As a kid, I had a long-dead willow tree in my front yard that I loved. We called it our “Halloween tree” because of its permanently bare, skeletal-looking branches. But the sad truth is that sickly or dead trees can cause homeowners a lot of problems.

And certain types of live trees can also cause issues, damaging nearby root systems and tearing up sidewalks and driveways. Check out this list of 5 trees to avoid, so you can keep your yard problem-free. And, of course, always consult an expert before you landscape to find out which flora works well (and not so well) in your area.

1. Willow

This leafy beauty has a particularly thirsty root system and weak wood that tends to crack. The wide-reaching roots can actually damage other buried structures like utility lines and water pipes in the surrounding area.

Unless you have plenty of open space for your willow tree to flourish in sunlight without making contact with neighboring root systems, you’re likely to have a problem. Sadder still, willow trees only last up to 30 years on average, making those slim branches and needy roots a short-lived investment.

2. Black walnut

This tree’s a quiet killer. It secretes toxins which can arrest the metabolic growth and development of nearby plants (tomato plants in particular!). And though black walnut trees can produce plenty of tasty (yet hard to crack) nuts and pollen, you’ll be left with the nightmarish task of cleaning up the residue each fall.

Though they’re capable of producing ideal furniture wood, for basic backyard foliage needs, these trees tend to be more trouble than they’re worth.

3. Cottonwood

An invasive, wet tree, the cottonwood only lives 25 to 35 years on average and attracts insects that can destroy the tree over time. Cottonwoods grow rapidly, which makes for brittle branches that don’t always survive extreme weather.

Planting cottonwood trees has actually been banned in some neighborhoods because their sappy cotton pods can clog filters and create a mess. But the real cherry on top? Cottonwoods often smell like urine.

4. Elm

Probably the biggest surprise of all, the common elm has significant drawbacks. Thanks to bacterial growth in the trunk, these trees can easily contract Dutch elm disease from elm bark beetles. That leads to wilted, yellowish leaves and streaked sapwood. Though healthy elms may look nice planted along a driveway or sidewalk, their shallow root systems tend to run into sewage pipelines and ruin foundations.

Plus, elm trees live 300 to 400 years on average. So if they prove problematic, removing such strong, sturdy trees can be cumbersome and costly.

5. Russian olive

Because it has a tendency to go (or grow!) rogue, this small (about 20 feet tall), thirsty tree often crowds out surrounding plants. And like something from a horror movie, Russian olives aren’t easy to kill — you need to get extreme by cutting them down to the stump and applying herbicide to the surface.

Russian olive trees also shed their leaves in messy clumps, maintain a thorny frame, and litter the ground with olives (which could be a perk, depending on your taste).

Protect your home from other bad seeds

Now that you know which trees to leave off your planting list, protect your home against other kinds of danger with homeowners insurance. If a windstorm ever tosses a tree limb through a window, you’ll have the best protection possible to help you recover.

Safe and smart | Homeowners 101


about Jiordan

Jiordan is a pizza-loving word lady transplanted to San Francisco from the wilds of New York. As an Esurance content writer, she makes all things insurance sound super awesome on the web. In her spare time, there are cupcakes baked, cartoons drawn, and books dog-eared.