5 Worst, Messy Trees For The Lazy Landscaper
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.
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.
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
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.
Worst Tree Features
Sheds Flowers, Fruit, Other Debris?
Draws Lightning or Is Weak?
Weak limbs/draws lightning
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.
- 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
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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
- Crape Myrtle (okay, it's a large shrub. But it LOOKS like a tree!)
And of course, don't forget those lightning safe beeches!
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