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Worst Plants and Trees to Have in Your Yard in Tennessee

We’ve pulled together an overview of the plants and trees to avoid in your yard. Find out how to protect your home from costly mistakes and your family from noxious plants.

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Tennessee experiences some interesting weather. Just in case you need convincing, see our articles on rainiest cities, windiest cities, and flooding in the state. 

When considering trees, shrubs, and plants for your yard, weather is a starting point. Then there’s your soil, the size of your yard, and what you’re looking for in your landscape from colors to shade and more. 

There are trees and plants that grow great in our area and those that perhaps grow too well. Those plants and trees can damage your yard and your home’s foundation. Not only that, but there are also plants that can pose a poisoning hazard to your family and pets.

worst plants and trees to have in your yard in tennessee

Tennessee Trees and Shrubs

Here’s a quick list of trees that are recommended for our area.

  • Small trees – 15 to 25 feet. American smoke tree, crape myrtle, crab apple, redbud, maackia amurensis, wireless zelkova, Tatarian maple, Chinese fringe tree.
  • Mid-sized trees – 25 to 45 feet. Overcup oak, chalk maple, American hophornbeam, American persimmon, Chinese pistache, Persian parrotia, lacebark elm, hedge maple, golden rain tree. 
  • Large trees – 45 feet plus. American elm, black maple, swamp white oak, bur oak, Japanese zelkova. 

These shrubs are also recommended: American beautyberry, emerald green arborvitae, flowering forsythia, glossy abelia, schip laurels, doublefile and leatherleaf viburnums.

All of these trees and bushes grow well from Nashville to Chattanooga to Knoxville and all across our state.

Worst Trees to Plant

Our list of trees to avoid includes those that are fast-growing with invasive root systems. They can cause damage to your home’s foundation, sidewalks, driveway, and patio. 

  • Bradford pear. Prone to splitting and cracking in windy or stormy weather. The blossoms emit an unpleasant smell. Plus, the seeds spread easily, making this an invasive plant.
  • Box elder. Short-lived with weak wood that breaks in storms. Subject to infestation of box elder bugs.
  • Silver maple. Fast-growing but has shallow roots that can cause cracking and heaving of concrete walks and foundations. It can also easily blow over in strong winds.
  • Ash. Under attack by the lethal emerald ash borer. It also has lateral roots that can damage your home’s foundation.
  • Hemlock. Subject to the balsam wood adelgid that kills it. 
  • Leyland cypress. Susceptible to root rot fungus. Dies of Seiridium or Botriospheria canker within 10 to 20 years.
  • Siberian elm. Sends out lots of seeds that can quickly overwhelm your lawn. Their branches are also brittle and prone to breaking in wind and storms.
  • Black locust. Sharp spines and susceptible to locust borers. Fast-growing and can form colonies. Very invasive.
  • Hackberry. Weak wood subject to decay and sooty mold from aphids. 
  • Yellow poplar. Grows very fast and can overwhelm your landscape. The wood is weak and subject to breakage. 
  • Ailanthus. Known as the tree of heaven but also as the stinking sumac because it smells. Grows nearly anywhere, including in cracks next to foundations. Its roots, leaves, and bark release an allelopathic chemical that prevents or kills plants growing nearby.

Worst Bushes to Plant

These bushes are extremely invasive. They take over everything around them. 

  • Buckthorn. Grows 20 to 25 feet tall forming an impenetrable layer of vegetation. Shades out all other plants and contributes to erosion.
  • Chinese privet. Forms dense thickets that shade out other plants. Produces highly allergenic pollen.
  • Burning bush. Creates dense thickets, crowding out smaller plants.
  • Japanese barberry. Breeding ground for black-legged ticks that can carry Lyme disease. It is also invasive and covered in sharp barbs.
  • Himalayan blackberry. Takes hold and invades the rest of your garden. It’s very difficult to root out.
  • Bush honeysuckle. Grows just about anywhere under sun, shade, wet, or dry. Also spreads anywhere and pushes out your other plants. 

Poisonous Plants

Avoid these poisonous plants in your yard. If you find them, carefully dig them up and dispose of them.

  • Poison ivy. Birds eat the berries and then spread the seeds. So you may find this plant in your yard. The oil from the plant causes severe allergic reactions. It can be extremely dangerous if it gets into your eyes or lungs. Watch also for poison oak and poison sumac.
  • Pokeweed. This plant spreads the same way as poison ivy. It can grow up to eight feet tall. The berries cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The juice can also be absorbed by your skin. 
  • Virginia creeper. This plant can be very aggressive and difficult to control. The berries contain oxalic acid that is toxic to humans. Keep kids away. The sap can also cause a skin rash. 
  • Belladonna. It’s called deadly nightshade for a good reason. Ingested berries cause convulsions, hallucinations, and can lead to respiratory failure.
  • Horse nettle. This is also a member of the nightshade family. The berries cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. 
  • Water hemlock. This is the most dangerous plant in North America. Just a tiny piece of this plant can kill a 1,200-pound animal. 

This list is a good starting point but is by no means comprehensive. It’s best to keep these out of your yard and avoid them when you’re out hiking.

Mulch 

Mulch minimizes soil erosion, adds nutrients, insulates plant roots, and decorates your plantings. However, it also collects excess moisture, providing a breeding ground for termites and other pests. If the mulch is piled up around a tree or shrub, the bark can rot, making the plant susceptible to insects and disease. 

If mulch is piled up around your foundation, it can lead to dampness in your basement or crawl space. It’s best to use a hyper-absorbent mulch that helps your plants and keeps water away from your foundation 

Where to Plant — Sunlight and Shade

Finding the right level of sunlight for your plants is critical to their growth and health. That means determining sunlight and shade requirements for each of your trees, shrubs, and other plantings. Spacing is also important so that they are not running into each other.

In addition, be sure to keep them at the right distance from your foundation. This avoids foundation root damage along with excess moisture around basement or crawl space walls. Roots can also remove moisture from the soil during drought conditions, allowing the soil to shrink and compact, putting stress on the foundation.

Protect Your Home’s Foundation

Careful water management is the key to protecting your home’s foundation. Landscape grading is critical to allow the water to flow away from your home. Gutters and downspouts also route water off the roof and away from the foundation.

An irrigation system can be very helpful in maintaining just the right balance of moisture in the soil around your foundation as well as for your plants. A smart sensor can adjust the amount of water based on the rainfall or lack of rainfall. 

Drying soil can cause foundation shifting and resulting cracks. When the rain comes again, it can then seep into the cracks, bringing moisture and even flooding.

If you’re experiencing a damp basement, consider waterproofing that includes installing an interior drainage system and sump pump with a backup battery to collect and remove leaks before they become problems. We recommend you consult the professionals at AFS Foundation and Waterproofing Specialists for a free inspection and repair estimate to identify any issues with your basement or crawl space as well as the surrounding landscape that need attention.

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