Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Do Your Plants Have Anger Issues?

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll have noticed two huge themes, I don’t like big fat lawns and I don’t like stabby stuff. I am a bit of an anomaly in that I love to garden, but the garden doesn’t always love me. I have horrible seasonal allergies, I am sun and heat sensitive and I’ve learned a mad respect for the plant world and its ability to remind us who’s really in charge. There are some great clues when plants don’t really want you to mess with them and here are a few ways to manage difficult plants.

Plan Ahead

Does your tree look like the hulk in tiny pants? It’s because they don’t want those pants on. Trees hate your tree rings, and they don’t appreciate your sense of style. I like to remind people that covering a trees bark in a foot or more of soil is a lot like covering your feet in wet soil for months (and years) then see how you hold up.
Tree bark rots away in a tomb of fill dirt which promotes pest and disease issues. Eventually, if the tree is lucky enough to continue to defy nature, it will break through the barrier looking for some freedom. If you must have a structured hardscape around your trees, make it huge to start with and only one stone high. Never cover the base of the tree above the root flair.

Mature Tree in an undersized planter

Some Plants Are Poisonous 

Some plants are dangerous when ingested. The plant below, Datura Moonflower is also called jimsonweed, and it gets a bad wrap because people used it for a hallucinogenic and some I guess liked it, and some I guess, died. Now I don’t know about you, but if I knew that 2 seeds is a good buzz and 3 seeds is death, it’s not for doing. So if you decide to eat something, know what it is and check your sources.

Blooming Moonflower Datura

This is a Moonflower seed pod. It speaks for itself 🙂 handle with care. So I say grow the plant and enjoy the glory of it all, then don’t eat it and wear gloves when handling the seed pods. To me, it’s worth it.

Moonflower Datura Seed Pods

Stabby and Toxic

This big guy below is another Austin favorite that people love to plant 3 feet from their front door, not realizing the thing is the size of a Volkswagen Bug when mature.
Now, it’s in the way and you realize in order to hack back the offending fronds you’ll have to put your hands in the shark’s mouth. This baby has multiple rows of serrated teeth that are reversed on the stem to do optimal damage when you pull away from the Sago Palm plant. Cycads are awnry in general so consider that when choosing one. 

Sago Palm

I should also mention the Sago Palm is a notorious Dog killer and they seem to find it tasty for some reason, so if you have a tenacious dog, don’t plant it. If you do plant it, make sure you have room for it out of the way from people.

Here is the “OGP” because it is truly an original gangster plant. One of the most toxic on the planet, all parts of this plant from stem to stern can kill you if ingested.

Oleander used to be a go-to plant in Austin if you were looking for something fast growing. It eventually got some crazy disease and they were wiped out for the most part and perhaps rightfully so. you’ll still see them for sale, so buyer beware.

Flowering Dwarf Oleander

The shot below is a two-fer. Not only is this Agave just waiting to skewer a passer by, it is also a fire dragon waiting to strike. Much like its spiney margined predecessors, it too is serrated along the margin edge and each tip sports a 3 inch needle. As if this isn’t exciting enough, some people are allergic to the liquid inside but only find out when they cut into the giant whale and experience a searing pain described to me as being “set ablaze”. Leaving huge water filled blisters that can take weeks to heal.


Agave are swords dressed up as plants.

The spiney cactus to the right above, also have their own arsenal of weaponry just waiting to strike when you least expect it. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone go aww, like it was all cute and fuzzy, then reach to touch it only to curse themselves when they realized they just injected themselves with a zillion stabby hairlike needles too small to even see in your skin.


Plants like palms, Agave and stabby guys like these need to be used judiciously in the landscape, I never recommend these plants be used where kids and pets are an issue.

The Milkweed Family

Throned weeds

Stabby, spiney weeds like those above are also milk producing plants that can cause an allergic reaction and its spiney margin can cause a rash as well.

Always wear gloves, a weed popper or just kick the tops off these little jerks. Fact is that the roots of most of these plants can’t live without the tops, so take out your frustrations whenever you see them and give them a good swift kick (with good shoes on of course )

Flowering Confederate Jasmine

Some plants like the Confederate Jasmine are actually not true jasminoids. If you’ve ever trimmed one you’ve noticed they ooze a white milky substance as they are actually members of the milkweed family. Some people are allergic and don’t even know it.

Always wear gloves when handling these plants if you’re not sure because reactions to plant allergies can be anything from an itchy rash to anaphylactic shock. Protect your clothing because the milk can turn black on your clothes in the wash.

Roses and Thorny Bushes

Above, roses are beautiful and for the most part care free if you choose Earth Kind or heirloom varieties. However, even the easiest rose can be a beast when it comes to grooming. Leather Rose Gloves and long sleeves are a must for this chore because not only do the thorns stab your skin, they can also inject a fungal disease in you that can be quite serious. Better safe than sorry…wear the gloves.

Rose and gardening gloves

Below, there is a plethora of stabby and spikey plants that frankly I’m not a huge fan of in my garden because I’ve had to handle to many of them.  I’ve seen them in beautiful designs that I enjoy but I don’t like them in general when dogs and kids are part of the equation. If you have a large property and deer and water are an issue, these are a great choice away from foot traffic.

Assorted Spiked plants

The Euphorbia above (at the bottom of this photo) can cause a wicked rash and blisters on your skin by simply scraping across it. Much like Agave which is a notorious fire breather, caution is key. I’ve learned to respect the power of these plants and while I know I get along with tequila (Agave) really well, I’m not sure if that’s any indicator so I’m not about to find out.

Too Big for The Space

Below, this tree has become the bully on the playground. Don’t let your trees, plants and shrubs take out their unruliness on your neighbors. Not only could those low limbs take an eye out, it is certainly not very welcoming.

Tree taking over the sidewalk

Parasite plants

On the topic of bullies, let’s talk parasites. Check your plants and trees for unwanted visitors and hire an insured and educated tree person/Arbor to treat them as organically as possible. For example, mistletoe below left, is a parasitic plant that needs to be cut away and ball moss (below left) in mass should be removed. Ball moss in small doses are no big deal, but when you start getting so many it is choking out branches, it’s time for removal. They are air plants that are easily plucked. Mistletoe steals nutrients from the tree, Ball Moss chokes out the sun and the trees ability to feed itself through photosynthesis.

Poor Trimming Techniques 

If you have a Crepe Myrtle, never crop it. It’s a sure way to have deformed limbs that produce half the flowers and are now structurally damaged. If you want your trees to be happy and healthy, educate yourself and only hire educated people to care for your trees so they don’t eventually end up with anger issues. The one on the right was never cropped and is definitely a happier tree.

So the moral of the story is not to scare you so you don’t go outside, but to remind you that nature is a force to be reckoned with and respected.

Plants aren’t going to break in and get you, but they will check you if you don’t respect them. Plant responsibly, learn to ID plants like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. If you have an allergic reaction to any plant, look up the family of the plant so you can avoid them in the future. Plant families can have vastly different features so look them up.

If you choose to live dangerously, the best defense along with education is protective gear. Always wear protective clothing in the landscape like glasses, hat, gloves and good shoes or boots instead of flip-flops. If you’re a little more subdued in your approach, you’re in luck, because there are at least a hundred more non stabby, plants and trees to choose from, that are also native and adapted to Central Texas! If you need help with plant choices, making a total plan, or just need someone to run ideas past, check out my list of services and give me a call.

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”


  1. sandi

    I highly recommend Lisa. She knows her stuff & has saved us a pile of $$ by having a consult w/her before jumping in. She is also available for ?? if you need advice—besides she is a genuinely nice person & has her head on straight.

  2. Good to know! I wasn’t aware that the trees bark and roots would be effected negatively if covered, but it makes sense…. On that note, time to do some clean up and let my trees “feet” breath!

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