Why Linden Trees Are So Messy (And What To Plant Instead)

Old linden tree foliage in morning light with sunlight

Linden trees are gorgeous, pyramidal-shaped, sap-filled trees that have been cultivated for centuries for their wood and flowers. But linden trees are notably messy! Despite popular belief, linden trees aren’t responsible for their mess, can you guess what is?

Linden trees are so messy because of aphids! Linden flowers secrete a substance that attracts aphids, who then excrete a honeydew, leaving things covered and messy. There are a few trees you can grow in place of linden trees, such as Allegheny serviceberry, dogwood, river birch, magnolia, or redbud.

Keep reading to learn more about what trees you can plant instead of linden trees, and why lindens are so messy.

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Why Are Linden Trees So Messy?

Linden tree blossom

Linden trees are beautiful flowering trees that contain sweet sap that attracts insects of all sorts.

Linden trees are one of a bee’s favorite trees, but today we’re going to be talking about aphids. Aphids are actually what is responsible for making linden trees so messy. Aphids suck up sap from the tree and their excretion is what leaves the mess.

Once they ingest it, they excrete a liquid that’s rich in sugar, called honeydew, which coats the linden leaves. This honeydew is known to cover sidewalks, roads, and even cars, and becomes a nuisance very quickly.

Imagine spilling a sugary drink and not cleaning it up, you are left with a big, sticky mess. Well, that’s the result of these aphids!

As if that wasn’t enough, once honeydew appears, sooty mold comes in. This is a fungal disease that grows specifically on plants that are covered by honeydew. 

Sooty mold, however, doesn’t necessarily hurt the plant, but if it covers the entire plant surface, then sunlight can no longer penetrate it, which reduces the plant’s ability to grow.

If you decide to do any maintenance to your tree the Tanglefoot Tree Pruning Sealer is a great option to have on hand. It helps to minimize sap loss after pruning cuts or other tree injuries by creating a flexible and weatherproof seal. It also will help protect against insects and diseases when you have cuts on your tree.

We’ve got another article dedicated to messy trees, check out our piece on the 14 Dirtiest & Messiest Trees To Not Plant In Your Yard!

How Can I Clean Up My Linden Tree?

Under the linden tree in autumn in the garden

The first step in cleaning up your linden tree is to get rid of the aphids and any other honeydew-producing insects.

You might be asking yourself, how would you even do that in the first place?

Spray It With A Hose

There are two ways you can treat aphids, the first one is spraying down your tree with a hose. Using a hand sprayer from the hose, as often as possible will help get rid of aphids, making it difficult for them to come back to the tree.

If you want to use this method, the Flexi Hose with 8 Function Nozzle Expandable Garden Hose is a perfect choice. I love these hoses because they are lightweight, easy to use, and don’t kink!

Use An Insecticidal Soap

Second, you can use an insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, but with this method, aside from reading the label before applying, you’ll want to get a bee-friendly one. Bees are often very attracted to the sweet, fragrant flowers of the linden tree, and populations usually become decimated after feeding on linden trees that have been sprayed with insecticides.

You can use a product like Safer Brand 5118-6 Insect Soap Concentrate 16oz to control aphids. It’s an insecticidal soap that is made up of potassium salts of fatty acids, made from natural plant extracts, and will not persist in the environment.

Before using, make sure to read the label first! Additionally, because linden trees are pollinator-attractive plants, you’ll want to spray your tree in the very early morning or the evening, after pollinators are not active.

Use A Natural Aphid Control

Another product to try to control aphids is Trifecta’s Crop Control. This is a natural solution made up of essential oils, soap, isopropyl alcohol, and vinegar.

With a guarantee to work, you can have peace of mind when you use it. Another great thing about this product is that it is pet-friendly and food-grade, so bring on the sigh of relief!

This product is said to work on powdery mildew, spitter mites, russet mites, broad mites, botrytis, grey mold, aphids, fungal, and parasitic species. What a powerhouse! All you have to do is mix the solution with water and spray! But of course, always read the label before applying.

So if you have a linden tree in your yard and you don’t want to get rid of it anytime soon (we know how much it costs to remove a tree), these are some efficient methods you can use to keep honeydew-producing insects at bay.

6 Trees To Plant Instead Of Linden Trees

Linden tree with flowers growing around

If you are deciding on landscaping ideas and want a different type of tree, other than a linden, we’ve got some great options for any landscape. Here we’ve got a list of flowering trees that do well in the same zones as lindens and grow roughly to the same size.

Furthermore, some people get linden and basswood trees mixed up – so feel free to read up a bit more on their differences before diving deeper below.

1. Allegheny Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis

The first tree on our list is the Allegheny serviceberry, which is a great option for smaller landscapes.

the Allegheny serviceberry reaches about 15-25 feet high and wide and does well in partial sun and partial shade. This is a great choice that does well in moist, and well-draining soils, similar to the linden.

This tree does well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8. Don’t worry if you don’t have moist, acidic, or well-draining soils, this tree is also tolerant of alkaline and clayey soils.

If you don’t want to sacrifice the beautiful showy flowers of the linden tree, well don’t worry! The serviceberry offers year-round interest with its fragrant, white flowers, and small, dark purple berries.

2. Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood teutonia - latin name - cornus kousa teutonia

Dogwoods are another great choice for just about any landscape. The flowering dogwood is probably the most common, but the kousa dogwood is close behind. Today though, we’ll touch on the flowering dogwood. 

This is another great tree choice for most landscapes since they vary in height.

Smaller dogwood trees reach 15-25 feet tall and 20 feet wide, while medium dogwood trees reach anywhere from 25-40 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The flowering dogwood, like all of the trees we’ll cover, has similar requirements to the linden tree. 

The flowering dogwood does well in all light requirements, including full sun to full shade. This tree also grows well in acidic, moist, and well-draining soils. 

You can easily grow this tree in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9. Don’t worry about flowers! Flowering dogwoods have bracts that act as their flowers, which are modified leaf clusters.

These bracts come in white, pink, and a beautiful red, and attract lots of birds, pollinators, and mammals. 

3. River Birch, Betula nigra

Next up on our list, we have the river birch! While this tree might not have the flowers you’re hoping for, it makes up with its beautiful bark. The river birch also offers year-round interest.

The river birch is a little larger than the previous trees we talked about. It grows anywhere between 25-40 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. This tree is a powerhouse with what it tolerates, including acidic soils, well-draining, and even wet soils. It also tolerates clayey soils, occasional flooding, and wet areas. 

This tree has a fast growth rate so you can expect it to reach its full size in 15-20 years! This tree needs full sun and attracts songbirds, pollinators, and mammals. 

You may be interested in learning that not all birch trees have white bark – you can thank the paper birch tree for that!

4. Loebner’s Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’, Magnolia x loebneri

The Loebner’s magnolia is an excellent hybrid magnolia to plant instead of a linden tree. It grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9 and grows anywhere from full sun to part shade. This magnolia hybrid grows best in moist and well-draining soils and is tolerant of acidic soils. 

If you’ve ever seen a regular magnolia tree, you probably remember its size and its flowers. Magnolia trees are known to grow to great heights, and we mean huge, like over 70 feet tall! They are also known for their beautiful, large, showy flowers.

What’s so great about this magnolia tree hybrid is its size. In contrast to the large magnolia, this magnolia hybrid is a small to medium-sized, compact, rounded tree that grows to a height and width of 20-30 feet. It also has beautiful showy and fragrant white and pink flowers. 

5. Redbud, Cercis canadensis

Judas tree in blossom. Purple flowers on the twigs. Beautiful redbud background.

Ah, the redbud! These trees are serious show stoppers, especially in the early spring. Before the redbud’s leaves emerge, bright pink and purple flowers are seen in early spring against their dark brown bark, making this tree a showstopper for your yard. 

The redbud grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. It grows best in full sun, partial sun, and partial shade. Redbuds also do well in moist, well-draining soils, but can tolerate alkaline and clay soils.

This tree is a small to medium-sized tree, growing anywhere from 15-40 feet tall and wide, making it ideal for any small space.

That’s A Wrap!

That’s all we’ve got for you today on why linden trees are so messy. Let’s recap just why that is and what you can plant instead of a linden tree!

Linden trees are messy because of aphids! Linden flowers secrete a sap that aphids love. 

Once they suck up all that sap, they excrete what’s called honeydew, which leaves things covered in a sugary mess. 

Aphids aren’t the only honeydew-producing insect, but they are the most common culprit of why linden trees are so messy. 

There are two ways you can get rid of aphids, the first one is spraying down your tree with a hard spraying hose as often as you can. This will help get rid of aphids, by making it difficult for them to come back to the tree, and they most likely won’t.

The second is using insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to get rid of aphids. By using a spray as we mentioned above, you can have peace of mind treating your tree, knowing aphids won’t come back!

The last thing we covered was what to plant instead of linden trees if you’re thinking of adding to your landscape.

Some trees you can plant instead of linden trees are:

  • Allegheny Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis
  • Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida
  • River Birch, Betula nigra
  • Loebner’s Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’, Magnolia x loebneri
  • Redbud, Cercis canadensis

Well, that’s all we have today on why linden trees are so messy and what you can plant instead.

Thanks for sticking around with us on your tree journey, and we wish you the best of luck on your Tree Journey!

References 

Braun, Mihály, Zita Margitai, Albert Tóth, and Martine Leermakers. “Environmental monitoring using linden tree leaves as natural traps of atmospheric deposition: A pilot study in Transilvania, Romania.” Landscape & Environment 1, no. 1 (2007): 24-35.

Dahlsten, D., A. Hajek, D. Clair, S. Dreistadt, D. Rowney, and V. Lewis. “Pest management in the urban forest.” California Agriculture 39, no. 1 (1985): 21-22.

Evert, R. F., W. Eschrich, J. T. Medler, and F. J. Alfieri. “Observations on penetration of linden branches by stylets of the aphid Longistigma caryae.” American Journal of Botany 55, no. 7 (1968): 860-874.

Koch, Hauke, and Philip C. Stevenson. “Do linden trees kill bees? Reviewing the causes of bee deaths on silver linden (Tilia tomentosa).” Biology letters 13, no. 9 (2017): 20170484.

Olkowski, W., H. Olkowski, and R. VanDen Bosch. “Linden aphid parasite establishment.” Environmental Entomology 11, no. 5 (1982): 1023-1025.

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