5 Worst Trees to Plant in Cincinnati

Callery (Bradford) pear

With climate change, more frequent storms and inundating pollution, one way to help continues to be planting more trees, says Crystal Courtney, urban forestry supervisor for the Cincinnati Park Board.

“One of our greatest issues in his river city is stormwater management, and it is predicted that this area will be wetter. The biggest push for planting trees is stormwater mitigation,” she says.

Putting new trees in the soil also helps to filter the pollution emitted from all the traffic using the interstates surrounding the city.

“Many people have breathing problems, and asthma rates are high. Trees can lessen the particles and prevent asthma by capturing or blocking those largest particles that can hit more residential areas,” she adds.

Picking the Right Trees

Crystal Courtney
Crystal Courtney

But planting just any tree won’t work. Courtney hopes homeowners become aware of some of the worst trees to plant in the city so they end up choosing better types, and caring for the trees so they will last a long time.

The city’s campaign is “Right Tree, Right Place.” “Some trees are just better suited in their native environment, and some shouldn’t be in the United States at all,” she says.

The No. 1 thing to do first before choosing a tree would be to look down for underground utility wires that might impact the roots of a tree and vice versa. Also, look up to make sure as the tree matures that branches won’t interfere with utility lines or cause havoc for your roof. You just can’t plant a large oak tree in a 3-foot space.

“If you plant a tree not conducive to this climate or soil, it just dies,” Courtney says. “You’ve wasted your money.”

Planting native trees to the Cincinnati area means they will be hardy and can withstand the harshest conditions. Unfortunately, some of the hardiest trees are invasives that become impossible to kill, she adds.

Below is Courtney’s list of five worst trees to plant nowadays in Cincinnati:

1. Callery (Bradford) Pear

“This used to be the glory tree in the 1980s. You could stick it anywhere, and it will survive,” she says. It’s practically in everyone’s yard making up about 30 percent of the entire street trees in the city. The spring flowers last forever, and it shows off great fall colors. Early on, it seemed to be the only thing landscapers were planting, she adds. The tree inventory in some subdivisions consists entirely of this species. It withstands alkaline soil.

But somewhere along the line, it mutated. The tree (pictured above) now produces a plethora of fruit, and it’s everywhere in wreaking havoc across the city. “Once it’s 20 years old, it’s in very poor form. The branches are upright. During a good ice storm, it splits. Whole halves of trees break away and land on cars, power lines and houses,” she says.

The Callery pear has been designated as an invasive species by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Its sale will be banned in the state beginning in January 2023.

2. Tree of Heaven

Tree of heaven
Tree of heaven

This tree started to be brought to Cincinnati in the late 1800s. It had been brought back from Asia to the states and planted as a glory tree, Courtney adds. “It can withstand the worst conditions, grows really fast and reaches up to ‘the heavens’ in a matter of years.” But it becomes very leggy. “Generally speaking, if a tree grows fast, it will also die fast,” she says. “It doesn’t take the time to grow strong support like an oak that lasts forever.”

The tree of heaven shoots off branches quickly, which ends up being problematic. It doesn’t grow any flowers but can be a big shade tree. The leaves grow giant-size, but stink like rotten peanut butter, she says. Most likely, she says, this species will not be available in local nurseries, which is a good thing.

3. Siberian Elm

Diseased Siberian elm. Credit: Jeffrey Beall, CC by SA 2.0.

This species comes from Siberia, Russia, and grows invasively. It grows really fast, loses its branches constantly, and then splits, which becomes a big problem. Courtney explains that it does hold a very unique bark partner with texture and offer a bright yellow fall leaf color. Siberia happens to be on the same line of latitude as Cincinnati and should survive here. However, the difference is that where native trees grow, they have natural pathogens and bacteria that keep it in check. They don’t have that here.

4. Silver Maple or Water Maple

This tree, which goes by many common names, gets big, grows fast and showcases nice fall colors. “It is native and tough as nails. It can grow out of the side of a sidewalk,” she says.

However, if they get wounded, they don’t heal and decay from the inside. Once they grow 50 feet tall with a beautiful shading canopy, it becomes a hazard when the cavity rots. “Some people hate them. It’s not invasive, because it’s native. But it can be a nuisance.”

5. Black Locust

Black locust
Black locusts have been frequently planted throughout the Midwest, but its shallow roots, spines and invasive habits have worn out its welcome among tree experts. Credit: harum.koh, CC by SA 2.0.

“This tree is seen everywhere and planted everywhere. The issue is that it’s shallow-rooted. Once it reaches its full potential, it lifts the sidewalks or infiltrates someone’s pipes,” Courtney explains. “The number of trees we lose to sidewalk damage is devastating,” she adds. “Average 800 of trees we take down that are hazardous or because construction is happening.”

The black locust is known for its water-loving characteristic and brittleness. Once widely planted, it now has been blacklisted by many arborists. The Morton Arboretum in Chicago, for example, describes it as an invasive tree and put it on the organization’s “not recommended” list. Many times, it has to come down because it has complicated other situations. But as many trees as the city takes down, the city plants as many or more trees to help with all the good things trees offer a community.

Main image credit: Callery pear, Famartin, CC by SA 4.0.

Lee Nelson

Lee Nelson

Lee Nelson, an experienced freelance writer and former award-winning newspaper reporter, writes for National Association of Realtors and many state Realtor magazines. She lives in Illinois with her high school sweetheart and loves cooking, swimming, traveling and spending time with her grandchildren.