Q: I need some new shrubs and small trees, but don’t want plants having known issues. What are some “plants with baggage?”

A: Good question! Ask around and you will find that everyone has that one plant they would rip out: love ‘em or hate ‘em plants. Here are a few such plants with baggage so you can make informed selections.

• The sassafras tree, a member of the lauraceae family, supports our swallowtail butterfly but has fallen prey to imported redbay ambrosia beetle. Successful treatment may require a certified arborist. Report cases to our Alabama Extension office.

• Boxwood, a landscape favorite, is in danger from a new boxwood blight. Report boxwood dieback, browned stems, defoliation and stem lesions to our Alabama Extension Office. Choose alternative shrubs such as native dwarf yaupon.

• Leyland cypress, junipers and cedars are beautiful, but these feathery-needled plants are often disfigured by fungal, viral or bacterial diseases such as cercospora needle blight, causing browning of needles, and blights, causing limb dieback. Leyland cypress’s weak limbs present storm damage issues, so it’s not a recommended landscape tree. Look for disease-resistant juniper varieties and be prepared for some effort to earn the beauty of these plants in your yard or adorning your home for the holidays … or buy beautiful fresh, local holiday greenery at the annual Master Gardener Greenery Sale the weekend after Thanksgiving!

• An Indian hawthorne with circular red leaf spots and defoliation has entomosporium maculatum fungus, requiring a regular fungicide spray program. Select resistant varieties like Indian princess, snow white, eskimo — or find an alternative plant.

• Hydrangeas develop chronic but seldom fatal leaf spot, but, as with roses, most people take the bad with the good to have the beautiful blooms. Be sure to place native oakleaf hydrangeas “high and dry” to avoid root rot. Choose a very well-drained location with afternoon sun protection for years of beauty from the disease-resistant oakleaf.

• Bradford pear had a brief period in the retail spotlight years ago until everyone learned of its structural weaknesses. Avoid it.

• Bald cypress and pond cypress are both long-lived, majestic native trees but require a lot of space for their mature size and for the numerous cypress “knees” they grow. Pond cypress is said to produce fewer knees. These are not good trees for a city yard, as the knees can fill your yard (and your neighbor’s), and other plants can’t compete for moisture. However, when bordering natural wooded acreage, they are perfect. They tolerate wet or dry locations, and their roots and knees can anchor and hold onto slopes. They survive in areas that flood, and cypress wood is valuable. This tree is a Gulf Coast treasure when used to its best effect.

• The purpleleaf loropetalum has a new bacterial gall, in addition to a shallow, thickly matted root system that sprouts when damaged and will take over a bed, strangling other plants. Except for successfully dwarfed varieties, they require constant pruning.

• Wax myrtle is a small native evergreen that is tough and not picky about soil or moisture. But in our area it often develops chronic (but not fatal) leaf spot and colonizes an area by root stolons. Recently Florida has reported a lethal wilt disease caused by the fungus fusarium oxysporum and fusarium spp.

• Ligustrum japonica, valued for its shiny, dark green leaves and tolerance for pruning and shaping, is a heavy spring bloomer that produces a very sweet fragrance that some people just find annoying and others have a serious allergic reaction to.

• Avoid exotic imported plants that can’t be disciplined: Chinese wisteria (wisteria sinense) — use American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens); the “popcorn” tree (Chinese tallow, Triadica sebifera); Chinese privet, ligustrum sinense. A recently identified exotic invasive is the old-fashioned nandina domestica, which has been a favorite landscape “problem solver” for a long time; look for substitutes: small native yaupons tolerate sun or shade and have red berries; agarista populafolia can be pruned into a nandina-sized screen in shade or part sun; finally, look for available sterile varieties of nandina.

You are Invited to these upcoming gardening events:

What: The Holiday Home, Decorating for the Season
Presented by: Carl Clarke, designer and owner of Southern Veranda of Fairhope
When: Monday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Cost: $15, payable to Mobile County Master Gardeners upon reservation
Reserve by Thursday, Nov. 10: or call 251-574-8445.

What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Nov. 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Topic: “Longleaf Pine, a Southern History,” presented by Fred Nation

What: Mobile Master Gardeners 2016 Greenery Sale (in conjunction with the Mobile Botanical Gardens Holiday Poinsettia Sale)
When: Friday, Dec. 2 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 3 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive (Mobile)
Please place pre-orders for wreaths by Nov. 15 for best selection.
Pre-order forms here:
Purpose: Helps provide a scholarship for an area student majoring in horticulture.

What: Farming 101 (for beginning or transitioning farmers) presented by Mobile County Extension Office
When: Tuesdays from Dec. 6 to April 4, 6-9 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N. (Mobile)
Cost: $80 for entire series or $10 per session (includes materials and refreshments)
For more information, call 251-574-8445 or email

MASTER GARDENER HELPLINE: Call 1-877-252-4769 or send your gardening questions to