19 Trees in Your Yard That Cause the Biggest Problems
These trees are troublesome, to say the least.
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Willows are notorious for their promiscuous roots, which roam far and wide looking for moisture. That’s why they’re so content growing near ponds and rivers. In the home landscape, roots of willows can find openings in the seams of old pipes and expand into the hollow structures to obtain moisture and sustenance from silt.
Beech trees are stately beauties that can last for centuries. As impressive as they are, they have vigorous, shallow roots that can cause problems with both structures and pipes. Cut down a beech and these roots will often send up sucker shoots to become new trees. It’s this same tenacity that makes beech tree roots a concern, if planted near underground pipes.
Eucalyptus trees have a shallow but vigorous root system that can spread out 100 feet or more. The trees’ root system is designed to keep them alive in tough conditions—and it even resprouts from these invasive roots when chopped down. Not surprisingly, the roots can find their way into water pipes and septic systems.
Honey locust trees depend on a vigorous root system to sustain an equally vigorous top structure. Like many other trees with invasive roots, honey locust suckers grow freely from roots, sending up potential new trees that must be dealt with. Those roots can also pose problems with underground pipes.
Mulberry trees are quick to sprout and exceedingly fast to put on size. To do this, they must depend on a vigorous root system that ranges wherever the promise of moisture takes it—including old underground pipes with leaky seams.
Aspen tends to develop into thickets, creating a nice grove-like effect. The thickets develop from the root system of one tree, meaning a solitary aspen tree could turn into a 100-yard-wide grove of identical trees. That free-roaming root system is great for empty lots, but not so great near the underground pipes found in residential landscapes.
Empress tree is a very rapid grower, putting on 5 feet or more of annual growth. The tropical look of the big leaves and the colorful purple summer flowers make the tree popular with some. Others, however, consider it a weedy pest that needs pruning. Like all weedy pests, it has a very active root system that can interfere with underground utilities and pipes.
Elms are the adaptable trees of both city and country. Tough enough for the Plains, they take drought but prefer to have their share of moisture. That powerful thirst is a potential pitfall where leaky underground drain pipes are concerned.
Poplars in general are a risky bet when it comes to water and drain pipes. The biggest offenders are cottonwoods and Lombardy poplars. The former is best left to rambling countryside and stream banks, the latter avoided entirely because its roots go everywhere—and because it’s got a very short lifespan.
Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) has beautiful white flowers in spring and burgundy foliage in fall. Problem is, the branching structure is inherently weak, causing all sorts of storm damage in areas with wind, snow or ice. Also, callery pear and its most common cultivar ‘Bradford’ are considered invasive trees in many states.
Tree of Heaven
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is the famous “tree that grows in Brooklyn.” It is an imported pest that is dirty, messy, invasive and just not suited to home landscapes. It seeds itself all around and, worse, it gives off a chemical to kill competing vegetation, making it difficult to landscape around.
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a relative of poison ivy and causes allergic skin reactions in many (but not all) people. It is quite attractive in fall, when it turns color, but its roots keep popping up new sprouts, so before you know it, you’ve got a colony of staghorn sumacs giving your skin the willies.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a great tree to have in your yard—if it’s male. It grows at a slow to moderate pace and has pretty architecture, beautiful fall foliage, and a lineage that dates to the time of the dinosaurs. Avoid planting a female ginkgo in your yard, though, because it will drop messy fruit in fall that smells a bit like vomit when it starts to rot.
Ash (Fraxinus spp.) is a great tree with many fine attributes. It’s tough, quick growing and has beautiful fall color. But the emerald ash borer is decimating the population of ash trees, so unless you’re willing to pay to have your tree inoculated every two years, you might as well go with a different species that isn’t in mortal peril.
Cottonwood (Populus deltoids) is a majestic, awe-inspiring tree when it matures. But its roots can be problematic around house foundations and it releases cottony seeds in late spring/early summer that can be a nuisance if they get caught up in your window screens. The trees are also messy, continually dropping leaves and sticks. Chalk this one up with the weeping willow: a fine tree in the country or along a waterway, but not necessarily in your yard.
Black Locust (Robinia psuedoacacia) is a fast-growing hardwood tree with fragrant white flowers. The wood is heavy and holds a lot of fuel value, so it’s a good tree to have around if you need firewood. But it’s brittle and has sharp thorns. Also, black locust tends to seed itself a little too generously. As a result, this tree is often a pest and considered invasive in some areas.
Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii) will give you impressive size in a short period of time. And, it’s thick and evergreen, so many people like its ability to provide privacy. Unfortunately, it soon becomes too big for most home landscapes. It’s also prone to wind damage, disease and drought.
Russian olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) is tough. A little too tough, meaning you can’t kill it. With the silvery white foliage, that might not seem like such a bad thing, but Russian olive is a thug. The fruit is eaten by birds and distributed far and wide. Then the trees sprout into thickets that crowd out other plants. Cut them down and they continue to resprout, making them an invasive pest that should not be sold or planted.
Norway maple (Acer platanoides) was overplanted in the ’60s as a street tree when Dutch elm disease decimated the American elm population. It’s a pretty tree with nice fall foliage, but Norway maples self-seed everywhere—to the point of being a pest. And the heavy shade and shallow roots make it impossible to grow much of anything under them, so landscaping is a real challenge.