11 Reasons to Avoid Planting Bradford Pear Trees
The beautiful white flowers of the Bradford Pear tree make it an enticing option tof any garden or home landscape. But these popular trees can often cause more problems than people anticipate. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares some of the top reasons you need to avoid Bradford Pear trees in your garden or home landscape plans this season.
You may be familiar with the Bradford pear tree. This ubiquitous tree is very popular in urban landscapes and grows in climate zones 5 through 9. You can find it growing throughout neighborhoods, in city parks, along urban and suburban roadways, and even growing along highways, in fields, and disturbed areas.
In the early spring, these trees burst into full bloom, becoming densely covered with a profusion of small white flower clusters. You think, “How beautiful!” But allow me to shed some light on the not-so-nice aspects of the Bradford pear tree. These trees should not be planted and it may be beneficial to cut down existing Bradford pear trees.
The Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) is a cultivar of the Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), a species native to Asia. Asian pear trees were initially introduced into the North American landscaping business as quick-growing and compact ornamental trees with beautiful flowers. Trees were supposed to be both sterile and seedless. But then other similar cultivars were introduced and the Bradford pear trees were able to cross-pollinate, form fruits, and develop viable seeds.
Bradford pear trees are now considered an invasive species or noxious weed throughout the central and southeastern United States, as well as several western states. They quickly escape cultivation and have spread well beyond their initial plantings, colonizing natural areas, and outcompeting native vegetation.
The following are 11 excellent reasons to avoid Bradford pear trees. If you already have a Bradford pear, or several, these are also good reasons to consider removing the tree and replacing it with something else.
First, They Are Invasive
The primary reason to avoid Bradford pear trees is that they are invasive. Invasive species are those that are not native to a region AND have a tendency to spread beyond cultivation, competing with native species and causing harm to the natural ecosystem.
This tree is native to Asia and is widely used as an ornamental landscaping plant. It was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s to improve the disease resistance of European pear trees through cross-pollination.
Because this tree is fast growing and this tree has beautiful white flowers in the spring, it was soon incorporated into the landscaping business and gained widespread popularity in urban landscapes.
While the initially-imported, these trees were supposed to be self-sterile and seedless, it was able to successfully cross-pollinate with other Callery pear cultivars. Fruits were eaten by wildlife and the trees quickly escaped cultivation. “Wild” Bradford pears are now extremely widespread throughout the central and eastern United States.
They Outcompete Native Plants
Bradford pears grow very aggressively. They can easily get out of control and grow into dense, thorny thickets. This tree is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, from full sun to full shade, moist to dry soils, and high levels of pollution and disturbance. They are also resistant to most pests and diseases.
This sounds like it should be a good thing, right?
The problem is that because they grow so quickly, are tolerant of a wide variety of growing conditions, and are very disease-resistant, they easily outcompete any other nearby plant.
They quickly grow into dense colonies and will crowd out most slower-growing native plants. They can quickly choke out understory vegetation and nearby small native trees and shrubs. In a few years, a species-rich patch of earth can become a single-species patch of an invasive species.
They Smell Awful
It’s early in the springtime, the temperature is starting to warm and the day promises to be very pleasant. You walk outside where the air smells clean and fresh.
You walk past a Bradford pear tree in full bloom, covered with dense white flower blossoms, and you smell… rotten fish?
The smell has been compared to rotten fish, urine, and other unpleasant scents. They can produce an overpowering musty, rotten smell, which many people find very unpleasant. Why would you want that odor in your yard? Why would anyone want to landscape an entire neighborhood full of stinky trees?
Limited Benefits for Wildlife
In general, trees can benefit native wildlife in many ways. Butterflies and bees seek sources of nectar. Birds seek fruits, seeds, and places to build nests. Butterflies require very specific larval host plants so their caterpillars can feed and become the next generation of butterflies.
Unfortunately, Bradford pears don’t have much to offer to wildlife. Because of the upright branch structure, they don’t offer many suitable nesting places for birds. Caterpillars don’t feed on the leaves of these trees, so they don’t help butterflies as a larval host plant.
Insectivorous birds can’t forage for tasty caterpillars in a sea of Bradford pear trees. And although early-season pollinators will come to the abundant white flowers, a native flowering plant would be a much better choice for the environment.
They are Very Brittle
If you live in an area with many Bradford pears, driving around after a heavy wind, snowstorm, or ice storm, you will notice that the pears have lost more branches than other trees.
This is because the wood of Callery pear trees is very brittle. Even while cutting down a Callery pear, you will probably notice that you can snap the branches easily, even when they’re still green.
These trees have a very upright growth habitat, where branches meet the trunk at very narrow angles. Any heavy force pulling down on the branches will cause them to readily snap. And not just the small branches.
After a heavy storm, you may notice several major limbs completely snapped off the tree. This will leave badly damaged trees that are vulnerable to pests and diseases, not to mention that it’s very unattractive and leaves a great deal of vegetative debris to clean up.
They May Be Banned in Your State
You might have a chance to earn a reward for cutting down a Bradford pear tree. A majority of the eastern states as well as several western states have Callery pear and Bradford pear on their invasive species or noxious weeds list.
Some states, such as Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania are making it illegal to sell, plant, or grow these trees. Other states, such as North Carolina and Missouri are initiating a “bounty” program, offering incentives for landowners to cut down Bradford pears on their property.
These incentive programs have been wildly popular and usually require advance registration. You can check with your local state conservation program or agricultural extension to see if your state or county is offering any incentives.
Even without an external incentive, however, it’s still a worthwhile effort to remove these trees from your property, and certainly not plant any new ones.
Not Much Grows Under Them
Bradford pears can grow quite large, up to 50 feet tall. As they grow, they send out a thick mat of shallow roots. The roots are densely sprawling and very close to the surface. If you are hoping to grow anything under a Bradford pear, you won’t have much luck.
After flowering, they develop a very thick flush of leaves. The combination of numerous densely-growing branches covered with leaves makes it very shady under these trees. The sprawling root mass makes it hard to work the ground around these trees.
Older trees can develop very lumpy roots at ground level, making it difficult to even mow under them. There are many Bradford pears in my neighborhood, and they mostly have a bunch of unsightly weeds growing under them. There are plenty of other trees you can grow that will allow you to grow other beautiful plants underneath them.
They Produce Thorny Offspring
Not only do these trees produce stinky flowers, fall apart in a storm, and invade natural habitats, many “feral” offspring are thorny! Okay, so the Bradford or Callery pear trees you buy from the nursery look great.
They are small, healthy, and have smooth bark. But after they grow a bit and start cross-pollinating with other “wild” pears, the offspring that invade nearby woodlands, roadsides, fields, and neighborhood parks start to get very thorny.
Once these thorny little trees get established, they are a real nuisance. The thorns make these plants very difficult to work with and remove.
A dense thicket of thorny plants is impenetrable and shades out other plants, while at the same time allowing the pears to spread even further. And the thorns are tough enough to puncture tires, potentially causing damage to tractors, mowers, and vehicles.
They are NOT Small Ornamental Trees
Many people falsely believe that these trees stay small and compact. These flowering trees are not small or even medium-sized trees. Some can grow quite large, up to 40 or 50 feet tall.
Many Bradford pear trees end up being planted too close to houses and other structures, or too close to driveways and streets, where the roots can cause problems as they grow and expand.
If you are looking for a full-size tree, choose an attractive and hardy native species, such as a maple or oak. If you are looking for an ornamental mid-size tree, you will have plenty of non-invasive options to choose from, such as a dogwood or smoke tree.
And if you prefer a smaller ornamental tree or shrub, there are a great number of wonderful plants to choose from, including azaleas, Japanese maple, or fringe tree.
If you have a neighborhood or roadside full of Bradford pear trees, you basically have a monoculture of a single invasive species.
They shade out native plants and don’t provide valued habitat for wildlife. The flowers blooming in the springtime may be pretty, but you can get a lot more real value from a different non-invasive tree.
A healthy natural environment is full of a rich diversity of plants and animals. There may be a combination of grasses, flowering plants, ferns, mosses, shrubs, small trees, medium trees, and large trees.
There will be an abundance of different insects, as well as a variety of birds and mammals. A dense stand of Bradford pear trees is not a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem.
Once Planted, They Are Difficult to Remove
Bradford pears are persistent. When you cut them down, you’ll find that the tree sprouts back up again from the stump and roots.
If you have had a Bradford pear in your yard, or anywhere in your neighborhood, there’s a chance that there are now young pear trees sprouting up along wooded edges, roadsides, and other unmaintained areas.
If you decide to plant now to later change your mind, they aren’t fun to remove. And if you are looking for an attractive ornamental tree to plant, there are plenty of other options to choose from. If you are ready to remove a Bradford pear, be prepared to be persistent about it.
Removing Them is a Process
So what to do if you already have a Bradford pear in your yard? The simple answer is, “Cut it down!” But it’s really not quite as simple as that. If you simply prune the tree, it will continue to grow back vigorously.
You will just be creating a smaller, shorter, or denser version of your existing tree. In order to completely remove a Bradford pear, you will need to completely kill it.
If you have small seedlings just starting out, they can be pulled. If you are pulling them out by hand, be aware that some seedlings may be thorny. The cultivated Callery pears do not have thorns, but many cross-pollinated seeds result in thorny offspring. So handle them cautiously and use thick gloves, in case yours have thorns.
Chances are, however, that you already have a medium-sized or full-size tree that you want to remove. Since you can’t just pull out a substantial tree, you will need to cut it down. Bradford pears are tough, however, and simply cutting the tree is more like a major pruning. The stump will resprout and the plant will simply keep growing.
To effectively kill the tree, you will first need to cut it low to the ground. Then apply a tree and brush-killing herbicide directly to the freshly-cut stump and roots.
If you use a tree company to remove your tree, they may be able to use a stump grinder to grind up the main trunk and primary roots so the tree can’t grow back. You will first need to make sure there are no buried utility lines in the vicinity before grinding there.
If you want to grow something else in the space previously occupied by the pear, wait at least a year before planting something new. This allows time for the fresh-cut and ground debris to decompose, making the ground more ready to accommodate a new planting.
You will also need to verify that the stump and roots are truly dead before planting something else or else you will continue battling the pear while trying to nurture a new sapling.
If you’ve decided enough is enough and want to try something new, the trees below are good alternatives to Bradford pears.
|25-35||Attractive small tree; shade tolerant; good fall color|
|20-30||Interesting hazy reddish flower plumes; excellent fall color|
|10-15||Large shiny leaves; small spring flowers attract butterflies; red to black autumn berries attract birds|
|15-25||White flowers in spring; good fall color; berries attract birds|
|20-30||Pinkish-purple flowers in early spring; grows well in sun and shade|
|12-20||Very fragrant fringe-like white spring flowers; good fall color|
|10-25||Beautiful small trees; shade-tolerant; excellent fall color|
Fragrant white spring flowers attract butterflies; fall berries attract birds; good fall color
Magnolia x soulangeana
|20-30||Fragrant showy pink spring flowers; seeds attract birds|
Good shade tree; fragrant white spring flowers; good fall color
Bradford pear trees are a cultivar of the Asian Callery pear. These trees were once widely used for neighborhood and roadside plantings because of their attractive blooms and hardiness. They soon cross-pollinated with other pear cultivars and quickly developed into a widespread invasive species.
Bradford pears display a number of undesirable characteristics and are avoided. Don’t plant a new Bradford pear, and if you already have an established tree on your property, give serious consideration to removing it. There are many wonderful alternatives that are beautiful, well-behaved, and add many more desirable qualities to your home landscape.