Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (94)

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

GE

 

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 

Bradford  

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

Redtip

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

LC

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

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.

COMMENTS

  1. Carole

    Thank you, Steve, and thanks for the laughs, also!

    November 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm
  2. Steve Bender

    Stephanie,

    You are an inspiration! Green Chinese privet is a horror. the variegated form isn’t as aggressive or weedy, but I’d still be careful with it. It often reverts to the green form too, so be sure to prune out any green branches you find.

    November 28, 2014 at 9:25 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Carole,

    The following shrubs meet all of your requirements, except none is native — ‘Emerald Snow’ lororpetalum, ‘Jubilation’ gardenia, ‘Yewtopia’ plum yew, ‘Obsession’ nandina, and ‘Mojo’ Japanese pittosporum. All are in our Southern Living Plant Collection. Here’s a link: http://southernlivingplants.com/shrubs/

    November 28, 2014 at 9:21 am
  4. Steve Bender

    Colleen,

    ‘Moonglow’ junipers are a better choice.

    November 28, 2014 at 9:16 am
  5. stephaniecleveland

    This is just a fabulous piece!! I have to commend you on the snarky yet exceedingly accurate style, and I heartily endorse your list of southern landscape plant terrors. I recently moved back to the South from New York City after inheriting my grandmother’s old home, and I am DETERMINED to make it as wildlife friendly and ecologically useful as possible. I don’t understand how, in particular, in a part of the country that’s supposedly conservative and pro-American, we’ve embraced all these obnoxious foreign plants that spread like mad. Why not support “American Plants for American Gardens!”? I have a tiny wooded patch on the side of my property that I’m turning into a woodland garden, and, despite nosy neighbors whom I think enjoyed using it to blow their yard waste into when nobody lived here, I have removed nearly every Chinese privet plant out there, either personally with a weed wrench, or by paying somebody to take on two of the larger plants with a chainsaw and then painting the stumps with round up. In place of all that, there are now 5 longleaf pine saplings, a few loblollies as well, 2 Tulip Poplars, a Black Cherry, and back towards the back, 2 Box Elders (Oh yes I did! I don’t care, I’m sick of people calling the Box Elder ugly, when, to me, it’s far more attractive than the ratty Bradford pair or it’s hybridized saplings that spring up on the road side, those are hideous! Plus it won’t snap in half like those trees even in a mild storm, and it’s also prettier than stupid Leyland Cypresses squashed together in unified, generic rows of homogeneity that are about as useful as plastic trees, as far as birds and native butterflies are concerned). I still have a big row of now huge Variegated privet that is, unfortunately, my privacy screen in the back yard, to take on at some point, but I’ve planted an Eastern Red Cedar, a Loblolly Pine, and a Sycamore well in front of it, so hopefully in a few years, I’ll be able to get rid of it without feeling totally exposed. Is the variegated form of privet capable of spreading as quickly as the straight Chinese Privet, do you know? What, exactly, is its deal? I never see berries on it, so I’d like to hope that means it’s sterile, but…It’s pretty ratty and shapeless and says nothing of southern grace, elegance or charm; I assume it was chosen because it was cheap.

    November 23, 2014 at 10:53 am
  6. Carole

    Help, please! Our landscaper wants to put a bunch of waxleaf ligustrums in our front yard, to camouflage utility boxes. Every other house in the neighborhood has done the exact same thing. Boring and now I learn they’re invasive. We’re new to southeastern NC and are trying to find a viable (hopefully native) alternative that’s deer proof and likes sandy, nutrient poor soil. Please, any recommendations would be very, very appreciated.

    November 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm
  7. a hosier

    I have grown a golden eponymous for 20 years at my Waldorf, MD home. No scale, no mildew, and no green leaves…ever. Minimal pruning. The bush is about 8′ × 5 now and one if the most trouble’-free plants that I have.

    November 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm
  8. Steve Bender

    Colleen,

    ‘Moonglow’ juniper would be a good alternative, as it only grows about 15 feet tall.

    October 28, 2014 at 2:05 pm
  9. Colleen

    Thanks for the advice. As an alternative to the Leylands, I’ve been considering a row of Moonglow Junipers along my property line. Supposedly they don’t get nearly as huge. Any advice on that?

    October 15, 2014 at 12:21 am
  10. Steve Bender

    Sheri,

    Leyland cypress do not poison the soil. The only plant I know that does this is black walnut.

    October 14, 2014 at 5:55 am
  11. Sheri

    We’re planning a privacy hedge, and decided on Leyland cypress, the compact “hedgeworthy” variety. Then I read these shrubs emit a chemical from their roots that will kill other plants within 6-8 feet. My plan was to have these in the back of a perennial border, with flowers right up beside them. But since then I’ve looked at several other websites that say nothing about this. I don’t want something that will kill my flowers. Have you ever heard of this problem?

    October 5, 2014 at 12:10 am
  12. FYI

    I used to be a homeowners claims adjuster. We have another name for Red Tipped Photinia: “number one sewer line invader in the universe”. Be careful: a lot of policies do not cover sewer backups anymore.

    October 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    Barb,
    Totally agree with you about elaeagnus — or should I say, “ugly-agnus.”

    September 8, 2014 at 8:01 am
  14. Barb

    Very funny and right on the mark. Could easily extend the list to ten, but to name just one more–autumn olive, eleagnus. Arching branches grow when you are not looking and shade out everything else. Downright unmannerly. There are some lovely southern shrubs, like Carolina Allspice, Beautyberry, hollies, redbud, and dogwood. They’re not only good looking, but good for wildlife. For trees, give me a good old oak or eastern red cedar.

    September 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm
  15. Vicki

    I have to agree with these top awful plants. They are in my yard and such a burden. Did not know what would happen when they were left alone – except nandina. the ligustrum are now trees, pruned to look like umbrellas. The japonica was on my list to prune into a shape but after learning more from the top 5, I want nothing like these demanding items. They have all overgrown and are too much for me to re-claim then maintain. There are other things I would rather have in my yard and with my time. Hydrangeas here I come.

    August 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm
  16. Steve Bender

    Grumpy is the universal arbiter of taste. The World Court in The Hague has stated so, as has the U.N. Security Council and the Society for the Elimination of Ugly Plants.

    August 14, 2014 at 9:58 am
  17. Kaye

    Love all the plants you mentioned, in their appropriate spot they’re beautiful. Maybe your the one who has no taste. hmmm could be!

    August 14, 2014 at 1:14 am
  18. ann

    Just one ignorant persons opinion.

    August 13, 2014 at 4:21 pm
  19. Steve Bender

    Laurag,

    I would call in a drone strike.

    August 8, 2014 at 10:52 am
  20. Laurag

    OMG your article cracked me up. I love it! I so wish my neighbor would take this to heart and remove the God awful 30ft Chinese Privet that is an absolute nightmare to live with. Birds go after the fruit and chew it and spit it out or something else and it drops all over our entire back yard for two months. Nasty splotches cover my furniture and patio and need to be power washed of daily or we just can’t use our yard for a few months. The privets also pop up all over the garden and need removing all the time. We’ve asked the neighbor nicely a few times if they would remove it and even offered to pay for a replacement but to no avail. Any suggestions on how to solve this issue are welcomed.

    August 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm
  21. Steve Bender

    Gardz,

    You should probably stay in the Midwest.

    July 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm
  22. lakeflorida

    I love my Golden Euonymus. They look great year round, and I just have to spray them with some dawn and oil a few times with a gallon sprayer the years they develop pests.

    July 30, 2014 at 9:18 am
  23. Gardz

    Being from the Midwest,with a variety of beautiful plants with which to create a garden, available plants in the south are just trash. Especially the official trash tree of the south a crape myrtle. Let’s not forget that bountiful,ugly, “Hi. I live in a trailer park”, monkey grass.
    Call me when you find any nice plants in the south.

    July 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm
  24. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Chuck,

    I write for Southern Living, so my comments are directed at people who live in the South. However, I hate privet wherever it grows.

    July 17, 2014 at 3:09 pm
  25. Chuck

    I guess you don’t live in the Intermountain West where folks would kill to have plants like these. Privet is not invasive in the desert, but it’s not evergreen either. Most of the plants you’re harping on are plants I’m looking to grow, except Bradford Pear and Leylandii. I just don’t have the room.

    July 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  26. Karen

    I have to say that is the funniest thing that I have read about prevet. I say this because they remind me of my ex-husband…being invasive :/

    July 14, 2014 at 7:38 pm
  27. Steve Bender

    Linda,

    Live and learn, right? GG

    May 17, 2013 at 8:54 am
  28. Steve Bender

    Agreed!

    May 8, 2013 at 11:08 am
  29. BaroqueBurOak

    YES! You forgot to mention the worst part about Privets and Red-tips, though: they are invasive! They will choke out other plants if not carefully monitored. Worse still, they have escaped into woodland areas, where they are noxious weeds, destroying native habitats. Mockingbirds eat the berries in your yard and poop them out in what’s left of our wild areas. The oaks are having a tough enough time (at least in Texas)–why humiliate them further?

    May 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm
  30. Jessica

    This made me laugh so much! We had two red tips at our old house and I hated them the entire time we lived there!

    April 22, 2013 at 5:42 pm
  31. Steve Bender

    James,

    Swallow a golden euonymus and you’ll feel better in the morning.

    Joan,

    I like plants that aren’t weedy, don’t take over, the yard, don’t need spraying every 5 minutes for bugs and diseases, and don’t look like they weren’t spray-painted with mustard.

    Dee,

    You have the classic “builder landscape.” That alternating row of Bradford pears and Leyland cypress sounds horrible. Twelve plants in 60 feet means 5-foot spacing, which is way too close. I’d remove either all the Bradfords or all the Leylands. In place of the golden euonymus, I’d plant some nice shrubs in our Southern Living Plant Collection. Choose from ‘Baby Gem’ boxwood, ‘October Magic’ camellia, ‘Emerald Snow’ loropetalum, or ‘Yewtopia’ plum yew. Here’s a link: http://southernlivingplants.com/shrubs/

    April 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm
  32. Dee Bean

    I live in a relatively new home. The builder, for whatever reason, planted a 60 foot row of alternating Leland Cyprus and Bradford Pear (for a total of about six each!) down the length of the side of my house next to the road. He also put white oleander (poison in a neighborhood full of kids and dogs) and that horrible Pampas grass stuff that looks like a weedpile in the front flowerbeds, and another front flowerbed features five of what looks a lot like that first ugly yellow green waxy plant you described above. Yikes! Should I just burn the place down and move? : ) Seriously, I cannot afford to do anything about those trees. I pulled out the one front flowerbed, put some of the new “drift” roses in front and would love a suggestion on what to put around the foundation. I live in the Virginia Beach area (Monsoon winters, scorching Death Valley summers, pests all year, horrible soil) and it is hard to get a yard established here, given the awful climate. I hate anything with a yellow-green tone and am looking for something with nice dark foliage that is hardy enough to outlive drought and my brown thumb. Anyone have any suggestions?

    April 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm
  33. angela cormier

    happy to say none are in my yard, except one ligustrum trimmed up as a tree…

    April 21, 2013 at 11:24 am
  34. Juli

    I gotta love James…just can’t help it. Love my GEs, too. Also am not intimidated by mere plants.

    April 20, 2013 at 4:39 am
  35. Judy W Poole

    Bless you, bless you, bless you!!! Everyone around thinks my husband and I are weird because we hate Ligustrum. It’s smell enters my nose and feels like acid on my throat. A neighbor, now deceased, planted a solid wall of them many years ago on the side of her house toward us. Thank Goodness it is four lots away. I said I would poison them when she was dead, but I haven’t. We stay inside when it’s blooming.
    We had Redtips in the back to screen a neighbor’s yard, but most are dead so my husband built a cedar fence.
    We also hate Crepe murder, it is such a popular crime here in north Louisiana.
    I like Leyland Cypress planted as a screen on a back or side lot line, but not in the front yard. Always read your column, love it. I have been a subscriber to Southern Living since about 1975.
    Sincerely,
    Judy W Poole

    April 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm
  36. Joan

    So. . . what do you like?

    April 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm
  37. James

    OK…I apologize. I should not call you a Tasteless Jerk. Know it all, condescending, better than thou…. and yes… tasteless; but not a jerk. I like my GEs. They give me color year around, easy to keep up and look good… no… Look Great! Yellow and green just go together… like a golden euonymus, a green trash can full of Southern Living magazines and another golden euonymus.

    April 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm
  38. Julia

    There was a Bradford Pear that came with our first house when I was a kid. I remember being extremely disappointed in the smell of the (funky) blooms. However, because our front yard had little shade and the summers could be unbearable, the dense canopy was a welcome respite from the heat. In fact, neighborhood cats would often put aside their differences and congregate under there.

    April 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm
  39. James

    U R A TASTLESS JERK.

    April 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm
  40. Linda

    You forgot to add the Norfolk pine. Here in South Florida they grow way too tall and don’t keep a nice shape. There has to be a better choice to plant than these!

    April 14, 2013 at 8:56 am
  41. Layne

    Love golden eunonymous for its vivid color that pops against darker evergreens. Could you suggest an alternative? Thanks!

    April 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm
  42. ethel99

    Right on the mark! I despise all of the above! I live on a wooded 5 acre lot and cannot tell you how many privets we have dug up. When I see them at garden centers, I have a melt down…

    April 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm
  43. Steve Bender

    Gardener1,
    Can’t say that I’ve seen one that big. Most of the ones around here die of disease too soon.

    January 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm
  44. gardener1

    I just found this thread when I googled “hate red tip photinia”.

    Just a heads up for you Mr. Grumpy, but the disgusting red tip gets much MUCH taller than 15 feet. This ugly offense to the plant world can get up beyond 40 or 50 feet, as I look out the window right now at a photinia which is towering over a five story apartment building across the street.

    Like smallpox, the red tip photinia needs to be eradicated from the face of the earth for the good of mankind.

    gardeder1

    January 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm

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