Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (156)

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Robert Stansbury

    Could you follow up with the best recommended alternatives to each?

    September 28, 2015 at 5:36 am
  8. 6 Trees You Should Never, Ever Plant | Southern Living Blog

    […] “Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House” […]

    September 27, 2015 at 10:01 am
  9. Laurelanne

    We planted 4 golden euonymus after we built our home 20 years ago. About 2 years ago, they started developing a fungus or other condition which coated the backs of the leaves (and the stems) with short, white, growth. The leaves die and drop off, never to be seen again. I’m now in the process of digging them up after lopping off as many branches as possible. Now I know they’ve been in the ground for a long time, but some of these roots are thicker than 2-thumbs together and have spread like crazy. Now down to lopping the roots so I can get the ball out of the ground, then dig out the remaining root part. Going to replace them with boxwoods. Much more manageable, and by the time they get overly woody, we’ll have retired elsewhere. One out, 3 to go . . .

    September 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm
  10. Nettie

    Is the privet you speak of the same thing as a variegated ligustrum?

    September 10, 2015 at 7:50 pm
  11. Steve Bender


    Kiss me, you fool! What kind of trash are you? Inquiring minds want to know.

    September 7, 2015 at 8:37 am
  12. Tom

    This writer is southern trash. You can’t stay on the plant topic so you insult people and the personal choices they make. I suppose it makes you feel better about your own depression issues. I suppose you gad a rough childhood but it is time to grow up now!

    September 6, 2015 at 6:40 pm
  13. Steve Bender


    This may sound strange, but I don’t get to pick the plants in the Southern Living Plant Collection. At least, ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum is seedless, so it doesn’t spread everywhere. But I still hate privets.

    September 7, 2015 at 8:35 am
  14. phil

    Sunshine Ligustrum is included in the Southern Living Plant Collection link:

    September 4, 2015 at 5:08 pm
  15. Steve Bender


    I have tasted ligustrum honey and I must admit it’s quite good.

    September 4, 2015 at 11:27 am
  16. Laura Goans

    Ligustrum may be ugly and stinky, but its nectar makes absolutely scrumptious honey. If you’re into that sort of thing.

    August 26, 2015 at 2:48 pm
  17. Steve Bender


    As substitutes for the loathsome golden euonymus, I’d suggest some shrubs from our Southern Living Plant Collection — ‘Jubilation’ gardenia and ‘Mojo’ Japanese pittosporum. You can find them in garden centers around the country. Here’s a link:

    August 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm
  18. Steve Bender


    Truth be told, I hate all forms of ligustrum.

    August 24, 2015 at 1:32 pm
  19. Adam

    I disagree on Japanese Ligustrum. I have eight of them that have grown into full-blown trees that are absolutely terrible. They drop leaves all year long, make a really dense shade that kills the grass beneath them, spread faster than a western wildfire, and drop nasty berries that stain my deck and attract bugs in the spring. I’m getting them cut down this fall (we just bought the house in February).

    I would know, too, since I have privets, red tip photinia, and golden euonymus in my yard too. I spent the weekend with a chain saw cutting 1/3 of my red tips down from 15’+ to 3′ tall. (I still need to do the other 2/3). And I still think they’re way better than the Japanese Ligustrum.

    August 24, 2015 at 10:32 am
  20. Lucia philipson

    Please consider ficus, Areca palms, and Norfolk Island Pines in your next rant. I live in south Florida; people plant the first two species as living “walls” (in lieu of imagination) for privacy. Norfolk pines are “such cute” Christmas trees until they become massive and unsightly landmarks visible for miles across the horizon.

    August 6, 2015 at 9:27 am
  21. Wendy

    I found this article while looking up ‘Golden Euonymus’ . I wanted to show my husband the beautiful evergreen I am planting in our backyard. We live in Colorado where everything dies in the winter except evergreens & junipers. I am looking forward to planting something that is hardy enough to endure the harsh winter weather and stay colorful year round.

    August 1, 2015 at 11:37 am
  22. me

    U are rude

    July 31, 2015 at 6:29 am
  23. Jenny Hanson

    I had finally resolved myself to accept and even grudgingly like the golden euonymus that former owners planted in my backyard. Then I read this! Now I’m torn by my original revulsion and my laziness. They are so easy to take care of, at least mine have been so far. So if you know of something, or several somethings, that are easy, hardy, evergreen but not conifer, that I can use as a sort of filler, that’d be great. (zone 8) As always, I love your article!

    July 26, 2015 at 12:57 pm
  24. Rebecca Roe

    You are too funny! I love your sense of humor!! I unfortunately just bought two japanese privet shrubs. Guess where I planted them… in the front of the house! Any suggestions on what to plant (shrubs) in front if my house?

    July 24, 2015 at 6:02 pm
  25. Barb Slatt

    I have been trying to find out what these awful green and yellow shrubs were in front of the new house we just bought. By pics online I am pretty sure it’s golden euonymus. I love your description of them! I like the idea that when grouped together they can create a hedge like appearance but OMG what a terrible color they are!! Can’t wait to get them out of my yard and get something in that is more appealing!

    July 18, 2015 at 2:35 pm
  26. Aunt Lon

    I hate privet. I am so glad that I found your site just so I could complain “out loud” about this terrible, invasive, filthy, smelly, allergenic, mess-producing plant from hell. Every year around this time (July) I morph into a maniacal harridan as this garbage plant spills and drops it’s leaves, it’s tiny stinky yellow flowers that turn brown and it’s powdery green pollen all over our everything outdoors. I wish that the public health department would condemn it. Besides the mess that is constant and uncontrollable, I am highly allergic to it. The neighbor who grew this privet was impossible to deal with and now the stuff has grown to the height of a small skyscraper. If you grow this stuff, you are nuts! I dream of dousing the stuff with gasoline and watching it burn to the ground. It’s so evil, though, I hear (from my master garden center) that it would only grow back were I to commit such mayhem. I have found myself praying that it would just die. It does no earthly good.

    July 12, 2015 at 9:26 pm
  27. Jeane

    Wish I would have know about this 10 years ago before I planted this stuff.

    July 9, 2015 at 2:42 pm
  28. Flo

    Opinions are like noses….everyone has one, and some are prettier than others, but they are only a part of the entire facial appearance. It is the same with landscaping………

    July 8, 2015 at 11:17 am
  29. gw

    Hilarious! Thank you. Write more.

    June 18, 2015 at 8:01 am
  30. jD

    Funny how someone could read this and want to return what they bought. Why? Who is this guy and why are you listening to him?

    June 11, 2015 at 8:46 pm
  31. Shelley

    Now you tell me. I spent over $200.00 on plants that I cannot return. I just purchased the golden euonymus because I thought the color was beautiful and wanted something low maintenance with color; it was an evergreen. The red tips that were in its place were discarded because they had died, and the previous owner did not take good care of them. I did not know it was prone to disease. I had a bradford pear tree at my last home, and it never split, so I thought it was o.k. I had to laugh out loud when I read this.

    June 7, 2015 at 9:49 pm
  32. Dan Steck

    I love it. One of the funniest things ever. Especially the cnn comment .

    June 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm
  33. Ben

    i agree with privets, it killed the honeysuckles out of my yard, and left me constantly sneezing and smelling.

    June 5, 2015 at 12:12 pm
  34. Randy

    Whatever Bill, I bet, “Your muzzer was a Euonymus, and your fazzer smelt of Bartlett pear flowers!” This article was the last nail in the coffin, I will not be planting any Leylands (unless I suddenly decide to start a narcotics manufacturing plant…I wonder if they grow horizontally like a ceiling…hmm). Nice article, looking forward to reading more!

    June 3, 2015 at 10:52 pm
  35. Jael

    Thank you. I enjoyed this article and will steer clear of the offenders.

    June 3, 2015 at 12:36 am
  36. Yulita Rose Ellis

    I just saw this article as a Facebook post. I was weak from laughing so hard. I agree with you on all of them and I love your wit.

    May 26, 2015 at 4:36 pm
  37. ccattwood

    This write-up made me truly L.O.L…having recently fallen in love with the lovely golden eunonymous/barberry combo (both gorgeous against my grey house!), I have decided you have written this article completely tongue in cheek.

    May 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm
  38. susan white

    The Bradford Pear came with the house and we actually planted several of the golden euonymus plants in front of our house because we liked them. I get offended easily and you were successful but I think you write your “stuff’ to get reactions from those of us who aren’t as intelligent as you seem to be. (Sorry to end a sentence with a preposition but I’m trying to stay out of your English Grammar 101 class) Please don’t criticize my grammar; that will only offend me more than you have already offended me for my poor choice of shrubs and trees.

    May 25, 2015 at 9:55 am
  39. Gina Howren

    Bill Weeks – I have a suggestion: stay away from the magazine if you don’t like it! Why would you read any article, on-line, on paper or any where else if you have such a low opinion of the author?!

    May 24, 2015 at 6:20 pm
  40. Cheri

    What are the five best plants for the front of the house?

    May 24, 2015 at 11:29 am
  41. Cyndie Dyer

    LOL completely agree – all of these are wrong for the front of the house. I have Golden Euonymus a couple of places in my yard. When the problems attack, I severely prune and root some of the cuttings. I didn’t think about pairing it with my barberry – I’ll root another one for there. No such thing as too colorful for me. XD The redtips are in the back screening a drainage ditch slated to be a greenway one day. Had variegated privet at our old place – so out of control. Neighbors all around us are dealing with toppling/splitting Bradford Pears. Thank goodness our yard didn’t have one, and good riddance to the rest.

    May 21, 2015 at 2:56 pm
  42. Martina G. Creget

    Yep, privet is terrible. Own an old piece of property where the privet has run wild for years. It comes up everywhere, I can pull up small shoots but I would have to do it all day long everyday to keep it under control. It has consumed a pyracantha, a couple of buddleia and grown into several good size “trees” It is now in competition with the sweet autumn clematis and the honeysuckle. Having given up hope of keeping any of those three under control I plan to observe this battle from the sidelines. Then there’s the wisteria…

    May 21, 2015 at 11:52 am
  43. Double R

    The photo you used for #4 doesn’t look like any leyland cypress I’ve ever seen. It looks more like some kind of arborvitae. I have a row of LC on each side of my house (plenty of room, great privacy) and they are great but they are starting to get too “open” from needle fall after 15 years. That’s my only complaint. I saw a house in a nearby neighborhood with a row of them planted right in front of their house….like 3 feet in front. They were almost completely covering the first floor.

    May 19, 2015 at 9:09 am
  44. Tanya Hanson

    I love my euonymus. They are drought tolerant (we are besieged by drought here in the west), add beautiful color, and are easy to care for and easy to trim.

    May 18, 2015 at 1:45 pm
  45. Margaret Petrey Smith

    Hey, kids — His name is GRUMPY for a reason. . . Not meant to be taken as a personal insult. Jiminy Crickets! Carry on, G!

    May 11, 2015 at 8:39 am
  46. ask

    Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in reality was once a
    entertainment account it. Glance complicated to more
    added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we keep up a correspondence?

    May 6, 2015 at 9:32 am
  47. Alydia Rankin

    I’d add lorapetalum to the mix!

    May 5, 2015 at 11:51 am
  48. Alydia Rankin

    I have a question. We would like to plant a quick growing, flora and fauna beneficial, screen between us and our neighbors. We have plenty of space as we have approximately 3 acres. (Include invasive flora that can be controlled by mowing). Thanks

    May 5, 2015 at 11:48 am
  49. Susan

    I happen to have many golden euonymus plants in my yard, and they look beautiful. They provide so much color, and are also a great privacy plant for the backyard. They also are very hardy, and survive harsh weather. I disagree with your rude description of the plant!

    May 3, 2015 at 11:57 am
  50. Kat Katrawitz

    Can cyou send some of the Layllandi killing fumgus ti The UK. They are a bloody menace. People grow them into 100ft high hedges and turn the whole area permenent night.

    April 29, 2015 at 11:48 am
  51. Bill Weeks

    just like the rag-a-zine you write for, you are a self indulgent pompous snob. you write like a twelve year old having a tantrum. you are neither clever nor witty. it must be nice to be paid to crank out useless drivel

    April 27, 2015 at 11:20 pm
  52. bamamom

    I agree with you on every one of these. Add Elaegnus to the list. Looks good at a glance, but spreads and is a killer to prune.

    April 27, 2015 at 10:23 am
  53. Nora

    So glad I read this. Almost everything you mentioned I loved, so if you hate it, it must be good. UGH!

    April 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

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