5 Awful Plants For The Front Of Your House

Each part of a well-designed landscape has its function.

Golden Euonymus
(Euonymus japonicas ‘Aureomarginatus')This pick is more about taste than smell. As in, if you take this plant home from the nursery, Grumpy questions your taste. He'll say it until the cows come home: It's basic, garish, mildew-prone, and doesn't add any interest to your garden."If you plant this in front of your house, you probably gave your girlfriend a pop-top for an engagement ring," Grumpy says. Photo: Christopher Fairweather / Getty Images

Each part of a well-designed landscape has its function. The front yard reflects how you present yourself to friends, neighbors, and passersby. It should guide guests to the entry. It should also anchor the house to blend well with the natural landscape. The backyard–whether it contains a child's play area, a lush perennial border, a treasured collection of plants, beautiful garden accessories, or simply a comfortable sitting area—should be your private space. All houses need practical service areas where you can conceal items such as trash receptacles, potting benches, and tools. Here, we will focus on the front yard. Not just this space but the plants that we suggest you never plant. Grumpy will tell you the reasons why.

Sometimes to get people to do something good, you have to make them understand what's wrong. For example, a little knowledge can be very dangerous in the garden. I vividly remember the day our neighbor complained that his vegetable plants mysteriously started shriveling soon after he sprayed them for bugs. I asked when he'd used that sprayer before. "Oh, it was about a week ago," he replied. "I sprayed the grass for weeds."

Well, it didn't take Isaac Newton to surmise what had happened. Our neighbor neglected to clean out his sprayer. The same chemical he used to hammer his dandelions was stir-frying tomatoes.

All of this shows that when dealing with bugs, weeds, fungi, and critters, it's not enough to get most things right. You have to get them all right.

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 diseases, and some manage to do all these things.

1. Golden Euonymus

Golden Euonymus
(Euonymus japonicas ‘Aureomarginatus')This pick is more about taste than smell. As in, if you take this plant home from the nursery, Grumpy questions your taste. He'll say it until the cows come home: It's basic, garish, mildew-prone, and doesn't add any interest to your garden."If you plant this in front of your house, you probably gave your girlfriend a pop-top for an engagement ring," Grumpy says. Christopher Fairweather / Getty Images

Plants like this do nothing for the housing market. So what's wrong with golden euonymus ( Euonymus japonicus ' Aureomarginatus')?

Reasons Not To Plant:

  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 not subtle.

2. Bradford Pear

Bradford Pear
PhotoviewPlus / Getty Images

Every Grumpian should have seen this one coming. (I hate Bradford Pear—it's everywhere.) Bradford Pear (( Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') is fast growing, easy to transplant, and easy to grow, with showy spring flowers and spectacular red fall foliage. These attributes have made it one of the South's most overplanted trees. It lacks a central leader—main branches emerge from a common point on the trunk—often causing the tree to split in storms. Bradford pear grows much bigger than people usually envision (in 20 years, it can reach 50 feet high and 40 feet wide). Newer pears like 'Chanticleer' and 'Trinity' are better choices for most gardens.

Reasons Not To Plant:

  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 make it impossible to grow grass beneath it. Of course, this won't be a problem if you've already blacktopped your yard.
  3. The weak branching structure makes it very prone to storm damage. (Photograph it when it's pretty. It won't stay that way long.)
  4. 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 which are now invading the countryside.

3. Redtip Photinia

Red Tip Photinia
sergeyryzhov / Getty Images

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!"

The popularity of Fraser photinia ( Photinia x fraseri ) shows that nothing succeeds like being obvious. A chance seedling discovered around 1940 at Fraser Nursery in Birmingham, Alabama, Fraser photinia (also known as Redtip) displayed new leaves of bright red rather than the usual green. People flocked to buy it.

Reasons Not To Plant:

  1. Like Bradford pear, it's planted everywhere in the South.
  2. It grows fast and big—up to 15 feet tall and wide, much too ample for the front of your house, so you have to shear it often.
  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. The trouble is, the new growth is highly susceptible to a disfiguring disease called Entomosporium leaf spot. Small spots appear on young leaves. As the spots age, the centers turn grayish with a dark purple border. Severely infected leaves drop prematurely.

Treating Entomosporium Leaf Spot

The fungus that causes this leaf spot only attacks new, red growth. Mature green leaves are immune. Splashing water and wind spread the disease from leaf to leaf, so to prevent it, do the following things:

  1. Remove and destroy infected leaves.
  2. Do not wet leaves when watering.
  3. Avoid summer pruning, which results in a flush of susceptible new leaves.
  4. Spray the plant with chlorothalonil ( Daconil ) every 10 to 14 days from bud break in spring until all new foliage has matured.
  5. Unless you regularly spray with a fungicide, the disease eventually kills the plant.

4. Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cypress
TonyBaggett / Getty Images

Very few people who plant this monstrosity of a plant have any idea how big it gets—more than 70 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. And because it can quickly grow three 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 place big enough for this is Biltmore.)

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 the development of this disease. Leyland cypress has become the South's number one choice for tall screens. Once established, it can easily grow three to four feet a year. Remember, though, that it eventually grows 60 to 70 feet tall if unpruned.

Reasons Not To Plant:

  1. Leyland Cypress are susceptible to called Seridium canker. Older interior foliage yellows, then browns. Twigs and branches die. Sunken reddish, dark brown, or purplish cankers form on the bark and ooze sap. Infection usually affects the lower branches first, then travels up the tree.
  2. Avoid wounding the bark because any wound provides an entry point for the Seridium fungus, which has no chemical control. Prune out diseased branches, cutting six inches below the site of infection. Space plants adequately so that air can freely circulate among them.
  3. Leyland Cypress is susceptible to needle or tip blight. During warm, wet weather, the needles closest to the inside of the tree turn tan or gray, then die, leaving the inside of the plant bare while the outside remains green. Or needles on the tips of branches turn brown and die, and tiny black dots appear on dead needles and stems.
  4. These problems usually affect plants growing too close together. The dense foliage restricts air circulation, so foliage doesn't dry quickly, making things easy for either of two pathogens— Cercosphora , which also causes needle blight on Japanese cryptomeria and related species. And Phomopsis , which also causes twig blight of juniper. Space Leylands eight to ten feet apart to control these problems and avoid wetting the foliage.

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 broadleaf species, such as waxleaf privet ( Ligustrum lucidum ) and Japanese privet ( L. japonicum ), have some use in the landscape as limbed-up trees.

Still, the small-leaf hedging types, such as California privet ( L. ovalifolium ) and Chinese privet ( L. sinense ), are absolute garbage that belongs in a privy. Privet is a fast-growing plant often used in screens and hedges. Some species are invasive. Many people refer to privet by its botanical name, Ligustrum .

Reasons Not To Plant:

  1. In spring, privet produces white flowers that cause allergies and a sickeningly sweet odor.
  2. The flowers give rise to hundreds of blue-black berries relished by birds spreading them all over the universe. As a result, privets are incredibly invasive and weedy. Plus, they grow really fast and need a lot of trimming.
  3. A problem with privet is scales. White, yellowish, gray, reddish, or brown bumps encrust stems and undersides of leaves. It leaves yellow, brown, and drops in addition to branches dying back. These bumps are scales–sap-sucking insects that weaken the plant. Spray with horticultural oil, and coat all leaf and stem surfaces. Or apply a systemic insecticide, such as acephate (Orthene).
  4. Another problem is the leaf spot. Irregularly shaped tan spots surrounded by a dark brown border appear on leaf margins and at the tip. The spots become hollow with age. Caused by a fungus, the leaf spot is unattractive but not life-threatening to the plant. Selectively prune (thin) dense hedges to improve air circulation through the plants. Avoid overhead sprinkling and water plants early in the day to allow them to dry completely before evening. If practical, pick off and destroy spotted leaves. On plants previously affected, spray new healthy leaves in spring with a Bordeaux mixture, chlorothalonil (Daconil), or maneb.

Additional Things To Keep in Mind

You can't blame everything that goes wrong in your garden on a bug, blight, or critter. Some things may be your fault. Seven other things to keep in mind:

Crowding Plants

Jamming plants together may initially give your garden a mature look, but it reduces air circulation around leaves and stems, promoting disease. And it weakens plants by forcing them to compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients.

Improper Watering

If you really want to kill a plant, giving it too much or too little water is a great way to do it.

Nicking the Bark

Barks work like your skin—It keeps good things in and bad things out. Accidentally wounding the bark of a shrub or tree with a string trimmer, lawn mower, saw, or hockey stick promotes ready access for insects, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.


This term means planting large numbers of the same plant close together. All of the plants have the same susceptibility to certain pests. So if those pests show up, instead of one or two plants dying, all do.


Giving a plant too much food, particularly nitrogen, encourages lush, soft growth that insects and diseases relish.

Topping Trees

Read our lips. Topping trees is always a bad idea. It not only ruins their appearance but also makes them prone to insect and fungi attacks, as well as storm damage.

Ruining the Lawn

So think cutting the grass down to the soil line means you won't have to mow it often? You're right because doing so weakens the grass so much it might die. Unfortunately, the weeds that soon replace it need close cutting, so you'll end up mowing those instead.

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