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Bad Trees Newsletter




Chinese tallow

Fruitless mulberry

Silver maple


There are some really crummy trees that are still used by landscape companies and planted by homeowners. This lame tree list includes the following but could have more members added. Your suggestions are welcome. Although all these trees (except for fruitless mulberry) have some interesting points, they are basically invasive introductions with many other bad habits. Click on the names below for more information.

Arizona ash is a short-lived, heavy water using tree with destructive roots, is subject to several insect and disease problems, will suffer freeze damage and doesn’t live very long.

Austree is a short-lived willow hybrid that is basically mail-order disaster. It may be a worse choice than fruitless mulberry.

Bois d arc is a very interesting tree but is quite course, messy and tends to fall apart. Also has some pretty nasty thorns.

Chinaberry has attractive, reddish bark and fragrant, colorful flowers but is very invasive. It’s one of the prettier crummy trees.

Chinese tallow freezes back in hard winters and has lots of insect and disease problems. It does have a lot of color through the year but is not a good long term tree.

Cottonwood trees are stately and beautiful when healthy but are a bad investment. They are short-lived, have brittle wood, are subject to wind damage, insects, especially borers and the female plants produce messy cotton that clogs air conditioners. Cottonwood does well in its natural environments of river valleys.

Fruitless mulberry is the most overused junk tree of all. It is super ugly, shades the ground too heavily, uses too much water and is the target for several insects and diseases. Its root system is highly destructive to lawns, walks, driveways and pipes. It is also short-lived. Other than that, it’s a great tree!

Hackberry is short lived and fraught with insects and diseases. This problematic tree does provide shade and berries to feed the birds - but that’s not enough. Protect if you have some providing a benefit, but don’t plant any more.

Honeylocust continues to be used by some people but borers love it, and it just never seems to be healthy. It also has extremely vicious thorns. It has good fall color but it really needs to be in the completely useless category because of the obnoxious and dangerous thorns.

Hybrid maples such as October Glory and Autumn Blaze (Acer rubrum hybrids) are manmade failures in my opinion. They are susceptible to insect pests and diseases, as well as chlorosis in higher pH soils. Their thin bark is also highly susceptible to sun scald. They are also short lived.

Italian cypress trees are prone to freeze damage, insect problems and diseases. They are wonderfully dark green and dramatically vertical but usually not worth the trouble in most of the country.

Lombardi poplar (Populus nigra) is a dog of a tree. It’s ugly even when healthy but usually isn’t healthy because of weak roots, brittle limbs and wood, borers and other insect pest as well as various diseases. Lombardi poplars have dramatic vertical structure.

Mimosa is another real dog. Although beautiful when healthy, it rarely is. The root system is ravenous and destructive, and the tree is highly vulnerable to insects and diseases.

Pin oak grows well in acidic, sandy soil but is a disaster in alkaline, clay soils. It cross breeds with other oaks and creates problems. Red oaks accidentally crossed with pin oak will always be yellow and sick in alkaline soils.

Siberian elm is the worst choice of all. It is incorrectly called Chinese elm. It has severe elm leaf beetle infestation every year and is susceptible to Dutch elm disease. Wind damage due to weak wood is also a problem.

Silver maple is a lousy, problematic tree. It is usually chlorotic (yellow from trace mineral deficiency), subject to insects and diseases, and has weak, brittle wood. Silver maple sometimes has pleasant foliage when young and nice fall color.

Silver poplar really does have pretty foliage that makes a pleasant sound in the wind, but it greatly problematic in its sucking from roots and becoming a big weed problem.

Sycamore trees are gorgeous when healthy, but disease problems are causing lots of problems. Bacterial leaf scorch is the primary culprit. Mexican sycamore is actually much better than our native American sycamore.

Tree of Heaven - Tree of heaven, star of the book - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is stately and dramatic but is extremely coarse and invasive.

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Naturally yours,

Howard Garrett
The Dirt Doctor


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