The 10 Ugliest Yard Trees (And What To Plant Instead)

Looking into the crown of a large ash tree. Ash.

Trees can be a wonderful addition to any yard. They provide shade, esthetics, and places for nice wildlife to live, such as birds. Some trees even provide food for us. 

The ugliest yard trees are black walnut trees, cottonwood trees, Chinese tallow tree, eucalyptus trees, Bradford pear trees, crepe myrtle trees, ash tree, the princess trees, poplar trees, and tree of heaven. These trees are either invasive, cause a mess due to seeds, or are generally unappealing.

Whether the tree is messy, bad for the environment, or just downright unattractive, this list is trees many deem to be the ugliest tree to plant in your yard. 

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Black Walnut Trees

Black walnuts are expensive nuts. Many love them for their rich flavor, but these trees are a pain to have around because of their murderous tendencies. They emit a natural herbicide known as juglone, and this compound kills all plants sensitive to it in the area. 

This herbicide the tree produces will kill any plants around the drip line. You also need to be diligent when cleaning up after this tree, since it is in its bark and leaves. Unlike other plants, you cannot compost any debris from this tree. 

Black walnuts also dye everything and are a pain to harvest. Unlike regular walnut shells, these shells are rock hard and some take to running them over with the car. The flavor is more bold and nutty than regular walnuts, but it is up to you whether you believe they are worth it. 

Just because it is a sought-after tree does not mean it is the right tree for you and your landscape. There are plenty of other nut trees that are better than the black walnut tree. 

  • English Walnut 
  • Pecan Trees
  • Pistachio Trees

These trees all produce wonderful nuts and can make good yard trees. 

English walnut trees are similar to black walnuts, except they do not produce the herbicide. These nuts are not as flavorful in baking but will do to avoid sacrificing your other plants from the black walnut’s herbicide. 

Pecan trees are also a fantastic alternative and the nuts are wonderful. They make delicious baked goods! They grow very similar to the black walnut and you can use its wood for smoking meat to add a wonderful flavor.

Pistachio trees are an uncommon contender, but many do not consider growing them. These trees are relatively hardy, easy to grow, drought-resistant, and need heat to thrive. This tree is an amazing tree for states like Arizona.

The real question you should always ask before planting a tree like a black walnut is your long-term goal. If you want to grow a tree for nuts, consider the alternatives that allow you to grow other plants safely.

You can also learn more about the differences between a black walnut tree and a walnut tree in our article: 8 Differences Between Black Walnut Trees and Walnut Trees

Cottonwood Trees

This tree is a fast-growing tree and produces a cotton-like seed. They are a member of the poplar family and grow along bodies of water. Some claim the bark has medicinal benefits and may use it as fodder for horses. 

Cottonwood trees can wreak havoc around properties. Not only do the seeds make a mess, but their root systems destroy plumbing, as well as tear up driveways.

The roots are designed to find water, making your plumbing the ideal place for them to invade. Another issue is their roots are shallow, making them easily able to tear up sidewalks and driveways. 

These trees can make a massive mess, and their fast growth requires frequent pruning.

A nice alternative is the sugar maple tree. Maple trees are beautiful, especially in the fall, and can easily reach 80 feet. These trees produce a sap that, when harvested and processed, makes maple syrup.

Chinese Tallow Trees

Triadica sebifera, also known as sapium sebiferum, chinese tallowtree, florida aspen, syn: sapium sebiferum, deciduous tree with rhombic to ovate leaves and small greenish-yellow flowers

This tree is from China and Taiwan but was later introduced to Florida. In 1998, it got added to the noxious weed list. It is illegal in Florida to plant this tree due to it taking over natural areas. 

This tree is not appropriate for non-native landscapes because it is highly invasive. Birds eat the popcorn-like seeds and spread them in their droppings. These trees take away resources from native Floridian plants. 

Birds can transfer the seeds for miles, so remove them immediately to prevent spread.

A great alternative is the dogwood tree. Dogwoods are native to the southern area of the United States and make fantastic trees for landscaping.

Eucalyptus Tress

Eucalyptus trees are beloved for their ability to make wonderful essential oils! The scent is wonderful in the shower and can help clear airways. It can make a wonderful yard tree.

These trees have been introduced to warmer states. They make it beautiful to look at but they have many ugly issues. They shed leaves and bark, making massive amounts of mess. 

The mess makes eucalyptus trees a perfect conductor of fire. Their oils also are very flammable and the gases from the oil can engulf them in flames. This can make for a dangerous situation when you grow them in high fire risk zones. 

People often plant eucalyptus trees in areas they are not native to, and they can be highly invasive. They then cause issues competing for space with native trees. Rather than planting a eucalyptus tree, plant a tree native to your area.

California, where these trees are often planted, has many wonderful native trees, one being western sycamore. The Western sycamore is a beautiful, large deciduous tree. It grows well in California and can make a wonderful landscape tree. 

This tree is native and will not cause environmental harm. They are very easy to care for and grow fairly fast. This tree is important to the natural development of native wildlife.

If you want to learn more about eucalyptus trees, check out our article: 9 Amazing Differences Between Eucalyptus And Gum Trees

Bradford Pear Trees

Bradford pear trees in spring

These trees make almost every list of the worst trees possible. This is mainly because of the fishy odor it produces. 

The Bradford pear tree was introduced in the 1960s. It quickly became a These trees make almost every list of the worst trees possible. This is mainly because of the fishy odor it produces. 

This tree is hardy and can survive many soil types. It is highly invasive and creates problems for native populations. It reproduces like crazy and often suffocates native plants. 

Have I mentioned it smells like fish? Because honestly, that is a big negative when it comes to plants. Not to mention these trees easily break, so when you are not smelling repulsive fishy smells, you are picking up broken branches. 

So what tree should you plant instead? Well, honestly, just a good old pear tree that bears fruit. It will have the beautiful flowers of the Bradford pear without the negatives. The only potential issue is you need two for proper pollination.

Here some some great pear tree alternatives to Brandford pear trees:

  • D’Anjou
  • Kieffer
  • Summercrisp

Each variety is different in its own way and you should research the varieties before choosing. They have varied requirements, including zones, watering, fertilizer, and spacing. Consider the benefit of having your very own fruit tree!

If you are looking for ways to identify any of the trees we have discussed so far, or the ones we will mention further on, look for a tree identification guide. The National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America contains over 2,000 photos to help you identify over 700 different species of trees.

Crepe Myrtle Trees

Crepe Myrtle’s are not ugly in appearance but have ugly tendencies. These trees are a favorite among many but can cause genuine issues for landscaping. 

They are highly susceptible to various diseases such as powdery mildew. This disease can be passed along to other trees on your property. Having a sensitive tree like a crepe myrtle. Aphids are another issue with these trees. 

With disease issues running rampant with this tree, it is no wonder many would not want to plant it.

Instead of planting Crepe Myrtle trees, plant these instead:

  • Dogwoods
  • Chaste
  • Redbud

Dogwoods are a native classic to many of the south! It blooms beautiful fragrant flowers, but more importantly, it is sturdy!

Chaste trees are the underdog here! Many do not discuss how wonderful this tree is! It looks very similar to lilacs and can make a wonderful alternative to crepe myrtles.

Redbuds are another crowd favorite. This tree produces beautiful blooms and is very resistant. It is also the state tree of Oklahoma! 

Ash Trees

Ash trees are falling victim to a pest known as the emerald ash borer. These pesky bugs kill the tree and cause many issues around. They are also very messy and can be an overall pain for many busy gardeners!

Dead Ash trees are a major hazard. The emerald ash borer can kill a large tree in as little as a year. This dead tree will fall or catch fire and potentially destroy your property or hurt you!

It is important to inspect all trees to be sure of the health and safety of everyone. 

Fun Fact! Woodpeckers eat emerald ash borers! This makes them important to the health of your tree!

Woodpeckers can often be seen pecking trees. This is because they eat the bugs inside the tree trunk. Woodpeckers can eat up to 85% of an infestation! They are a vital part of the balance of the ecosystem.

Ash trees also drop leaves and seeds. This means every fall and when seeds drop, you will have to clean up. If the tree becomes infected by emerald ash borers, you may even need to clean up an entire tree!

Here are a good few alternatives to the Ash tree!

  • Oak trees
  • Magnolias
  • Elm
  • Redwood

Oak trees come in many varieties! They do drop leaves and acorns but can make a wonderful shade tree for your yard. Squirrels love these trees so it is perfect for wildlife lovers!

Magnolias are a favorite to all southerners, especially in zones 5 through 9 where they grow best. They produce beautiful white flowers that smell wonderful! Magnolias also grow very large, but they can be a little messy.

Elm trees are also a suitable replacement. They grow in zones 5-9 and come in a few varieties. These trees offer amazing shade and look uniquely beautiful.

Redwoods are conifer so they never lose their leaves! They do produce cones however. They can grow in many zones and make a lovely canopy tree!

The Princess Tree

Known by many names, including Paulownia, this tree is hardy and survives drought-like conditions, making it a very invasive plant. This tree will out-compete other trees in the area and cause native species to die off.

This tree is on the list by the National Invasive Species Center. Invasive species are a detriment to natural environments since they compete for resources, especially ones like the princess tree that thrives in all soil types and will quickly take over. 

While these trees may not be aesthetically ugly in the eyes of many, the chaos they cause is an ugly sight to see. Native species dying off is something to be taken seriously. These trees taking over have negative consequences for the ecosystem. 

As with many other species, the dogwood is a wonderful native species. Like the princess tree, this tree produces beautiful flowers and can make a fine tree for any yard!

Poplar Trees

Poplar trees are fast growers. Their roots and the fluff the tree produces around its seeds made an enormous mess.

The mess from the seed coating can make your yard look ugly and leave you constantly cleaning up. However, the biggest offender here is the roots because they will tear up everything.

No pipeline, driveway, or foundation is safe from the Poplars’ wrath. This tree’s coating can cause several issues, and many cities and states have major problems with them. Most have let the trees slowly go in favor of more complacent trees.

A good replacement tree for cottonwood is… you guessed it! The one and only dogwood. What can I say? Dogwoods are the best tree for most landscapes, and they will not destroy your yard.

The Tree Of Heaven

Lots of seeds in the leafage of ailanthus altissima against blue sky in july

Despite its name, the tree of heaven is not heavenly. This tree is an aggressive invasive species. These trees are creating a massive issue with the native populations of plants. 

These trees excrete a toxin that kills other plants, effectively moving it up the local food chain. This tree aggressively overpowers other plants around it. 

The tree is also not as attractive as others on the list. This tree is mostly green with white flowers on the end. It makes a decent shade tree, but it can quickly take over. 

Elderberry is a similar-looking native tree with similar habits. The berries are fantastic and they can quickly grow around the yard. However, since they are native, they are a much better option.

Why Are Invasive Tree Species Bad?

Invasive species are a big problem among many ecosystems. Plants and animals can cause massive damage in environments they are not from. 

These non-native species take resources away from native species. This can cause issues by choking out the other species, especially if those are more sensitive than the invader. 

It is important that you choose plants that will cohabitate well with local environments. Check with your local extension office for help choosing plants. 

That’s All For Now!

Trees are inherently beautiful! The term ugly is used to describe the fact that some of these trees have ugly qualities. Many of which are invasive trees and cause awful damage to the environment. 

References

Miller, R. L., Bills, D. D., & Buttery, R. G. (1989). Volatile components from Bartlett and Bradford pear leaves. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry37(6), 1476-1479.

Clay, H. F., & Hubbard, J. C. (2021). Lythraceae (Crepe Myrtle Family). In The Hawai’i Garden (pp. 117-124). University of Hawaii Press.

Ding, J., Wu, Y., Zheng, H., Fu, W., Reardon, R., & Liu, M. (2006). Assessing potential biological control of the invasive plant, tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus altissima. Biocontrol Science and Technology16(6), 547-566.

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