Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why You Shouldn't Plant a Bradford Pear Tree But Some People Do Anyway

The Bradford Pear tree (Pyrus calleryana). Sure it looks nice but it's one tree that people should stay away from planting in their yard. At first glance you might wonder "why shouldn't I plant them?" They have a great shape, they grow fast, and they flower profusely in the spring. Unfortunately for the homeowners who plant them all is not as it seems. There are several reasons to avoid them.


These trees are extremely over planted. This may just be my own personal opinion but when a plant is planted everywhere I like to avoid it. In our neighborhood the builder deposited 2 Bradford pear trees in each front yard. Everywhere you go you see these pear trees planted and not just by people. The birds help to deposit the seeds in various places and you end up with Bradford pear trees in wild areas where they shouldn't be. This tree has actually landed itself on the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council's watch list of invasives. That's reason enough for me not to plant it in my yard!


Here you can see one of our Bradford pear trees in the morning sun as it is about to bloom. The tree does look pretty in the spring when the blossoms are in full bloom. It stands in your yard like a giant Q-tip. But its wonderful bathroom utensil-like appearance is not all you get, an extremely odoriferous aroma tags along as well. The smell is reminiscent of rotting flesh or bad fish left for too many days in the hot sun. I won't elaborate any further but the smell is very unpleasant!


If you only have one or two of the trees planted the smell is tolerable, but when planted en mass the trees are overpowering.


By far the worst problem associated with Bradford pear trees is the weak wood. Because of their fast growth and tight branching pattern they split very frequently in high winds. I joke about it and say "is that where pear halves come from?" If you plant a Bradford expect for it to eventually fall to the winds. Fortunately that hasn't happened yet to our two trees yet but when it does split we will replace it with something much better. For a replacement tree my vote goes to the Yoshino Cherry. It flowers white in the spring and doesn't have the negative problems that Bradford pears do. It doesn't flower at exactly the same time but one or two weeks difference wouldn't bother me at all.


You should definitely plant a tree but choose something other than the Bradford pear. Of the ornamental flowering trees I really like the cherries but you may be able to find a good substitute by talking to your local nursery. Although you may want to ask them their opinion of the Bradford pear first!




Other Bradford Pear Planting alternatives:
Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Redbud 'Royal White' (Cercis canadensis)
from the TNEPPC




44 comments :

  1. We have a 40-yr old Bradford Pear. In my opinion they lose even more appeal as they mature.

    Just like most humans, they don't keep their lovely shape forever. My neighborhood has quite a number of 30-40 year old Bradford Pears, and there's not one that has that lovely shape of younger versions. They don't age particularly gracefully, in my opinion.

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  2. I know all of the negatives about the Bradford pear, but I just can't help myself, I still LOVE it! I love the blooms, I love the shape, and I love that it grows fast, (which is very important in a neighborhood that was once a cornfield). I just have to take my chances with the negatives, I may be in the minority, but for me the positives outweigh the negatives.

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  3. I don't think I've seen one as old as gardengirl has.

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  4. I don't like to weigh in against any tree, but have to agree with Dave on this one. We have seedlings in our beds of these trees with all the ones planted in the neighborhood. The college here planted many of them on both sides of the street leading down to their campus. While beautiful, they are breaking apart one by one. I am amazed at the age of garden girl's, they don't last half that long here, any of them.

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  5. I agree with you too! They are pretty and have a nice flower plus lovely fall color, but too weak. Greater alternatives are available-like your Yoshinos. I have really noticed them this year.

    I think an improved variety of this pear is Cleveland? But probably prone to the same issues.

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  6. I remember reading a post about the Bradford Pear last summer. There were several photographs showing how the tree split in a windstorm. It was really hard to see that damage. I think there was another pear tree recommended in its stead.

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  7. You make a good case against Bradford pears! I am not aware of any in my neighborhood, here in southern CA, and there are a lot of orchards. (My house is surrounded by the neighbors' citrus and avocado trees.)

    What is your favorite tree?

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  8. I know they are not great trees but I do enjoy their beautiful white blossoms in the spring and vibrant fall colors as well. We had one that got damaged when we dropped a GA pine that was dead from the Pine Beetle, so she had to come down.

    What about the Aristocrat Pear? I think that is what my dad has in his yard.

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  9. Nolan my son 7 calls them cat pee trees because of the odor.

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  10. Not a fan...they smell terrible to me and I would be unhappy having them about...but don't you love the sprinkle of petals in the spring and their fall color is lovely!

    Gail

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  11. jen-o-topia in TNApril 22, 2008 at 2:07 PM

    Lord have mercy, the previous owners of my home planted three of those things in the yard, and every single one has some seriously broken branches. One of these days I am going to cut the things down.

    One of these days. Right.

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  12. Garden Girl,

    I'm amazed that it's lasted 40 years! They do lose their shape over time. Just another downside to what appears to be a nice tree.

    Robin,

    They are beautiful trees when everything is going good. The downside is that they just don't last long here in Tennessee. The older they get the greater the odds are of the tree splitting.

    Tina,

    I think you are right. The Cleveland pear is supposed to be better but I still don't trust them.

    Kate,

    It is a sad sight to see a tree split in half. The funny thing is some people leave them like that and you have a half a pear tree left standing. I think they should replace them or at least have the trimmed to they will regrow.

    Lin,

    I'd love to have those avocado trees in my neighborhood! My favorite tree would have to be a type of maple. Sugar, Red, or Japanese.

    Skeeter,

    I don't know much about that variety. Did it hold up well?

    Menion,

    Nolan isn't far off! It's an awful smell for sure.

    Gail,

    A carpet of petals is pretty neat but doesn't last very long.

    Jen-O,

    Go ahead an pick out a replacement tree and plant it where it can take over once the Bradford says farewell. It will probably happen sooner or later!

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  13. Actually, the original "Bradford" was a terrible, messy, weak-wooded creature, but it had one virtue: it wasn't self-fertile. Unfortunately, breeders were determined to come up with a improved flowering tree, so eventually, they introduced "Cleveland," "Chanticleer," "Bradford Improved," etc. The problem was that they were genetically distinct from Bradford - enough so that they were excellent pollinators. Now flowering pear seedlings are profuse on the roadside and in natural areas. Their dense shade doesn't allow anything to grow under them, so these colonies are destroying natural areas and wiping out native plants. East Coast natives that are preferable include Amelanchier ssp. (serviceberries, with edible fruit for you and the birds), Prunus americana (wild plum), and Prunus angustifolia (Chickasaw plum).

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  14. Carla,

    That's very interesting information! Coming from the gardener's side and not the breeders side I didn't realize it's history. It makes sense though. The breeders effectively created a Frankenstein's monster of an invasive plant. Those are good alternatives you suggest especially the serviceberry!

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  15. We have two Bradford pear trees in our pasture. We just obtained two horses and they seem to be atracted to the bark. The have eaten all teh bark of lower limbs. Is this tree harmfull to horses as it will provide some shade during the summer months.
    Bob 03-23-2010

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  16. Bob,

    I can't say for sure but pears do contain a small amount of the chemicals that make up cyanide. You should definitely consult your vet to make sure it won't hurt the horses. The levels of cyanide in the bark may be so low as to be inconsequential. I know horses like to nibble and keeping them away from the pear trees might be difficult. If you are wanting good shade trees maples should be a safe way to go!

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    1. TO Dave,
      The MAPLE trees are NOT the way to go and they are far from being safe for your horses! They infact can KILL your horses!

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    2. Anonymous (Please leave a name next time, I like to talk to non-anonymous beings!)

      You are correct (http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/maple.html). I don't own horses and am not a vet and honestly the horse issue never occurred to me. There are probably quite a few trees and plants that are dangerous to livestock that wouldn't occur to those of us who do not own them.

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    3. horses will eat just about any kind of tree. Fruit trees can be deadly to horses. As can cherry, plum, or any fruit tree as well as other orimintals. For horses safe trees are cottonwoods, and willow, but they will eat them to the ground.

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  17. Just an FYI. I have an eleven year old Bradford Pear that came away from the Hurricane Katrina, totally unscathed. The only thing was a few very small branches were lost. Even to this date we have never had any cracks or spits. In the same yard we lost eight pine trees and one small oak. end

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  18. Hi Fran,

    Then you're tree must either be very lucky or not a Bradford. The older the tree gets the more the odds are against it for breakage. Katrina was in 2005, did you mean the tree was 11 then or that it is 11 now. So far my two Bradfords are both completely unscathed despite many storms but eventually they will have issues. They just aren't a good tree overall.

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  19. We have three bradford pears and they are about 7 years old we hate them but are not ready to replace (cost).
    My question is why are the roots growing up? Is that normal we constantly have to cut them. Is there a way to stop them from doing that?
    Any information would be helpful.
    Thanks

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  20. Hi All...

    Thanks for all the great info on the trees. We are in the process of getting some trees replaced in our front yard and were thinking of getting fruitless pear trees, but after reading these posts I think we will steer away from them. We are in North New Jersey and thinking of getting 10 trees replaced at 6 houses (tree lined streets). We have a maples (not sure what type)on our street and the gardener told us that they will brow VERY tall and have nuts at some point. He said it will kill the grass and rip the sidewalks and drive ways up as they grow. Can you recommend a good tall tree to block the sun, but not too tall to take the house down. As I said, we are in North NJ and any suggestion would be of great help.

    Thanks for taking the time to help.
    SP

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  21. Hi SP!

    Good choice not to go with the pear trees. As for maples they will grow tall but produce samaras and not nuts. They are winged seeds that flutter down from the trees like little helicopters. As for recommendations I really enjoy redbuds. They flower in the spring and are a smaller understory tree. 'Forest Pasy' has a nice purple foliage in the spring through early summer until it gets hot then turn greenish. There are some smaller maples like the Japanese maples or the Amur maple that would do well. Japanese maples may need more shade. Another great one would be the 'Okame' Cherry. These are beautiful flowering trees in the spring and grow smaller than many other cherry trees. I like the 'Yoshino' cherry too which might work in that situation as well. I hope that helps!

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  22. @Dave
    I have about 12 of these. The previous owners planted those and 10 other types of trees that are just ugly. Soon I am going to rent a chipper and replace all of them with other trees. I really want to have a mini orchard. And yes they are a mess with every storm.

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  23. It's funny how plants go in and out of fashion. For awhile this was the tree of choice; now it is anathama.

    I was talked out of a Bradford by somebody wanting to sell me something else, and have regretted it ever since. Bradfords are not just beautiful in spring: they are a brilliant, translucent green in summer, brilliant red in Fall, and they are absolutely adored by an incredible variety of bees and birds at different times of the year: warblers, kinglets, sapsuckers - I could go on and on.

    They also have the advantage of being incredibly tolerant of heat, humidity, and alternating drought and monsoon. All essential down here in the midlands of South Carolina.

    I was talked into a "stronger, more upright" Cleveland as a supposedly wind-safer alternative. I've been fighting for three years just to keep it alive, let alone get it established. Yes, my Yoshino cherry is beautiful in spring - but it has a very different, spreading habit, doesn't have the brilliant, translucent green leaves, doesn't give the fall show, and isn't so adored by the birds. It's a lovely tree, but a very different tree, not a "replacement." Dogwoods are perishing across the state - as the weather heats up, they are succumbing to more diseases. Redwoods are not especially urban-tolerant.

    Yes, hurricane Hugo took out a lot of Bradfords across the Carolinas - but Hugo took a lot of things out, including our entire apple orchard and a mature stand of oaks. On the other hand, a lot of the massed, exposed highway plantings of Bradfords survived just fine. And they are not "invasive" here.

    Yes, Bradfords are relatively short-lived - but so are all the recommended replacements. I'll let my successor decide what they want to see in another 30 years.

    So I would not say that they are "just a bad tree." They are a very generous tree, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and down here where trees have to endure zone 6-7 winters AND zone 8-9 summers, other than the Yoshinos, the alternatives have more weaknesses than strengths.

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  24. @Anonymous

    Wow, I appreciate you leaving a comment but I can't disagree with you more. Bradford pears are one of the worst landscape trees you could possibly select. I'll stand by that statement. They are pretty when they bloom and they grow very fast and look nice when they are in great shape but their flaws are huge. Smelly flowers that stink really awful, split branches, and their invasiveness is a significant threat to native plant life. If they aren't invasive in your state you had best beware because they are here in TN. They are listed on our state's invasive plant list as well as several others including North Carolina and Georgia. I suspect they will eventually rise to the same status in SC. Do your state a favor and avoid planting them now before they become an issue!!

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    1. I have eleven brads and I have had them for about 12 years. I have never had a problem with any of them (other than the smell at times). However, this year I have noticed the leaves are turning dark brown, very ugly in appearance but, we put up with the smell of animals, people and pollution and the appearance of some unattractive and displeasing things. So how can a tree (brad) be that much worse.

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  25. Interesting comment about the foul smell the Bradford Pear puts out in bloom. Could be to attract pollinators? Flies perhaps?

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  26. @Joe Gardener Most likely! They do attract quite a few insects. I suppose some creatures like the odor!

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  27. Hi Dave, I live in the Dallas, Texas area, where is 100 degrees or over 5 months of the year. I need to plant a tree in my front yard. Can you recommend a good tall tree to block the sun, but not too tall to take the house down. Also, what is a good size to start with. My yard is small. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. You might consider trying a crape myrtle. They can handle the heat and grow fairly quickly. Some varieties will grow to 20 feet tall which will offer some shade but won't dominate the landscape. Grow it in a tree form with no more than 3 trunks - and don't top it like many people do with their crapes myrtles. As an added bonus it will flower.

      I'm also a fan of maple trees which offer a good amount of shade when they are mature. Texas A&M has a list of some trees that do well in your area here: Texas Trees.

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    2. At work, 20 some years ago, the powers that be planted bradford pears in the parking lot. Every spring for a very short time you get pretty white flowers and in the fall a bit of color. The rest of the time they are a menace. The fruit is the worse. The rotting fruit drops on your car and they preferentially attract starlings which also sh*t on your car with lovely purple brown droppings. There are many better parking lot alternatives.

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  28. Thanks for the excellent commentary. We were considering planting the Bradfords across the front of our property along the county road. We have a long drive and are hoping to find a tree that will block view from the road and be a bit of a noise buffer. We are in SE Ohio any suggestions folks?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I would recommend you planting Leland Cyrpus evergreen trees. I have 10 of them in my yard, along the property line, for privacy and should be a noise buffer too. I love my trees, always green all year and in the winter with snow on them, they are beautiful!!!! Beats the heck out of a wooden privacy fence, no MAINTANCE!! They're great and should do well in your area, they love the cold.

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  29. Here in the desert the Bradford pear tree does fairly well. I have not noticed any odor to them at all. They don't seem to break any worse than any other fruit tree and not as bad as the cottonwoods that are everywhere here.

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  30. Great forum..I have two Bradfords in my backyard here in Central Florida. They have been in for about 12 years. They have grown well enough, but rarely get any flowering and when I do it's extremely minimal. Is it just too warm here or would a fertilizer, etc. help the flowering cycle?

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  31. Bradford Pears are like the low rent cousing of the timeless, always elegant Dogwood - whether white, pink or red. Bradfords seem so contrived and forced with their compact shape. Nothing beats a dogwood for spring blossoms, summer shade or fall foilage. Im blessed to live in East Tennessee where dogwoods are native. Such a spectacular show each spring. So I guess if you live in a McMansion go ahead and plant your Bradford Pear. The two seem to go hand in hand.

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  32. I'm a Bradford Pear hater! Thanks for all the good info and comments. I wish we could have Gardening Public Service Anouncements and educate the public and misguided builders.

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    Replies
    1. I agree. I just cut two down that were in my front yard after raking 16 bags of leaves.I live in Houston Tx. and while they went through Hurricane Ike with no damage,the leaves were a big pain.

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  33. Hello Dave. My name is Robin and I garden in Tasmania, that tiny Island state at the bottom of Australia, around 42 deg south. I was looking for info on coleus propagation and was delighted with your coleus advice and then, by chance, came across the Bradford Pear issue. I have recently acquired a new small garden which was landscaped four years ago by previous owners. It's ruled over by two Pyrus C. Chanticleer (we don't call them Bradfords here). They are quite high, have obviously grown extremely quickly, and a fortnight ago we had unusually high winds (Force 1 Cyclone). To our horror (you will not be surprised) we watched the largest one split right down the centre and tumble on to my spring garden (October here), recently planted with lots of woodland plants. And our garden is protected by high walls! Having read your comments, and those of others, I can see that we shall be ridding ourselves of its remaining trunk and branches and the other one too. I will wait till fall though because I need the remaining shade for summer to protect my shade loving plants from our hot Australian summer sun. Thank you and your readers for their fulsome comments. No one here had mentioned to me (I am a recent immigrant from mainland Australia, from a very hot and dry state to a cooler, damper one) the problems associated with flowering pears. They certainly look blighted having lost half their body weight, as it were. One curious point though. I did not notice any unpleasant odour at all when it was flowering in early spring. Cheers, Robin

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  34. As a Landscape-Horticulturist (Tree Care Technician) me and my employees always loved Bradford Pears from the standpoint that they are a relatively insect & disease free tree. Any pest problems that they do get are minimal. Just sayin'.........

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  35. I am not a fan of the Bradford pear. Although fast growing they have a tendency to attract wasps and other bugs. If you park your car near it then birds leave you nice purple seeded presents. I have never had a issue with the smell but the neigh or o lyrics had one on the property Line. I like the Japanese pink magnolia for spring bloom.

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  36. Ok. It's bad. But I live in a rental. How do I get landlord to trim without killing it?

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