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Worst Plants and Trees to Have in Your Yard in Michigan

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

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It’s always great to see spring arrive here in Michigan. We can watch the trees come to life with leaves and the plants with new growth and even some blossoms. Of course, all that depends on how well your trees and plants handled the winter weather. 

For our weather, we need to pick the right tree or shrub and avoid those that either don’t grow well in our climate, or worse, grow too well, taking over the landscape and causing damage.

We’ve prepared lists of recommended trees and shrubs as well as what to avoid. It’s also important to stay clear of poisonous plants.

worst plants and trees to have in your yard in michigan

The MSU Extension service recommends these native trees for planting in Michigan: red maple, sugar maple, oak trees (red, bur, swamp white, pin), hornbeam, Kentucky coffeetree, hophornbeam, basswood, black gum, hickory, hackberry, tamarack, eastern red cedar, eastern white pine, and black spruce. 

The best native shrubs to consider for your yard include ninebark, spicebush, common elderberry, and highbush cranberry.

These trees and shrubs grow well in the Detroit area, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Toledo, and throughout the state. 

Trees to Avoid

Trees to avoid are those that are fast-growing with invasive root systems, as well as those with insect or other challenges in our area. Fast growth overwhelms other trees by blocking sunlight. Plus, invasive roots can damage your home’s foundation, sidewalks, driveway, and patio.

  • Silver maple. This tree is 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.
  • White ash. This beautiful and quick-growing tree is under attack by the lethal emerald ash borer insect. It also has lateral roots that can damage the home’s foundation. 
  • Norway maple. This tree offers a great deal of shade, which kills other plants around it. Plus, the roots take the soil nutrients, leaving other plants to wither and die.
  • Black walnut. This tree is subject to a fungus called thousand canker disease. They also secrete a growth-inhibiting toxin called juglone that can ruin your flowers and vegetable garden.
  • Cottonwood. These trees send out lots of shallow roots in search of water. That means they can find foundations and do significant damage. Branches are brittle and show up on your lawn, as do the seeds.
  • Willow. The roots of this tree need a great deal of water and will easily dry up your lawn, robbing other trees and plants of moisture while unsettling the soil your foundation sits on. The branches are tough to clean up as well.
  • Mulberry. While the fruit is great, the roots are not. They can damage foundations, irrigation systems, and sewer lines. The birds and falling fruit can be messy too.
  • Quaking aspen. It looks great in nature, but it propagates not through seeds but by sending out roots that then sprout into still more trees. 
  • Honey locust. This tree is short-lived due to the development of several insect and disease problems. The trunk also grows thorns.
  • Poplar. It has an aggressive root structure that can cause foundation damage. It can also develop a number of insect and disease problems, which seriously degrade its appearance.

Shrubs to Avoid

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

  • Common buckthorn. It can grow 20 to 25 feet tall, forming an impenetrable layer of vegetation. This shades out all other plants and contributes to erosion.
  • Japanese barberry. This plant is drought and shade-tolerant as well as deer-resistant. However, it’s a breeding ground for black-legged ticks that can carry Lyme disease. It is also invasive and covered in sharp barbs.
  • Shrub honeysuckle. This bush can grow just about anywhere under sun, shade, wet, or dry. Of course, it can also spread anywhere and push out your other plants.
  • Multiflora rosa. This plant can grow to 15 feet tall and it grows quickly in sun or shade. Unfortunately, it’s tough to control, spreading by both seeds and rooting canes. As it grows, it crowds out other shrubs and plants.
  • Giant knotweed. This one grows to 12 feet high and takes well to moist soil and full sunlight. It spreads by roots and broken stems, forming dense thickets that crowd out other plants.
  • Autumn olive. Grows up to 20 feet tall in shady conditions. Seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals. It shades out desirable plants and is very difficult to control.

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.
  • Poison hemlock. Touching this plant can cause dizziness, paralysis, and even death. Touching your eyes after touching the plant can lead to blindness. Don’t go near this plant.
  • Belladonna. It’s also called deadly nightshade for a good reason. If the berries are ingested, it causes convulsions, hallucinations, and can lead to respiratory failure. Just two berries can cause a child’s death in minutes.
  • Stinging nettle. The tiny nettles cause a rash and they can linger in your clothes, socks, and shoes, prolonging the agony. 
  • Hogweed. The sap from the leaves and stems is toxic, causing extreme skin burning. See a doctor if you run into this plant.

This list is just a starting point for a large number of plants in our area that are poisonous.

Where to Plant — Sunlight and Shade

It’s wise to review each tree and plant to determine the type of sunlight they need before you plant them. You’ll also need to determine the spacing requirements to prevent them from running into and over each other. 

It’s critical that plants are far enough away from your foundation that their roots do not cause damage. Roots can remove moisture from around the foundation during dry spells and can also place physical stress on your home’s basement or crawl space walls. 

Protect Your Home’s Foundation

Careful water management is the key to protecting your home’s foundation. Properly installed gutters and downspouts route water off the roof and away from the foundation. Then the landscape grading needs to allow the water to flow away from your home. 

An irrigation system can be 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. Excess dryness can be just as disruptive to your foundation as can excess water.

If you’re experiencing a damp basement, consider waterproofing that includes installing a 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 FSM for a free inspection and repair estimate to identify any issues with your basement or crawl space as well as the surrounding landscape.

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