5 Worst, Messy Trees For The Lazy Landscaper

5 Worst Messy Trees For the Lazy Landscaper
5 Worst Messy Trees For the Lazy Landscaper | Source

Memories of Messy Trees

Almost everyone loves a beautiful tree. They offer us shade and sometimes fruit in the summer and windbreaks in the winter. In the spring they might produce lovely flowers, or maybe some brilliantly colored leaves in the autumn.

Like every pretty thing though, trees require maintenance. They need to be trimmed and pruned when their branches hang low, and someone has to clean up after they have shed their flowers, leaves and other baubles.

When you buy that new home in April, you might not realize that those majestic trees that won your heart at the showing may eventually make you despise your yard. If you hate extra lawn care as much as I do, then here are five specimens you may want to avoid.

Dinner-plate sized catalpa leaf.
Dinner-plate sized catalpa leaf. | Source

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

The catalpa tree, (also known as a catawba tree) is a fairly common tree, and often considered a "weed" in certain areas. I don't personally know of anyone who plants them intentionally, especially near houses, but that doesn't mean you are safe from their presence.

This tree has very large, heart-shaped leaves, which look incredibly lush and well-groomed during the spring and summer. They almost look too perfect, like drawings where each leaf is painstakingly reproduced.

They also produce fluffy white flowers and long, skinny seed pods. And they are home to the catalpa worm. Make that worms.

A single tree can be covered in thousands of these grotesque little creatures, which earns the tree the nickname of "fish bait" tree. The worms make excellent bait...but you won't have much time to go fishing if you have one or two of these trees.

The catalpa tree sheds the large green leaves all year in heavy breezes. In fall or after a drought one or two trees can completely bury a yard in gigantic brown leaves.

They also shed twigs and bark. In the spring those pretty white flowers explode across the lawn, making it look as though a Styrofoam bead factory exploded on your grass.

While you are busy raking leaves and twigs and large chunks of bark, you will also find the seed pods. Don't forget to watch for the worms. If you brush up against the leaves, you might find yourself covered in little friends.


Which of these is your least favorite messy tree?

  • Pecan
  • Sweet Gum
  • Magnolia
  • Oak
  • Catalpa
See results without voting

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

The sweet gum tree is often planted as an ornamental tree in many places. It has brilliantly colored autumn foliage, much like the maple tree, which makes it stand out when trees start putting on the fall fashion show.

However you might not want to plant them too close to the house. If you have one of the non-sterile varieties, it will shed not only the leaves, but thousands of "gum balls". Gum balls sound appetizing, but in reality they are neither sweet, nor edible.

They are hard, brown, spiky balls that can create some serious hazards. Not only can they wound you if you slip and fall into them, they can also roll unexpectedly, causing sprained ankles...and the above mentioned slips and falls.

These sweet gum balls are also almost impossible to rake, almost always having to be picked up by hand. I saw a yard once that was bordered by 12 sweet gum trees. The owner declared that it took the entire family two weeks every year to pick up only the majority of balls. Not a good idea to hit them with the riding mower either. When airborne they are as dangerous as grenades.

However the tree has some beneficial properties. The sweet gum balls can be turned into interesting craft projects. 50 or so of these seed pods can be glued together to from a topiary, basket or wreath for a Thanksgiving decoration. That leaves you approximately 98,456 gum balls left for disposal.

One last word about this tree. Sap. I don't know about cooler climates but in Oklahoma, in the heat, sweet gum trees ooze amber sap that sticks to your shoes when you walk across the yard.

Then all the leaves, dirt and other outside debris sticks to the resin and tracks into your house. If you think you worked hard getting the yard cleaned up, wait until you try removing this sweet gum sap from a carpet.

Tree sap can do extensive damage to the paint on your house and car. It can also stain driveways, patios, landscaping, and outdoor furniture

Neighbor's pecan dangling over my Mother's truck. Note the film on the hood caused by the sap.
Neighbor's pecan dangling over my Mother's truck. Note the film on the hood caused by the sap. | Source

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

Who doesn't like pecans? They are a delicious nut! This is no doubt why people thought it was handy to plant the pecan trees close to their houses.

Just step outside and there will be all the pecans you can eat right for the taking! Don't forget that pecan wood smells heavenly in a fireplace, and when used in a smoker gives meat a savory flavor. So why would a pecan tree be bad?

Like the catalpa tree, the pecan tree sheds just about everything. Older trees, which produce more bountiful crops, are very brittle...especially in a dry season.

They don't just shed twigs. A heavy wind or ice storm will take out whole branches, some of which are the size of small trees themselves. Not that really bad weather is needed. I have seen some reasonable young, supposedly supple pecans drop branches in just a light thunderstorm.

They also deposit an absolutely incredible tonnage of leaves. Not a few at a time. It will seem as though every leaf on the tree counted to three and then let go, all at once.

These leaves are small, and will easily clog gutters.They can also work their way into crevices on your automobile where they cause some problems. Somewhere under that knee-deep crunchy carpet though, lie your prized delicacies...the pecans.

But pecans don't fall off the tree looking like the un-shelled versions you buy at the store for the holidays. They are encased in a dark, armor-plated outer shell. If you find the pecans still imprisoned thusly, you have to either wait for this husk to fall off, or you have to work a little harder for your snack.

If the outer shells have already fallen off, then you will have a million of these too. Watch out for them when you are digging for pecans, these shells can have sharp points that will puncture a tennis shoe sole. Ouch!

If you love pecans, then having your own tree is probably worth the work for you. You won't mind the damage to your roof from a fallen branch, or the garage full of leaves. You might however mind the yellow coating of adhesive sap that just coated your car.

As well as the sticky pollen that coated the sap and created a pasty substance that will eventually eat the paint. This pollen/sap mixture can actually be sticky enough to rip apart a windshield wiper blade if you accidentally turn on the wipers before scraping the glass!

If none of this bothers you, then you will gather your nuts with joy, and think of pecan pies...and I hope you like pecan pies. One lovely old pecan tree that I know too personally once produced over a hundred pounds of shelled pecans one season. That, my friends, is a lot of pecan pies.

Large pecan branch on the garage roof.  Fell BEFORE it stormed.
Large pecan branch on the garage roof. Fell BEFORE it stormed. | Source

Worst Tree Features

Sheds Leaves?
Sheds Limbs?
Sheds Flowers, Fruit, Other Debris?
Draws Lightning or Is Weak?
Not really
Sweet Gum
Not really
Weak limbs
Weak limbs/draws lightning
Weak limbs
What are the common problems of each of these trees?
Fallen limbs from the oak tree. After a small rain shower with light winds.
Fallen limbs from the oak tree. After a small rain shower with light winds. | Source

Oak (genus Quercus)

It was hard to include the great oak tree in this list, because it is such a wonderful tree. I love oak trees for their shade, there amazing size, and of course for all the folklore and legends that surround them.

Some oak trees can dwell unobtrusively in your yard, dropping only their leaves and a few twigs now and then. Others however, produce acorns, which are very fascinating, but difficult to rake up.

Some oak trees are more sturdy than others. For years we had very large, old oaks that rarely lost a twig during high winds. Now I have an oak tree that can drop a tree-sized limb if someone sneezes inside the house.

According the forestry service, oaks are more likely than other trees to be struck by lightning, (with beeches being the least likely.) Whether this is due to their height, or the fact that there are more species of oaks in some places than other trees, it is still something to take into consideration if you have an oak planted too close to your house.

Like sweet gum balls, acorns (and pecans too) can be used in a variety of craft projects. Be sure to toast nuts and seed pods in the oven before you decide to paint them or glue them to a wreath. If you don't, you might walk in one day to find the nuts are speckled with holes, and your centerpiece crawling with little worms.

My artistic but arthritic oak tree.
My artistic but arthritic oak tree. | Source

Magnolia Trivia

  • State tree of Mississipi
  • State flower of Louisiana
  • Lent its name and grace to the film "Steel Magnolias", a popular drama
  • Fossilized remains of Magnolias have been found dating back 68 million years

More Gardening Related Hubs

While you are contemplating your landscaping dilemma, check out these articles:

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

It is very difficult, as a proud Southerner, to insult this beautiful and traditional tree. Magnolias are a fragrant element of Southern culture. At one time, belles wanted to keep their skin as creamy and white as the flowers of this tree.

It IS one of the prettiest trees in the world. It makes a distinct sound when the wind blows through the leaves, it produces large, delicate white flowers that fill the air with sweet perfume. The seeds are a striking cherry red color, and the bark pattern is uniquely textured.

When I was younger we moved to a farm with five of these elegant belles. They were old and dignified...and planted right against the house. Every morning, ( and I do mean EVERY morning) of the year, they had shed enough small branches to create small brush piles.

I don't know how they managed to never look bare. I do know we never had to gather kindling wood for the winter because it was always available just outside the door.

In addition to the twigs and branches, they shed their leaves. Magnolia leaves are crisp and waxy even when green, which made raking them very difficult. It was easier to poke them with a sharp stick.

And those sweet, white flowers? The petals were leathery and tough. You didn't want to mow over too many of them, because they would congeal under the mower and create a mess. Plus, the pollen in the center of the flower left the whole yard covered in what looked to be little matchsticks.

So why did we bother to rake up all the leaves and petals when we lived "way out in the boonies"? Because lurking under that innocent carpet lay the dreaded magnolia cones. I suppose in some places the cones are seasonal.

In southeast Oklahoma they fell all year. Step on an unseen cone and you were asking for a broken ankle. Hit one with the mower? If it didn't ruin the blades then it was slung out and into something else. LIke a window, perhaps.

Unlike pine cones, magnolia cones are not brittle. They are like baseballs, easily capable of taking out a window or knocking a person unconscious.

Cleaning up the magnolia litter was a dreaded chore. All of the cones had to be gathered daily by hand. Disposal was a challenge. Whereas the wood, flowers and leaves would all burn easily (the leaves sound like fire-crackers, by the way, if anyone would like to try.) the cones would not burn.

Hundreds of cones a week were collected and eventually piled on a back acre. They were still there after a decade, and I suppose they are still there now.

This doesn't mean Magnolias should be discounted. They are enjoyable, ornamental trees. My recommendation would be to plant them a safe distance from your yard however.

Before I Make Like A Tree and Leave...

All trees have their pros and cons. If you have large, well established trees, you may tolerate the cons because you are reticent to sacrifice the tree's shade for the time it takes a newer model to grow to adulthood.

If you do decide to take the plunge and replace those messy trees with lower maintenance trees, you may have to wait awhile before your landscape looks complete. Here are some recommended trees for us lazy landscapers:

  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Red Maple
  • Cedar
  • Crape Myrtle (okay, it's a large shrub. But it LOOKS like a tree!)

And of course, don't forget those lightning safe beeches!

More by this Author

Comments 24 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Our home is surrounded by large oak trees and whether it is due to last years severe drought in Houston or not...they are dropping acorns this year like never before. Am sure that I will be pulling up ones from garden beds or ones that squirrels have dug into the ground for some time to come. Oh...and the raking job that lies ahead. Ugh!

I have used the sweet gum balls in craft projects and the people were HAPPY to have me collect them from their yard. I can see why!

As to the magnolia trees...I like looking at them but would not want the mess in my yard. Like you indicated, it is just about a daily job to keep the ground cleared out from underneath that type of tree.

You have given the lazy and not so lazy gardeners something to consider when planting trees. Up, useful and interesting votes.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Love this and your sense of humor! Magnolias are my personal least favorite. I was amazed to hear that oaks are the most likely to be struck by lightning. Interesting information here!

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma Author

@Peggy--Thanks for the comment and votes. I forgot to mention in the hub about all the sprouts that would have to be pulled if you don't collect all the seeds and nuts from these trees!

I fell for the gumball trick once. I asked someone for enough to make a tree. They said " only if you take them all." Haha. Two huge garbage bags full! I actually read an article defending those trees, saying that sweet gum balls were soft and pretty. Obviously they have never fallen on a pile of them!

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma Author

@Billy--Thank you very much! I was glad to leave the magnolias behind, for sure. I love seeing them far away, in other people's yards!

The oaks are a little un-nerving when you think how many are planted close to homes and businesses. Even if they aren't close, they are tall enough to reach quite a distance if the split, shatter, or fall.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

I had no idea that the oak was so frequently struck by lightening. I love this hub. I love trees anyhow, and the video, the music, the humor and the info here is outstanding. I rated it up and am sharing. I have also written a tree hub so I will link yours to that one. Thanks for sharing!

My mother loved magnolia trees and we had one in our front yard in Michigan, along with maples and fruit trees in the back yard. It was a mess to clean up but the beauty outshone it all. When my husband and I lived in that home he did nothing but complain of the petals and leaves. I just tolerated his comments because I wasn't going to de-plant them, haha.

Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 4 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

What a well-written, informed and useful hub! I'm a landscape architect and these are the sorts of things that everyone should know before planting trees. Particularly when planting near roads, buildings or parked cars. I live in Limousin, S W France now, and the whole area is covered in oak and sweet chestnut woodlands. I can testify to the oak shedding twigs and small branches. The acorns are not such a problem for us - I think they are mostly eaten by mice. Of course the answer to the first problem is to get a woodburning stove, and to the second - a pig!

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Hi Sharkye11-I just added your hub to my Tree hub. :)

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma Author

Thank you Denise! For the comment and the link! I agree, I would never have the heart to cut down a Magnolia, but I wouldn't plant one close to the house either. Not just because of the litter, but because with our tornadoes and bad storms, we need trees that are much stronger. And that do not draw lightning!

Thanks again for your support!

WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA

Wow! I never suspected. Our local park and city landscaping along some of our streets are full of sweet gum trees, and I was contemplating getting one because of their beautiful fall colors. We do have an oak tree on the property, but it's very far from the house and garden areas, all by itself. However the large oak across the street from our Paso Robles house is dropping acorns on the sidewalk like crazy. Its a lovely oak, and a bee tree, but I'm glad it's not my job to clean off the sidewalk. Thanks for sharing this information.

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 years ago from Oklahoma Author

Thank you, Les Trois Chenes for the great comment. Sadly, I don't think many towns approve of keeping pigs in your yard. If they did then it would certainly take care of a lot of acorn and pecan problems. I can say from experience though, that they will not eat anything from a Magnolia tree!

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Hi Sharkey, I just read your comment and have to reply to this. I did not realize until I lived in NC that there are actually two types of magnolia trees. The one in our front lawn in Michigan was a very small tree that stayed small and the branches grew out. It had a slow growth. The ones I see in NC are HUGE and have a waxier leaf. In fact, I didn't even realize they were magnolias until spring when the blossoms came out. :)

Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

Great pictures you used as examples of these trees. Unfortunately, I do not own any of these. Great hub. Very informative.

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma Author

@Denise-I didn't know there were more Magnolias either until I started looking for a picture of one for this hub. I had never seen the little ones before with the petite blossoms. I imagine they would be a lot cleaner.

The ones in NC are probably the same as the ones here in OK. The large trees with the enormous blossoms and leaves. I guess they like the warmer climates.

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma Author

@Lipnancy--Thanks for stopping by.. These trees are beautiful to own, but they do require a lot of love and care.

moofish 3 years ago

heh, you didn't even mention walnut, that's another nasty one... my parents neighborhood is full of Catalpa, Mulberry, maples, walnut, etc.... they ALL make a mess.. what the mulberries lack in direct mess they make up for in bird droppings

Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 2 years ago from Oklahoma Author

@moofish. I've never had the pleasure of being around walnuts, but I can definitely agree about the mulberries!

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 17 months ago from Northeast Ohio

This was another great hub from you, Jaymie. No wonder they're the worst in the messy tree department. So very insightful and informative. Voted up for interesting!

kfromwv profile image

kfromwv 13 months ago

I have lived in my present home for a little over a year and finally had the old Magnolia in my yard cut down. I could not stand the thing. I swear it dropped leaves 365 days a year and the leaves were a great pain to rake up. I am not sorry for having it chopped down - I am sure I am one of the few that don't like this classic Southern tree.

spiral amethyst 5 months ago

crepe myrtle (even tho it is a shrub) - i am surprised you did

not add to the list, very messy!!!!!

Leslie J Williams 5 months ago

BRADFORD PEARS - top of the list!

James 5 months ago

Jacaranda, the perfect beautiful tree for someone else's yard!

Steve 3 months ago

We have a Silver Maple and a Catalpa in our yard, I would rather have the Catalpa any day.

seeburn 2 months ago

good info

Jennifer 4 weeks ago

I have millions of little brown flakes that fall from my beech trees, they get everywhere, I spend lots of hours trying to sweep them up, once I've done it I turn around and they are back, they drive me mad. What are these little flakes and what are their purpose?

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