Trees offer many benefits to your home, like improving surrounding air quality and reducing carbon dioxide, adding beautification and shade, while also providing shelter and food for local wildlife.
Trees also help to stabilize outside temperature by reducing the concrete jungle effect of streets and driveways.
Some trees are better than others when it comes to planting them near residential homes and yards. You may love the look of a certain tree, but that might not mean it's a good fit for the planting site you have in mind.
While all trees should be kept a certain minimum distance away, there are some trees that you shouldn't plant anywhere near your house. We'll go over some of the reasons why, and which trees to stay away from.
Where to Plant Trees
Generally speaking, the bigger the tree, the further away you should plant it from your home. Smaller, ornamental trees that grow between 10-30 feet, can be safely planted 10-feet away as a rule of thumb, and the scale goes up from there.
There are certain species that are known for overly aggressive, laterally-spreading roots, like American elms, silver maples, and willow trees, so there's more than just size to consider.
Characteristics that make one tree less desirable than another will sometimes come down to personal choice, but there are some things that no homeowner or landowner wants to deal with.
Things to Look Out For
Messy trees are a nuisance, unless you have a lot of wide open space out in the country and don't have to worry about raking up seed pods, catkins, and pollen, or whether debris will hit you or your car.
Disease-prone trees aren't something that anyone wants, either, no matter what kind of property you have. While many tree diseases are specific to the species, there is always some risk to other plants and trees nearby, especially if damaged limbs attract unwanted pests, or have the potential of falling.
Most native trees are more disease and pest-resistant than non-native or invasive trees, but even native trees can become susceptible if a non-native pest is brought into the country.
Some trees are naturally weaker than others, so another way a tree can become damaged is if limbs or bark suffer during storms and heavy winds. You want to stay away from trees that have a reputation for brittle branches or trunks.
Trees that offer too much shade can also be problematic for nearby plants and smaller trees. Their large, dense canopies block out air and sunlight from anything growing underneath them.
Similarly, any trees that affect soil structure should be planted far away enough from other vegetation near the home, or not planted at all.
One of the most devastating tree problems is when invasive roots get into and clog underground pipes leading to houses, or damage sidewalks and foundations. Trees with fast-growing and large surface roots will seek water horizontally rather than through a downward taproot which can wreak havoc on nearby homes and plumbing systems.
Lastly, some people have sensitive allergies to certain tree pollen, which can be triggered by flowering trees. Some are worse than others, but do your due diligence before planting a tree if you are prone to sensitivities.
Oak trees are beloved for their interesting leaves and strong wood, but most of them are quite messy to clean up in the spring and fall. Red oak is one of the messiest, and is known to drop large amounts of catkins in the spring, as well as leaves and acorns in the autumn.
While they are hardy, stately looking trees, the pollen-bearing flowers can irritate people with allergies, and cover everything around them. Acorns can drop onto people's heads or cause small dents in cars.
Plant instead: American Linden tree.
Willows are also beautiful trees that offer lovely curb appeal or look whimsical in backyard spaces, but these seemingly peaceful species have thirsty root systems that aggressively search for water.
Willows are known to lift sidewalks, put cracks in concrete and pavement, and cause plumbing issues by clogging pipes and sewers.
They are short-lived, usually only lasting around 30 years and becoming weaker as they age. To enjoy the beauty of this tree, it's best planted or left to grow in wide open spaces like fields and country farmlands, especially where there's lots of rainfall.
Plant instead: American sycamore tree.
Ash trees were planted as street trees in many communities as they are quick growers, provide nice shade for homes, and offer beautiful color—especially when leaves turn a striking gold in autumn.
Unfortunately all species of ash trees are highly susceptible to the emerald ash borer, an invasive pest that was mistakenly introduced to North America and has been quickly eradicating these beautiful trees ever since.
No ash tree has been able to overcome the ash borer, and if you have one in your yard already, it's only a matter of time before it will need to be safely felled.
Plant instead: tulip tree.
Norway Maples are non-native trees that out-compete local maple trees and other species, which has negative ecological consequences on local forests and woodlands. Their root system travel near the ground surface which makes it difficult for anything else to take seed or grow.
Their large canopies also make it difficult for anything to flourish underneath them, thus pushing out any beneficial native plant species from forest floors.
Norway maples were planted decades ago to replace the devastated elm population from Dutch elm disease, but there are many other alternatives than these aggressive self-seeders.
Plant instead: red maple tree.
Silver maples are native trees to eastern states that quickly provide shade to residential yards, but their speedy growth rate makes them susceptible to brittle branches that break off during storms.
Like the Norway maple, silver maples also have shallow root systems that grow near the ground surface. They have a tendency to invade sewer pipes and drains, or damage nearby driveways and sidewalks.
Plant instead: sugar maple tree.
White Poplar is another fast-growing tree that can reach 60-100 feet at maturity. Like the willow tree (they are in the same family), it's short-lived, but the damage it causes to native tree species is enough reason to stay away from planting it on your property.
While poplars are native, the white poplar grows easily on disturbed sites and out-competes native trees. It thrives in many different soils and has no trouble re-sprouting out of damaged limbs and trunks.
They grow in dense stands, which prevents other trees and plants from receiving sun, water, and necessary nutrients.
Plant instead: disease-resistance elm tree.
The Bradford Pear is a beautiful spring-flowering tree, but is well-known for a few problems. It has heavy limbs and branches that extend low from the main trunk, and this structural issue makes them very weak in storms and high winds.
When these branches fall, they end up doing so in large sections, which can cause damage to any nearby cars or homes.
It's also an invasive species that crowds out other native trees and plants with its thorny seedlings, and since they originate from China, there aren't any pests that keep them in check. It's most famous for the fishy smell that its flowers give off.
Plant instead: flowering dogwood or American fringe tree.
Cottonwood is another type of tree that grows quickly, and is susceptible to limbs that break easily. It's grown for its wood more than its use as a residential or yard tree.
As their name suggests, they also have cottony seeds that get released just before the summer that end up sticking to everything around it. They are messy trees and need constant maintenance of leaves and sticks.
Plant instead: American beech tree.
Mulberry trees provide lovely shade from their thick canopies, but this also means that plants and other small shrubs won't be able to survive underneath them. Their shallow, aggressive roots will also disturb sidewalks and driveways, while also potentially damaging foundations and other landscaping fixtures.
Their fruit is messy and will stain anything it lands on. While mulberry fruit will attract birds, they may bring too many of them. The male mulberry tree causes allergies from its pollen, so this tree ticks off a few of the unwanted boxes.
Plant instead: serviceberry tree.
Ginkgo Biloba (female)
Ginkgo biloba trees are gorgeous, ornamental trees that look lovely in residential landscapes and yards. Their interesting leaves turn a deep yellow in the fall, and they aren't prone to diseases or pests.
They also tolerate the pollution that comes with city living, which makes them a good urban tree.
The female gingko biloba produces fleshy fruits that are slippery when they fall to the ground, and are also incredibly stinky. Thankfully the male version doesn't produce these problematic fruits, so you can enjoy its shade and interesting foliage without the rotting fruit smell getting on your shoes.
Plant instead: male ginkgo biloba tree.
Sweetgum trees are colorful native trees that have interesting star-shaped leaves, but unfortunately it's considered invasive because of its fast growth rate. Their roots will out-compete other native species for nearby soil nutrients and water, while also damaging sidewalks and driveways.
It's also a nightmare for maintenance reasons. They produce prolific amounts of "gum balls" which are hard, spiky seed pods that are difficult to rake or mulch. These round fruits become a tripping hazard very quickly and aren't recommended if you want to be able to run around your lawn barefoot.
Plant instead: blackgum 'wildfire' tree.
Black walnut trees are native species that offer lovely backyard shade and boast beautiful fern-like canopies. These trees have a few problems, however, and can become problematic if planted close to houses or gardens.
Black walnut trees are messy. While their walnuts can be foraged and eaten, the hulls leave a toxic smell and green stain on your hands, and are difficult to open. They also send down a large amount of long twigs and leaves that you need to constantly rake out of garden beds and lawns.
The kicker is that black walnut trees produce a substance called juglone that can affect the soil around them. Many plants are susceptible to juglone toxicity, though some fare better than others. This toxic chemical is produced in the leaves, branches, nuts, and roots of the tree, and even after cutting it down, it continues to affect the soil through root systems.
Plant instead: American hornbeam tree.
If you need to replace a problematic tree or are looking to plant something new, look for native alternatives first, as these will be the best choices for your local ecosystem. You may need to look further than your local nursery, as often garden centers sell popular species, rather than native ones.
Keep in mind, as well, that some of the alternatives mentioned are large trees that still need to be planted a good distance away from the home. American sycamore, beech, and some maple trees can get quite big, so you may want to choose a smaller species if you want to plant closer to the home or any other structures.
Ornamental and flowering trees tend to be smaller, and while they may not give the same amount of shade or canopy reach than larger trees can, they can be safely planted closer to the home if need be.
It may be difficult to find a tree that doesn't have any of the problems listed, but you can find something to fit the bill depending on what your particular needs are. Perhaps you don't want a flowering tree that lets pollen loose every spring, but can handle tidying up leaves.
Just make sure to stay away from invasive species and ones that are prone to weak limbs and damaged branches. There are more than enough alternatives to find safer options that won't affect local forests or damage your property.
By keeping these factors in mind, you can find the perfect tree for your property while staying away from trees you shouldn't plant near houses.