Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (71)

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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Steve Bender

    Linda,

    Live and learn, right? GG

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

    Agreed!

    May 8, 2013 at 11:08 am
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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://www.dallasarboretum.org/

    April 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. Joan

    So. . . what do you like?

    April 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. James

    U R A TASTLESS JERK.

    April 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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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