12 Stinky Plants You May Not Want in Your Garden (Or At Least Not Next to the Front Door)
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If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is scent. Fragrances you find appealing may be the worst smells ever to someone else. And some people simply are super-sensitive to strong scents of any sort.
We’re not talking roses here, which most people agree have a lovely fragrance. We mean garden plants that are perceived as smelly by most people. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plant them at all; some of these annuals, perennials and shrubs add plenty of color and personality to your garden. Plus, their smelliness usually has a purpose: To attract pollinators or repel hungry garden visitors such as deer and rodents.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make a better decision about placement of these smelly plants in your garden. For example, an odiferous plant might not be ideal near your front door or your patio seating area, but it’s just fine at the back or side of your property. It may also be ideal in a mixed border that deer like to browse because its stinkiness may prevent it from being eaten. In addition, new cultivars of some of these plants have been developed to reduce unpleasant traits like smelliness, so that you can enjoy their beauty without the stench.
12 Stinky Plants to Avoid Placing Near Doors & Windows:
1. Montauk Daisy
These sturdy perennials have the classic daisy appeal with thick, glossy foliage, and they bloom in mid to late fall, so they’re a great late-season flower for pollinators. However, their strong odor resembles motor oil, so plant in borders where you won’t need to disturb them. The good news is that because of their smell, deer and rodents tend to leave them alone.
2. Bradford Pear Tree
- Smells like: Rotting fish
Once loved by developers everywhere because they’re fast-growing, Bradford pears are not only smelly, they’re a weak tree that’s prone to splitting down the middle. In fact, experts recommend not planting these small ornamental trees anywhere. Stick with beautiful native alternative such as dogwood or flowering crabapple.
Instead, try: Crabapple, $100
- Smells like: Skunky or musty
The unique, bell-shaped flowers of this spring-flowering bulb are lovely. But the flowers and bulbs have a distinctive odor, which is what makes them distasteful to rodents. However, they’re such unique flowers that you should still plant them, just not right by the front door.
4. Sea Holly
The blue thistle-like blooms of this biennial (it takes two seasons to complete its life cycle) are a beautiful addition to mixed borders. Medieval herbalists used these plants to make love potions, but some people think they smell like dog poop so maybe they’re not such a great idea in aphrodisiacs. However, they’re still worth planting in mixed borders where deer like to browse because the odor and texture isn’t appealing to them.
5. Paperwhite Narcissus
To be fair, some people love the extra-strong fragrance of these spring bloomers. Others can’t stand them. If you force the blooms indoors, you may need to place them somewhere far away from the kitchen. Outdoors, plant them away from seating areas. They’re actually a good bulb to plant if you have digging rodents such as chipmunks, which tend to avoid these bulbs.
6. Gingko Tree
- Smells like: Rotting garbage
Beautiful fan-shaped leaves and brilliant gold autumn color make this tree a striking addition to the landscape. However, the stinky fruit dropped by the female ginkgo tree will knock you off your feet. And it’s tough to tell whether you’re buying a male or female until years down the road when it starts producing fruit. If you must have a gingko, look for a male cultivar, which will not bear fruit, such as ‘Autumn Gold’ or ‘Goldspire.’
Try: ‘Autumn Gold’ Gingko Tree, $180
It’s safe to say that no one enjoys the scent of cat urine. It turns out that some types of boxwoods smell this way when they release their oils in the warmth of the sun. It’s quite subjective, but it seems that the smell comes mainly from English boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’). Either plant these far away from your front door, or choose a different cultivar, such as Microphylla or insularis, which typically are less fragrant.
Try: ‘North Star’ Boxwood, $20
Marigolds have a strong odor that some people like, while others find it disturbingly like paint thinner. That makes sense because these plants contain terpenes, which yield their distinctive odor. However, the odor isn’t present unless you brush against these plants (and then it’s only fleeting), and deer and rodents tend to leave them alone. So, feel free to plant these long-lasting annuals in beds and containers throughout your garden.
- Smells like: Sickly sweetwith mothball overtones
Hyacinths are another polarizing scent (some love the sweetness!). But because rodents such as chipmunks tend to leave these bulbs alone, you should still plant them; just keep them far away from your doorways if the scent isn’t your favorite.
This shrubby perennial is drought-hardy and a great choice for long-season blooms in containers and beds. However, the foliage has a gasoline odor when jostled. New cultivars don’t really stink, so opt for those if you’re sensitive to odors.
11. Pineapple Lily
- Smells like: Rotting meat
Bold foliage and showy flower spikes make this summer-flowering bulb appealing. What’s not so appealing? The sulfurous, rotten stink of pineapple lily, specifically the species E. bicolor. However, other species, such as E. comosa, actually have a light and pleasant scent, so read the plant tag or description to know what you’re buying.
12. Yellow Alyssum
Unlike the annual white alyssum (Lobularia maritima), which has a pleasant honey scent, this low-growing perennial (Aurinia saxatilis) is covered in pungent, golden flowers. Some people claim it smells like aged cheese, and not in a good way. If you have an area that needs a drought-tolerant, rabbit-resistant groundcover, it’s still worth considering. Just don’t plant it too close to paths or seating areas if you’re sensitive to scents.
Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce, and many other national publications.
She also trials new plant cultivars and field tests garden products to evaluate practicality and durability.