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The Best and Worst Trees to Plant by Your House

When it comes to planting trees around your home, you want selections that won’t undermine the foundation or scrape the shingles on your roof. Here’s a look at the five best and worst trees to plant around your home.

The Best Trees

Crabapple (Malus spp.)


This ornamental tree comes in about every shape and size. The season starts with white, pink, or red flowers in spring, followed by green or purple leaves in summer. Throughout summer, crabapples form and stay on the tree well into winter, when the fruit feeds birds.

Crabapples can be red or yellow. Newer varieties, such as “Adirondack,” are resistant to several leaf diseases. They must be planted in full sun and can grow to be any size, from a few feet to 20 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Crabapples are winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 8. 

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)


An outstanding ornamental native tree, serviceberry provides beauty in the landscape year-round. Serviceberry, such as “Autumn Brilliance,” can be a multi-stem tree or a single-stem specimen. As leaves begin to unfurl in spring, slightly fragrant white flowers emerge.

In June, delicious red, purple, or blue berries form. If you don’t eat the berries, the birds will. This tree, when fully grown, reaches from 12 to 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It grows well in full sun or part shade and is winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9. 

Redbud (Cercis spp.)


Another native ornamental tree, there’s a redbud for all parts of the country: Eastern redbud (C. Canadensis) and western redbud (Cercis occidentalis). Redbud is a fast-growing tree with purple-ish pink flowers along its limbs in spring. Heart-shaped leaves cover the tree in summer, and the leaves turn pale yellow in the fall.

After the flowers, pea-like pods form to extend seasonal interest. Eastern redbud has several varieties on the market, including “Cherokee” and the weeping “Covey,” which is marketed as Lavender Twist.

Grown in full sun or part shade, redbud will get about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide at maturity. Western redbud is winter hardy in USDA Zone 6 through 9, and eastern redbud, 5 through 9. A northern –– or Minnesota –– strain is hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvanica)

Black Tupelo

Also called black gum, black tupelo is known to have the best fall color of any native tree. With deep green, glossy leaves, black tupelo grows at a slow to medium rate, gaining 12 to 24 inches a year. It is a medium to large shade tree that will be up to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide at maturity. 

The tree will have primarily male or female flowers with some perfect flowers that yield a purple fruit that birds devour. “Miss Scarlet” is a variety with all-female flowers. If you want to provide fruit for wildlife, planting more than one will do the trick.

Black tupelo needs full sun and does well in average soil, but it grows along wet streams, rivers, swamps, or creek banks in the wild. It’s winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.

Arborvitae (Thuja spp.)


If there’s an evergreen that’s a go-to plant for privacy, it’s arborvitae. The tall ones, such as “Green Giant,” make a natural fence, but arborvitae come in other forms, including pyramidal, rounded, weeping, or pendulous.

Many arborvitae varieties are fast-growing, and others, especially dwarf types, are slower. They may be tall, pyramidal, or rounded in shape. American arborvitae (T. occidentalis) is an eastern native species, and giant arborvitae (T. plicata) is also called western red cedar. Grow arborvitae in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. It is winter hardy in USDA Zones 2 through 7.

Tip: Plant the tree at least 15 feet from the house to accommodate the mature height and width of the tree.

The Worst Trees

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)


Sometimes called a plane tree, sycamore is appreciated for its flaky bark and gnarly branching. However, sycamore is a messy tree; its huge leaves constantly fall, and its branches also fall regularly.

If you want to grow this native tree, plant it in the back 40, where you can admire it from a distance. The London plane tree (P. x acerifolia) is used frequently as a street tree.

Ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana)


Thought to be sterile when introduced 100 years ago, nature had its way, and this tree ended up being quite prolific, leaving baby trees everywhere. Sometimes called Callery or Bradford pear, it is banned in several states because of its invasive traits. It bears fruit and has attractive white flowers in spring, but they stink.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides)


Prolific also describes Norway maple, which sends offspring all over your yard and your neighbor’s. The seedlings are not fussy about setting down roots in the lawn or flower beds. This tree’s invasive traits have caused it to creep up on several states’ invasive or potentially invasive species lists.

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)


During the housing boom of the 1950s, silver maples were planted in about every suburban yard in the country. Sometimes called soft maple or river maple, the native tree is fast-growing. However, it is weak-branched and susceptible to breaking limbs, causing it to fall out of favor. One positive aspect: It’s an excellent tree for rain gardens.

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)


Although the native tree is appreciated for its fall color, sweet gum is another messy tree. The spiky round balls, about the size of a golf ball, are not only annoying but also big enough to cause tripping or slipping. This is another tree to plant in the back 40, where you can appreciate its form and fall color.

What makes a tree the best?

Trees that have multiple seasons of interest are a big plus. They might bloom in spring, develop fruit, and have a lovely fall color.

What makes a tree the worst?

Messy or weak-branched trees are undesirable. It’s also dangerous to plant trees that are prolific to the point of being an environmental problem.

The Basics of Planting Trees Around Your Home

  • Select a tree that is not messy with a lot of leaf or limb drop.
  • Make sure to accommodate the mature size of the tree. A tree that gets too big for its space becomes a maintenance task.
  • Plant according to horticultural needs , such as sun, shade, and wet or dry soil.
  • Water newly planted trees every week or 10 days for the first three years.
  • Fertilize after planting, according to the tree’s label directions.

Lastly, take your time selecting your tree to ensure it is the right plant in the right place. Trees tend to outlive the people who planted them, so think about how they will look in the landscape long term.

AUTHOR: Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is an award-winning garden writer, editor, and speaker. Known as a hortiholic, she frequently says her eyes are too big for her yard. She blogs at

Originally posted on October 17, 2022

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