know because I have no taste. I suggest finding sharper tools in their sheds when they hire their writers!

    April 28, 2016 at 11:22 am
  3. Myste williams

    Wow! I for one am somewhat shocked that you would insult your readers! Thanks for making this my last article on this website and with southern living. I have to go now and plant 5 golden Euonymus but that’s right after I give my girlfriend a pop tart you know because I have no taste. I suggest finding sharper tools in their sheds when they higher their writers!

    April 28, 2016 at 11:11 am
  4. Dawn C.

    This article makes me want to go out and plant all these things in my yard, in abundance.

    April 28, 2016 at 7:39 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener


    As much as I hate privet, they do not attract termites more than any other shrub that may have a dead trunk hidden inside the foliage. That said, if termites keep people from planting privet, I’m all for it.

    April 27, 2016 at 1:26 pm
  6. Susan Clark

    Our termite inspector told us that Ligustrum (Privet) actually attracts termites! We had them planted in a bed all along the front and side of our house. He tapped the end of a branch that had been cut off a few years before and termites BOILED out of it!!! Needless to say, we dug all the Ligustrums out of our beds!

    April 27, 2016 at 11:39 am
  7. Sony

    I can’t even get a landscaper to call me back about cutting and shaping my Golden Euonymus! LOL! They’re like 10-feet tall. I cover my face every time I walk past my house. They are pretty, though…

    April 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm
  8. Cindy Stone

    You are ABSOLUTELY correct about Bradford Pear Trees!!!! We moved down from Minnesota to Georgia and moved into a gorgeous home with many trees on a one acre lot in February last year. March came and WOW, the stench of the flowers on the 12, YES, 12 Bradford Pear Trees that surrounded our house made me want to throw up every time I went outside. We had ALL of them cut down in the fall. This March/April, I was so happy I didn’t have to cover my nose every time I went outside.

    April 20, 2016 at 1:49 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener


    My main problem with photinia is that it’s very susceptible to a disfiguring leaf spot here in the Southeast that eventually kills it. Photinia can be a useful plant in places with less rainfall, such as the West


    Try Nellie R. Stevens holly, loropetalum, Japanese cleyera, sasanqua camellia, pineapple guava, lemon bottlebrush, oleander, or podocarpus.

    March 28, 2016 at 4:05 pm
  10. Charles Ezelle

    Charles E. in Savannah – please advise on shrub (other than wax myrtle or ligustrum) that works well to hide the busy road adjacent to our side lot line.
    thank you!

    March 24, 2016 at 7:11 am
  11. Jeff Adams

    Fraser’s Photinias, when limbed up overhead, make pretty trees that provide perfect conditions for small shade gardens. They have deep roots that are easy to cultivate around and don’t compete with underplantings, and the dense evergreen canopy offers a pretty decent amount of protection from radiational freezes. They are self-mulching, with the dark, reddish-brown carpet of leaves providing an attractive, muted background that complements the foliage and blooms of shade-loving plants such as Rohdeas, Asarums, Chamaedoreas, Solomon’s seals, Bletillas, Spigelias, etc.

    March 19, 2016 at 9:33 am
  12. Grumpy Gardener


    Poison ivy is just as resilient as privet. Perhaps you should plant it on a trellis against the house.

    February 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm
  13. Dale L. Anger

    Great move bonehead. I hope you realize that rhododendrons and azaleas don’t do well in complete sunlight. In fact they are very finnicky plants as to soil ,moisture and acidity , as well as sunlight and can get fungi real easy if in the wrong environment. With the privet, you had something that will grow under about any conditions.

    February 18, 2016 at 9:27 am
  14. Denny Martindale

    Great post! We removed all of the privet along our fence row (taking care to get the new ones in following years) and are replanting with azaleas, rhododendrons and more native trees and shrubs. Getting ready to rip out the red tips that were planted literally against the front porch.

    February 18, 2016 at 9:10 am
  15. Dale L. Anger

    No problem. My mother had Euonymus in front of her house for 70 years and my oldest brother has had it for 40. My mother’s was on very sandy soil , she never fertilized it, and it always stayed down. My brother, however has the same stuff on rich ground and fertilizes it and it stands knee high. I have had a finer variegated type for 5 years and it only started standing the past year. The deer fixed that this winter . They ate about everything above ground.

    February 11, 2016 at 4:31 pm
  16. Steve Bender

    Thanks for setting me straight, Dale!

    February 11, 2016 at 4:09 pm
  17. Dale L. Anger

    I really don’t think you know that most euonymus should be cut down when it A) starts climbing up a house B) when it stands up. You cut your grass, trims your trees , your shrubs, why not your euonymus? Also, there are hundreds of different varieties of Eunymus. You are in error in badmouthing this wonderful cover. Your ignorance on this shows.

    February 9, 2016 at 2:55 pm
  18. Suzanne Rice

    Wow. You have completely trashed several plants I love. I currently have golden euonymus planted along the back of my house and they are beautiful. I have had them here for a number of years and absolutely no problems with them. They are exactly what I wanted and needed along the back of my all-white house. They grow quickly, are easy to care for, have beautiful green and yellow leaves, and no pests or diseases. They also keep their leaves all year round, so they are good for helping protect my house from the constant wind here. In fact, I’m about to order a few more. Thanks for letting me know about the barberry too. I wasn’t familiar with them, but going to order some. They are beautiful too and will look nice at the edge of my yard and for privacy.

    December 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm
  19. LoLo

    I agree about Ligustrums especially. I describe their smell as sweet death. BUT I will have to say I just finished building a house and I used (wait for it…) sunshine ligustrum as my base plant. I know I was shocked too! I love the bright color, the fact that they are evergreen, only get to 3-4′ tall which will hopefully make pruning a little less arduous, and DO NOT flower. Put some beautiful red leafed crimson princess azaleas in front of them to contrast the yellow ligustrums. I’m in love with my new garden.

    December 23, 2015 at 9:21 am
  20. Steve Bender


    The most common reason Confederate rose fails to bloom is that a sudden freeze kills the flower buds before they open in fall. You can prune it any time after the leaves fall.

    December 11, 2015 at 2:11 pm
  21. R harper

    ThankYou ThankYou

    November 26, 2015 at 4:55 pm
  22. Joanne Kahle

    My Confederate Rose is not blooming like it should. When do I prune and other helpful hints?

    Joanne Kahle

    November 22, 2015 at 1:28 pm
  23. Steve Bender

    Sarafaith and Harrison,

    I hate photinia because it is highly susceptible to disease in the South and I write for Southern Living. It does not face the same trouble in arid parts of the country like Southern California, but I don’t write for California.

    November 4, 2015 at 10:30 am
  24. Sarafaith Pekor

    I have a gorgeous very mature Photinia – a fabulous tree with wonderful canopy – about 15 feet tall and its like a bird condo. I hang a bunch of feeders in its branches and it is one of the most cherished areas of our property. Its in our backyard, not our front. I’ve taken great care of it and it never suffers from disease.

    November 3, 2015 at 4:57 pm
  25. Harrison in Richmond Virginia

    what a terrible article. Why did this get listed? It’s mean and nasty, gardening should be more enjoyable. Everyone has different tastes. Would I want Photinia fraseri? No, but some people like it.

    November 2, 2015 at 12:39 pm
  26. Violet


    Agree, Wholeheartedly, on the dumb privet and bradford pear.

    But, golly gee, I just yesterday transplanted a Euonymus, and thot highly of it. Thinking of getting a few more, to finish bordering the backyard w/privacy hedge. Mine are not variegated, just rich green leaves. I like the plant, as I’m using it. It’s hearty, fast-growing, dense, evergreen, and tall – just what I want.

    I use to hate red tip, vowing, no, trumpeting, that I’d never have one in *my* yard.
    Now I love them. Love Photinia.
    Steve, what you said you Don’t like about Photinia, weren’t things as much about the plant, as they were things about the results of misuse and abuse of the plant.

    1. “…it’s planted everywhere in the South.” Too common, you see it everywhere.

    True. And you’re usually not seeing a pretty plant. You’re seeing a butchered, struggling, …thing of a plant. A plant that was bred to be big and bold, but is being chopped off and tamed *back* regularly. Stunted, not stunning. Let the plant grow naturally to mature height and Photinia is stunning.

    “It grows fast and big — up to 15 feet tall and wide…”

    Those are Good things in my book. I’ve got a 2 acre piece w/wire fencing, and have planted Photinia as a portion of my privacy hedge [also Eastern Red Cedar and Leyland Cypress].
    Plant them, spacing based on mature width, and nurture them to bigness. Just what I want.
    But yes, if you haven’t room to let it grow as it is meant to, don’t plant it, choose another.

    If Photinia is planted where it can grow and keep growing, without being pruned [except for modest shaping along the way], they are magnificent. Trouble is, you rarely see one in its mature and natural glory. Look at your example picture! Imagine all that blossom and color, ten feet wide and fifteen feet tall. Yes, you don’t border your Manhatten 15 x 30 patio w/them; they require space. Point is, if you don’t have the space for them, choose another plant. If you do have the space for them, lucky you.

    Leyland Cypress
    “Very few people who plant this monster have any idea how big it gets…”
    Another one I love, have planted, and will likely plant more. But again, yes, they’re not a good specimen when planted in the wrong place. Just making the point that it’s not the plant’s fault. Leyland Cypress is gorgeous. It needs adequate room. Location, location, location.
    And it is unfortunate about the fungus issue, which made me avoid the plant for a few years. But then I decided I like it so much, I’d choose to ignore the risk.

    Great article.
    Best of the Evening,

    October 10, 2015 at 7:37 pm
  27. Judy G.

    My husband, at this very moment, is fighting a verigated euonymus that I planted 10 years ago before we were married. I planted it as a ground cover at the side of the house. It has grown so that we are lucky it didn’t reach in the bedroom window and strangle us! Is this as bad as the Golden Euonymus?
    I really enjoyed your article and will read it to my husband when he finishes his fight. Hope he laughs as hard as I did. Thanks!

    October 8, 2015 at 6:57 pm

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