Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (152)

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. 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
  2. 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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