Five Worst Trees to Plant in Virginia Beach

Leyland cypress

Virginia Beach is a beautiful place to call home. But if you are lucky enough to call this resort town home, you’ll want to stay away from planting these five trees in your yard. These worst trees can be dangerous, smelly, aggressive, ugly, or just plain wreak havoc on your allergies. Here’s the list (plus some resources on where to find better options).

Leyland Cypress

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

The Leyland cypress (Cupressocyparis leylandii, pictured above) is a fast-growing coniferous tree that’s commonly used in hedges and screens. While this evergreen tree works great in some parts of the country because it grows so fast, this is bad for homeowners in Virginia Beach. As Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Andrea Davis says:

“When I think about planting trees, I think about the longevity of that tree and the benefits it will provide over those many years,” she says. “Therefore, when I think of ‘bad’ trees, I am led to those that are short-lived. Some examples would be those that are really fast-growing and therefore very shallow-rooted. In an area where we have Nor’easters, hurricanes, coastal storms, shallow-rooted plants are doomed in the high winds and wet soils. An example would be Leyland cypress.”

Cottonwood Tree

Like the Leyland Cypress, cottonwood trees (Populus deltoids) are another fast-growing species that should be avoided in Virginia Beach. Cottonwoods are very pretty and low-maintenance trees, which makes them popular amongst homeowners. However, they have a soft, shallow root system and their wood is prone to rotting.

So if you have one of these in your backyard and a strong storm blows through, that backyard tree may end up on top of your house, garage or car! Cottonwoods also tend to attract insects and disease. So even if they survive the storm, the bugs might get them.

Callery Pears

Bradford pear
This Bradford pear tree snapped apart in a storm in Virginia.

It may come as a surprise to Virginia Beach residents to avoid the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) as this one is commonly sold in local nurseries, usually as the cultivar Bradford pear. It has a short life compared to other tree options. And, like the first two on the list, this tree is also very vulnerable to the strong winds that often accompany coastal storms.

According to Andrea, “These ornamental pears have narrow branch angles making them extremely susceptible to breaking in windy conditions.”  She also said:

  • They can spread aggressively by seed, popping up where you didn’t plant them and creating fierce competition.
  • The flowers (though very showy) have an unpleasant odor.
  • The small fruits can be messy in the landscape and on hard surfaces like driveways and sidewalks.
  • They are susceptible to fire blight disease.

“People do still plant this tree regardless of these traits,” said Andrea.  “It is a fast grower and it does have nice red to burgundy fall color. However, you’ll often only see half of a tree lining the neighborhood streets. There were many along the streets in the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex that have recently been removed and replaced with oaks.”

Tree of Heaven

Tree of heaven
Tree of heaven

The worst tree to plant in Virginia Beach if you have allergies is definitely the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). It looks very similar to native trees in the area like the sumac or black walnut, but it’s not. This particular tree is invasive to the area.

“This plant is fiercely competitive and is allelopathic (produces chemicals toxic to other plants). It can spread very aggressively via seeds and can sprout from roots,” said Andrea.

So if you are looking for sumac or black walnut, make sure that is what you are getting and not this one!

Mimosa Tree

Unless you like webworms and ugly giant seed pods that ultimately take over your yard (and your neighbor’s yard), you should avoid the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin). It’s a distinct tree with lovely pink flowers, but don’t let its beauty fool you. This is a short-lived season. For most of the year, you get big, brown ugly pods that look like they are just dripping from the tree.

And when they drop, they spread everywhere. They are very adaptable to the Virginia Beach climate and can spring out of cracks in the pavement, fences, or right smack in the middle of a flower bed. And it is very difficult to get rid of them. So the best thing you can do is avoid them altogether.

What Trees Can You Plant?

While these are trees that you should definitely avoid, there are plenty of good options for Virginia Beach’s climate. Ask for advice at a local nursery, check with an extension agent like Andrea, or do your own research. “Problem-Free Trees for Virginia Landscapes” from the Virginia Cooperative Extension is a good place to start.

Main image credit: Leyland cypress damaged by snow, uacescomm, CC by SA 2.0.

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester is a freelance writer and social media strategist who covers a variety of home and garden topics. She’s a graduate of Texas A&M University and the proud mom of three boys. In her spare time, she volunteers in her community and her children’s schools.