Get ready, I’m going to offend people here. It’s not that I don’t like the following plants, it’s just that I don’t like some of them them on residential property in zone 8 on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Some of these plants are susceptible to diseases we have here (largely because of our wet winter/spring climate). Some are on either or both WA or OR invasive plants lists.

Some are just brutes and perhaps have less than desirable growth habits. Some of the plants on this list are there because I don’t like them for aesthetic or maintenance reasons. They may have some redeeming quality, I don’t value them as a wonderful part of a low-maintenance, ornamental garden (particularly a smaller one).

I realize you will see many of these plants for sale in our area. Why the garden center industry insists on selling plants that will make you work harder in your garden is beyond me. So be warned. You have choices, exercise them.

Trees to Avoid in Residential Landscapes

Acer platanoides     Norway Maple

  • This tree is a thug mainly because it is huge, is a voracious surface rooter (that not only will break concrete, but sucks the earth dry), and it produces such dense shade that nothing will grow beneath it. Although thought to have allelopathic properties (meaning that the plant releases toxins that inhibit or prevent the growth of other plants), research has not been able to confirm this. It is more sucking the earth dry and dense shade why other plants won’t grow beneath this tree. But this is my number one maple to dislike.
  • Norway maples are also host to a number of pests and diseases — as are many maples. And be warned that even the alternative maples listed below are susceptible to verticillium wilt. Though we have seen verticillium in our area, it is not widespread. Still, it will kill all maples.
  • Alternatives: Acer ginnala (Amur maple); Acer griseum (Paperbark maple); Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura); Fagus sylvatica spp. (Beech); Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’ (Ginkgo); Oxydendron arboreum (Sourwood — large tree); Parrotia persica(Ironwood — large tree); Quercus spp. (Oak — large tree)

 

Alnus rubra     Red Alder

  • This tree is native here, and it is a GREAT forest and wildlife habitat tree. But it self seeds so prolifically that it can soon over-run a residential property. The wood is soft and brittle, making it a safety and maintenance hazard. It is best left in the forest. However, it is great in riparian or slope areas.
  • Alternatives: Acer ginnala (Amur maple); Acer griseum (Paperbark maple); Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura); Fagus sylvatica spp. (Beech); Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’ (Ginkgo); Oxydendron arboreum (Sourwood — large tree); Parrotia persica (Ironwood — large tree); Quercus spp. (Oak— large tree)

 

Betula spp.     Birch

  • It is highly susceptible to aphids, bronze birch borers and leaf miners. It has brittle wood that breaks in our often windy weather. It has very twiggy growth that drops to the ground and creates a maintenance mess.
  • If you MUST have a birch tree, choose: Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ (Whitebark Himalayan Birch) — aphids, and twig-drop are still problems, but it is much less susceptible to bronze birch borers, and is stunningly gorgeous until the wind or ice breaks it. You have been warned. :-)
  • Alternatives: Acer griseum (Paperbark maple); Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura); Fagus sylvatica spp. (Beech); Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry (Ginkgo); Lagerstroemia spp. (Crape Myrtle); Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia)

 

Cornus florida     Eastern (Florida) Dogwood

  • It is highly susceptible to anthracnose which ordinarily doesn’t kill it (though over time a number of years it can), but the disease makes these trees extremely ugly for most of the growing season starting in mid-spring. In my opinion, a gorgeous bloom doesn’t compensate for the rest of the year of ugliness. If you MUST have an Eastern dogwood, be sure it is pruned so the canopy is as open as possible and it is out of the path of irrigation spray and the drift. Moisture and cool temps cause this disease, so proper siting can really help.
  • I know of only one cultivar of this tree family that is said to be resistant to anthracnose, but I have not personally grown it. It is Cornus florida ‘Appalachain Spring’.
  • Alternatives: Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud); Cornus kousa spp. (Kousa Dogwood); Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle); Magnolia spp.; Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia)

 

Cornus nuttalli     Pacific Dogwood

  • As with Eastern dogwood, it is susceptible to anthracnose which ordinarily doesn’t kill it (though over time a number of years it can), but it makes the tree ugly for most of the growing season starting in mid-spring. Other than that, it is a favorite food for some native insects that are a favorite food for native birds. If you are going for wildlife habitat, it’s a great tree.
  • This tree illustrates why native plants aren’t always better (in residential situations). Sure, they can provide wildlife habitat, but do you want a tattered and diseased tree in your ornamental garden? There are so many other great habitat plants (shrubs and perennials). Go for one them, or an ornamental instead of this one.
  • Alternatives: Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud); Cornus kousa spp. (Kousa Dogwood); Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle); Magnolia spp.; Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia)

 

Malus spp.     Crab apple

  • It is susceptible to scab, mildew, aphids, and possibly worse, it is possible host to apple maggot. This is particularly bad in Washington state because of the apple industry. You might need to be prepared to use chemicals to control apple maggot. Another drawback to crab apple is that it is generally twiggy with dysfunctional crossing branches which are a constant pruning headache. And even more disagreeable is its voracious suckering habit — another maintenance issue.
  • Alternatives: Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cornus kousa spp. (Kousa Dogwood); Cercis canadensis (Redbud); Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle); Magnolia spp.; Sorbus aucuparia (European Mountain Ash — though this is likely to be larger than a crabapple); Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia)

 

Platanus x acerifolia     London Plane

  • I adore these trees! They are stately, have an open canopy that allows filtered sunlight through it, have gorgeous bark and lovely architecture. But as a family, this tree is susceptible to anthracnose.
  • However! There are several cultivars that are extremely resistant (if not out-right immune) to anthracnose. They are: ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Columbia’, and ‘Liberty’. If you can find these cultivars and have the room for this large tree, go for it!
  • Be warned. They are surface rooters, and need to be planted VERY far from house, pipes, utilities and concrete.
  • Alternatives: Acer griseum (Paperbark maple); Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura); Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud); Cornus kousa spp. (Kousa Dogwood); Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry (Ginkgo); Lagerstroemia spp. (Crape Myrtle); Magnolia spp.; Oxydendron arboreum (Sourwood — large tree); Parrotia persica (Ironwood — large tree); Quercus spp. (Oak— large tree)

 

Populus tremuloides     Quaking Aspen

  • For all the reasons why this is a terrible residential tree (maybe the WORST), and also not suitable for lowland zone 8 in the PNW, please read my post on the subject. If you are just in love with the fluttering golden fall foliage go for either Katsura or Ginkgo. Both are much more tame for this area. And my 2 maple choices are just stunningly beautiful trees — way more beautiful than an elderly aspen would be.
  • Alternatives: Acer griseum (Paperbark maple); Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura); Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry (Ginkgo)

 

Prunus spp.     Ornamental Cherry or Plum

  • It is susceptible to brown rot, bacterial blight, shot-hole fungus, shot-hole borer. A lot of those things don’t kill the tree, but it can make it downright ugly. And as with crab apples, these trees have voracious suckering and branch-crossing habit which causes a lot of maintenance. And as I said for Eastern Dogwood, why tolerate 2 weeks of gorgeous blossoms for a full year of ugliness (different diseases, same ugliness). I’m sorry, but I want more from my landscape than that. There are tame flowering trees and many more flowering shrubs. You don’t need ornamental cherries and plums.
  • If you want actual fruit, know that fruit trees require a lot of maintenance.
  • Alternatives: Acer palmatum (Japanese maple); Cornus kousa spp. (Kousa Dogwood); Cercis canadensis (Redbud); Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle); Magnolia spp.; Sorbus aucuparia (European Mountain Ash); Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia)

 

Pseudotsuga menziesii     Douglas Fir

  • This tree is native here, but it is HUGE—way too large for most of our residential lot situations. They also have very brittle wood, and don’t hold up well to our windy conditions. Just look all around the streets after a wind or snow or ice event in our area and see all the downed Douglas fir branches. These trees are best left in the forest.
  • Alternative plants: Abies spp. (Fir) many good species; Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar); Chamaecyparis spp. (False Cypress); Picea abies spp. (Spruce) many good species

For information on understanding and using these plant lists see The Guide.

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