Five Awful Plants for the Front of Your House

May 15, 2009 | By | Comments (297)

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. Steve Bender

    Take a look at ‘Skypencil’ Japanese holly.

    ‘Hicks’ Japanese yew would be a good choice for you.

    I’d consider wax myrtle or ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ holly.

    Take a look at Viburnum tinus, ‘Victoria’ ceanothus, escallonia, and ‘Smaragd’ cedar.

    October 13, 2016 at 1:17 pm
  2. Jenelle Gillet

    Thanks for some other fantastic article. Where else could anybody get that type of information in such an ideal method of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the look for such information.

    October 8, 2016 at 11:41 am
  3. Laura Gee

    Hi Grumpy,

    If I cut golden euyon off at ground level, will it die? There are two small to medium ones that came with the house and I have disliked them for several years now…


    September 21, 2016 at 11:08 am
  4. Tish

    What do you recommend for a hedge, in coastal BC area. Keeping in mind I will be trimming to approx 4ft. Only I have both neighbours with boxwood and I would like a change. Something different.

    September 14, 2016 at 2:21 pm
  5. Patrick Carhart

    I live in Eastern OK and need to block road noise, Our place sits about five ft. above the rd. and over fifty ft back. I Googled Chinese privet and found your take on vile shrubbery. Any ideas?

    September 12, 2016 at 5:26 pm
  6. SR

    Well I finally got around to doing some landscaping and considering that it is not my expertise, I was proud of the Golden Euonymus in front of my home…after reading your article now im not so sure. I love the humor in your reviews but now I’m second guessing myself and wondering what I should plant. I live in southern WV and would like to have a hedge type bush, Do you have any recommendations ? thank you very much for your help.

    September 12, 2016 at 2:38 pm
  7. Robbi

    Hi, Hey I was excited about the Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki’ being a great hedge but then read about the small fruit being toxic to children so that’s out. Need something evergreen that’s 16 ft tall at most,4- 5 ft wide for planting as a privacy hedge on the Washington coast. Have a great drainage,full sun area. Any ideas? Where we are is a few blocks from the beach and the homeowner rules here don’t permit anything growing higher then 16 ft. Can’t have anything that has berries that could attract the bears either. Thanks so much for your article, we laughed all the way through it and you saved us from some big expenses now and headaches down the road! Thanks anyone for any help! Happy gardening all!

    September 10, 2016 at 2:10 pm
  8. the gold digger

    I hate hate hate Snow on the Mountain. I didn’t know I hated it until we moved into our house and I discovered that if you try to pull it out of the front yard flowerbeds, it will just plot its return and come back, stronger than ever. I cannot understand why anyone would ever pay for it.

    September 8, 2016 at 11:24 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    The perfect plant for you is Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Maki.’

    August 31, 2016 at 1:09 pm
  10. Mark

    So we have about 6 (very) mature photinia along the back fence in southern Louisiana. for better or worse they are healthy and provide good screening that we absolutely need. but they are overgrown and too late to tree them up. looking for suggestions for a privacy screening plant that gets about 8′-12′, pretty full sun, growing more upright than wide. maybe capable of hedge. and evergreen.
    thanks and love the article

    August 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    I hate prostrate cotoneaster. Not a good plant for the South. Some substitutes to consider are winter jasmine, ‘Flirt’ nandina, dwarf gardenia, Lo & Behold butterfly bush, and Drift roses.

    August 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm
  12. Purvi

    Loved this article please continue writing with this spirit and wit.. I had a hearty laugh reading this after spraying my yard with tons of Monteray BT on each leaf of my fatshedras, apple tree and others after finding widespread moth infestation… and also while nursing my carpel tunnel syndrome… already pulled over 20 loropetalums and 25 Lenten rose plants out planted less than 5months ago… Ouch! – From zone 10

    August 23, 2016 at 1:10 am
  13. Sally

    I have prostrate cotoneaster growing on a sloped bed at my home in North Carolina. It is unimpressive, not quite what I hoped for. Any other suggestions?

    August 19, 2016 at 12:17 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener

    Cotoneasters may grow well in other parts of the country, but here in the South the only ones that thrive grow into large, attractive shrubs — brightbead cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus) and Franchet cotoneaster (C. franchettii). The prostrate, ground cover types are terrible for us. Never seen a good planting, because they’re ripped up and thrown away after 2-3 years.

    August 19, 2016 at 11:02 am
  15. Sheila Rich

    What about cotoneaster? Do the birds spread the seed and do new sprouts come up all over?

    August 18, 2016 at 8:16 pm
  16. Roger Berberich

    I live in the south and I wholeheartedly agree with plant selections depicted. As I read I was able to think of many properties that would make great illustrations of these chosen ones.

    I would even add to the list to include the China berry tree and the persimmon tree. I’ve lived around both of these trees and ponder what purpose they have in landscaping. I have memories of dragging them around on the bottom of my shoes as a child and adult. The smell of crushed berries are putrid and the concoction you aquire on the bottom of your shoes are indicative of stepping in animal excrement.

    Currently, white flies are diminishing my Sunshine “disgustums”. I keep making attempts to rid these invasive pests.

    I think plant nurseries should make disclaimers about the negative attributeside of what they sell. The pharmaceutical industry does and still it’s a mult-billion dollar industry.

    August 14, 2016 at 6:37 am
  17. Scott McMillen

    I vote for a tie between the bottlebrush tree and the olive tree. They both drop more crap than a stampeding herd of flying longhorns.

    August 6, 2016 at 10:05 am
  18. Steve Bender

    A honeylocust (Gleditzia) would be a terrible choice for the tight spot you describe, as it is a fast-growing, wide-spreading tree. Serviceberry, Carolina silverbell, Japanese maple, and redbud would be better.

    August 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm
  19. Tracey

    Do you have any comment about the gleditsia triacanthos grown in a relatively tight spaced, residential environment – south aspect. Thanks, love your honesty/sarcasm/humour all mixed in with great info.

    July 30, 2016 at 6:30 pm
  20. Grumpy Gardener

    Miss Trish,
    You could plant a fig, but since it is not evergreen, it wouldn’t provide screening in winter. Evergreen plants good for screening include podocarpus, holly, Italian cypress, Japanese cleyera, oleander, loropetalum, ‘Little Gem’ Southern magnolia, and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae.

    July 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm
  21. Miss Trish

    What do you recommend as a screen to plant against the chain link fence separating my backyard pool from townhouses? Right now there are a few oaks and random sapling volunteers on their side. I’m in the very humid southeast, zone 8b. Approx 30 ft between pool and fence. On my side, half is full west-facing sun, half is partially shaded. I was thinking of planting a Turkey fig tree in the corner that gets full sun. Is 20 ft far enough from the pool to prevent root damage? I found this blog by googling ligustrum…

    July 23, 2016 at 8:23 am
  22. Zaferia

    Thanks. We have 2 strawberry marina’s and planning on 2-3 Mediterranean bay’s…a must for me! Great suggestions! Escallonia (I’ve had it in the smaller version shrubs, didn’t think to see if there were a larger species available). I have never seen the grevillea…there are so many varieties to investigate! they look stunning! The pineapple guava another great suggestion, my sister has one and is happy with it. I might not use any red tips at all, although I do like them, perhaps one in the corner, just maybe not as I previously imagined.

    July 19, 2016 at 5:04 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener

    Did you prune your hydrangeas last fall or winter? If so, you probably cut off the flower buds.

    Here in the rainy Southeast, red tips are very prone to disease. Not so where you live, so they’ll probably work well for you. Other plants to consider include strawberry tree, escallonia, pineapple guava, grevillea, and bay plant.

    July 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm
  24. Zaferia

    Just took out a hedge along backside of a fence (it was dying, and it was too manicured) was going to plant red tips…we need fast growing coverage. Had them at our previous home, liked the smell. Typical suburban Sacramento area backyard aka small, with two story neighbors right behind us, full sun. Suggestions?

    July 18, 2016 at 10:06 am
  25. Kathy Beville

    I planted an Oakleaf Hydrangea in our front flowerbed in Central Florida. I heard they were a Florida native. The first two years it bloomed beautifully. Now it wants to spread out, only growing about 2 ft. tall and not blooming. What do I need to do to get it blooming again?

    July 13, 2016 at 12:40 pm
  26. Caldwell Home Garden (@chomegarden)

    I agree with you completely, however I like photinia. It isn’t very common around here.

    July 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm
  27. Alex

    Nice article. Enjoyed the plant hate sense of humor :p (it will swallow your dog) haha

    July 9, 2016 at 2:32 pm
  28. Steve Bender

    ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum does not flower or set seed, so it doesn’t spread like the other kinds.

    If it makes you feel better, the guy who produced the plan was fired.

    Redtip does do well in arid climates, but in rainy, humid areas like the South, it’s very prone to disease.

    Ms. Deb,
    I feel your pain. Good substitutes for crepe mytle include Carolina silverbell, white fringe tree, ‘Acoma’ crepe myrtle, ‘Okame’ cherry, Kousa dogwood, ‘Ann’ magnolia, and serviceberry.

    July 6, 2016 at 4:19 pm
  29. Ms Deb

    I have two Bradford pears in my front yard one further down in the yard which is doing wonderful and the other one closer to the house. I absolutely hate the one closer to my house, those doggone suckers are driving me crazy. That sucker spray is very expensive but it does work but I will either go broke or pull the dang tree out. I had a plan this year to pay to have that tree removed. My husband begged me to keep it and he said he would clip the suckers this summer every time they sprouted but, unfortunately my husband lied to me he has not touched them at all and now because it rained the whole month of June I have at least 50 of them all in my flower bed and they are about 3-4 ft tall…needless to say I am pissed. So in September he’s gonna come home and that damn tree will be gone…I will never plant another pear tree even if it is free…what do you suggest for me to replace it with, something pretty, low maintenance and no damn suckers…

    July 4, 2016 at 10:51 pm
  30. Lea

    I am laughing very hard right now! Thanks!

    July 4, 2016 at 4:01 pm
  31. Nicole

    Privet is in the ligustrum family? We have privet all over our average and hate it save for certain fence lines where it provides screening. I have my heart set on planting some sunshine ligustrum along the front porch. Is this a horrible idea?

    June 27, 2016 at 6:52 pm
  32. Charles

    I suggest if you want to really give your property some “class,” plant Melia azedarach – a.k.a. the Chinaberry Tree, or Ailanthus altissima – a.k.a. the Tree of Heaven.

    June 27, 2016 at 3:16 pm
  33. Charles

    Don’t let them high-fallutin’ Innernet Elites and Intellectuals tell you what is and what is not proper for your yard. Plant what you want… or water whatever the previous occupants left behind, if you like it.

    June 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm
  34. Tricia Lenwell

    How rude…………… ……………….. I must have a touch of chain link trailer park in me…..and here I thought I was a princess………………….

    June 27, 2016 at 12:29 pm
  35. Darrin

    Redtip Photinia smells, too. Should be banned!

    June 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm
  36. Stacy H

    I once refused to buy a house that was perfect in every way because the previous owners had planted 16 Bradford Pear trees along the driveway. I am allergic to them, and in Spring my eyes would have swollen shut! We also get the occasional tornado In Tennessee, and the Bradford is always the trees you see flung to the ground, or branches of it as a projectiles through windows and roofs! In the spring I also shake my head when I see customers at Costco lugging carts of 8 or more Leyland Cypress out to their trucks, and wonder what their neighbors will think in 5 years time.

    June 26, 2016 at 5:39 pm
  37. Sharon K. Williams Hicks

    Another that I have planted that I loved at the time is Wisteria. Bit it has grown everywhere even under the driveway to the neighbors fence. I’m pulling out, cutting it down and having to spray with round*up. Sprouts comes up all over the yard.

    June 26, 2016 at 3:52 pm
  38. Elphaba

    Photinia here in the High Desert of CA, is one of the best plants ever. No disease and can be trained beautifully. Also, it will sustain all its beauty when winter hits. One year it was 3 degrees and this was the was one of the only plants that survived all over the Valley.

    June 26, 2016 at 1:48 pm
  39. Jill B

    I’m laughing. About 25 years ago, I paid for a ‘Southern Living’ landscaping plan offered by Pike Nurseries. What did it recommend? All five of these. My yard is a virtual snapshot of the “Awful Plants”. I need a new landscaper.

    June 26, 2016 at 1:29 pm
  40. Grumpy Gardener


    How does your letter carrier likes having a bee magnet next to the mailbox?

    June 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm
  41. ramgol

    thanks alot

    June 18, 2016 at 3:28 am
  42. Margaret Nadler

    There is one positive aspect of the Waxleaf Privet, and the Euyonymus (the Green Boxleaf variety) and that is their attractiveness to native bees. This is true in the older sections of our garden that were planted in the 1940’s by the original owners. The two plant types serves as hedges & the eye passes over them. We planted one single Bradford Pear, fortunately, because it does a really good job with shade, and the roses planted under it only provide one splendid bloom, the 1st of the season, until they are blocked by the Brad’s shade. However, this tree is now about 35 years old, and it is a magnet for native bees during its bloom season. It is absolutely huge. It is planted over the mailbox and at the head of our 2 row citrus & non-citrus fruit tree section that is sandwiched between our driveway and the service driveway. Fortunately, it is not planted in the front yard. We do not suffer from high winds, so I have not seen the breakage that others have experienced. Our garden is in the central San Joaquin Valley; we have sandy loam soil and our average rainfall is 11 inches when we are not in the drought cycle that we have just ended this year. We water these plants during the hot summer months, about once a month for a long soak.

    For the most part, I agree with the overall perspective of these 5 plants….they are not my favorites, either. But I did want to mention the nectar or pollen source that they provide for our native pollinators. Bees need all the help they can get; we will not be removing these established plants unless one of them dies a natural death.

    June 17, 2016 at 12:10 pm
  43. Bradford Pear trees should be outlawed

    I absolutely HATE Bradford Pear. When we moved into our house the previous owners had planted five of them. One in the postage stamp front yard and four in the back. You are right, they cannot take storm damage even when the storm isn’t all that bad. And it is IMPOSSIBLE to grow grass under them. One reason is the one you mention above, but also the tend to drop their leaves very late in the winter after the snow has fallen and it is impossible to rake them up at that time which means it creates a virtually air tight blanket of waxy leaves on top of the grass that did grow there and smothers it out.

    The one in our front yard broke in half near our house! Why anyone would think it is a good idea to plant a tree that close to a house, let alone a Bradford Pear is beyond me. The others in the back yard were starting to drop large branches in the slightest of storms so my husband and I just cut them all down. I was always worried one would fall on one of our children while playing outside, especially on windy days.

    Bradford Pear trees are the devil!

    June 15, 2016 at 9:05 pm
  44. Grumpy Gardener


    I’m not a big fan of Indian hawthorn either. Actually, what kills them isn’t a bug, but a leaf spot. So instead of spraying with Sevin, spray according to label directions with a fungicide called Daconil. Or don’t plant Indian hawthorn in the first place.


    I am indeed very grumpy.

    June 15, 2016 at 10:27 am
  45. Sally

    Dear GG,

    Loved this article! I agree with everything you said. I have learned the hard way about a couple of these plants. Most people have no idea about “invasive plants”, which several of these were. I am trying to be conscientious and creative about what I put into the ground, using natives as much as possible.


    June 14, 2016 at 7:51 pm
  46. JD

    nobody really gives a rats patootie what you think! I have the golden euonymous in my front yard and it is beautiful. It has been here for 6 years with my Japanese Maple and its never turned ugly. Ones persons trash is another persons treasure. You are a grumpy person.

    June 12, 2016 at 2:14 pm
  47. sheila cooper

    You HAVE to add Indian Hawthorne to your list! It grows so fast and is so prone to leaf rot that I guarantee you, if you plant one… within a short time, you’ll be keeping it on life support with seven dust once a week. And that’s just to keep what’s left of the leaves from falling off. The only way to “cure” the plant is to clean beneath it thoroughly, being careful to remove all fallen leaves and, of course, all of your mulch! But,it’ll get sick again, so why bother? It’s also horribly contagious, so your other Indian Hawthornes WILL become affected. I live on the South Carolina/Georgia border and it seems that the issue with this plant is widespread. I think builders love to throw these scrub shrubs in with your building package! I recently had every last one of mine pulled up and started from scratch! Ugh!

    June 6, 2016 at 8:56 pm
  48. Grumpy Gardener
    June 6, 2016 at 2:00 pm
  49. doesnt matter

    So what exactly WOULD you plant then?

    June 5, 2016 at 11:28 pm
  50. Grumpy Gardener

    Marlene & Mr. Eddie,

    You are both very welcome!

    June 3, 2016 at 2:47 pm

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