17 Trees You Can Plant Instead of Bradford Pears

Are you looking for some trees to plant instead of growing Bradford Pear trees in your garden or home landscape? There are many different options, depending on your hardiness zone. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares her favorite trees you can plant instead of growing the infamously invasive Bradford Pear tree.

Bradford pear alternative redbud tree blooming with pink flowers

Contents

Bradford pear trees (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) are a cultivar of the Callery pear. These trees have quickly lost popularity and gone from a choice landscaping tree to a much-despised nuisance tree. Bradford pears were first introduced in the early 1900s as quick-growing ornamental trees with beautiful flowers. Trees were supposed to be hardy, seedless, and sterile. 

But it was soon discovered that they could cross-pollinate with other pear cultivars, which allowed them to develop viable seeds. Once enough pear trees were growing in close proximity, Bradford pears quickly escaped cultivation and developed a “wild” form which is now a very widespread invasive species

Bradford pear is now listed on many states’ invasive species lists and noxious weed lists and has become a nuisance in neighborhoods, along roadsides, fields, and natural areas. It is tolerant of many conditions, grows quickly, reproduces easily, and is very difficult to control. 

Do not plant a new Bradford pear tree; if you already have one, consider cutting it down and replacing it with something better.

Reasons to avoid Bradford pear trees include:

  • Highly invasive nature
  • They outcompete native plants
  • Biodiversity reduction
  • Extremely pungent smell
  • Very few benefits to wildlife
  • They are very brittle and are easily damaged by storms
  • Your state may have them on the “Banned” list
  • It’s difficult to grow anything under a Bradford pear
  • They produce thorny offspring
  • Bradford pears are NOT small ornamental trees
  • Once established, they are difficult to control and kill

    If you are looking for a beautiful tree to showcase in your yard, there are many trees and shrubs that are attractive, diverse, and well-behaved. Choose one of these over a Bradford pear. But what if you already have a Bradford pear?

    Cut it down (don’t just prune it, as it will continue to grow back vigorously). Kill the stump and roots, wait a year for the soil to recover, then choose one of the following wonderful non-invasive alternatives.

    American Hornbeam

    The American Hornbeam has a slender, gray trunk with textured bark that appears to be etched with delicate lines. Its graceful branches stretch out and curve upwards, creating a natural canopy over the river. The vibrant green leaves are small and oval-shaped, giving the tree a delicate and elegant appearance.
    American hornbeam is a low-maintenance, shade-tolerant tree native to central and eastern North America.
    botanical-name botanical name Carpinus caroliniana
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
    height height 20 to 35 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

    The American hornbeam is an attractive small to medium-sized tree. It is native to central and eastern North America and is a fairly common understory tree in eastern forests. American hornbeam is shade tolerant and an excellent tree for a partially-shaded landscape. These trees are low-maintenance and easy to grow.

    When American hornbeam trees bloom, they produce hanging clusters of green or white leafy-looking catkins.

    Female trees then develop leafy-looking nutlets that attract seed-eating birds. In the fall, hornbeam leaves turn attractive shades of bronze and yellow. The gray bark is smooth, and the wood is very dense and hard, as suggested by the name “hornbeam.”

    American Smoke Tree 

    Planted on brown soil, the American Smoke Tree stands tall and proud. Its branches extend outwards, creating a wide and inviting canopy. The foliage of the tree sparkles in the sunshine, producing stunning shades of orange and red.
    During spring, the American smoke tree’s pale reddish flowers create a smoky appearance.
    botanical-name botanical name Cotinus obovatus
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
    height height 20 to 30 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

    The American smoke tree is a medium-sized tree native to the south-central United States but not very well known as a landscaping tree. If left to grow naturally, the American smoke tree tends to develop several main stems, leading to a more shrub-like growth pattern. The American smoke tree would make an attractive addition to a tall shrub border.

    In the springtime, the American smoke tree develops interesting hazy-looking pale reddish flowers. En masse, these flowers give the tree a hazy or smoky look. The flowers then turn creamy white, almost fuzzy looking, and persist throughout the summer.

    It has broad, almost rounded leaves that are medium green in color, sometimes with a hint of bronze. The leaves then turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red in the autumn months.

    Black Gum

    A tall Black Gum Tree stands tall with multiple dark trunks that twist and turn, giving it a unique appearance. Its numerous branches reach out in different directions, creating a dense canopy. The tree's yellow leaves add a pop of color to its dark trunk and branches.
    Male and female trees produce separate greenish flowers, but only female trees produce small purplish-black fruits.
    botanical-name botanical name Nyssa sylvatica
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 30 to 50 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

    Black gum is a medium to large tree native to the eastern United States. It does well in full sun or partial shade, prefers medium-moisture soils, and even tolerates somewhat wetter soil types.

    Once established, black gum develops a long taproot, allowing it to withstand some drought. If you have a somewhat shaded area in need of a unique tree, black gum would be a great option.

    These trees are dioecious, meaning male and female trees produce separate flowers, but since all the flowers are small and greenish, you probably won’t notice their differences.

    You will notice, however, that female plants produce small purplish-black fruits that are eaten by birds. In the fall, the oblong oval-shaped leaves turn brilliant shades of red and orange, making you wonder why more people don’t grow black gum trees in their yards!

    Bladdernut

    A close-up of a Bladdernut plant featuring flowers that are white and clustered together at the end of the slender, dark branches. The leaves are shaped like a heart, with a vibrant green hue.
    Bladdernut is a versatile deciduous shrub that grows multiple stems and thrives in a variety of conditions.
    botanical-name botanical name Staphylea trifolia
    plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
    sun-requirements sun requirements Part shade to full shade
    height height 10 to 15 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 8

    If you’re looking for something a little bit different, try a bladdernut. This deciduous shrub can grow many stems and create a dense thicket, ideal for a hedgerow or larger shaded naturalized area. It prefers soil that is of average quality, well-drained, and dry to medium moisture. It is tolerant of drought, shade, clay soil, and rocky soils, making this a highly adaptable plant. 

    In the springtime, bladdernut blooms with clusters of showy flowers. The flowers are white, drooping, and bell-shaped. After blooming, the flowers develop into inflated bladder-like capsules with thin, papery skins.

    The capsules change from green to brown and persist into the fall. The leaves are medium green with three leaflets each, growing in small clusters along the stems. Bladdernut is native to the eastern United States.

    Carolina Buckhorn 

    A close-up image of Carolina Buckhorn displaying clusters of vibrant berries in shades of pink and violet. The green leaves are lush and glossy, forming a verdant backdrop to the colorful berries.
    This hardy and adaptable plant can be grown as a hedge planting or ornamental shrub.
    botanical-name botanical name Frangula caroliniana
    plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 10 to 15 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 9

    The Carolina buckhorn is native to the southeastern United States, where it grows primarily as an understory tree and along forest edges. This plant is a shrub or small tree that would be a welcome addition to the landscape.

    Carolina buckhorn has relatively large, oblong, shiny leaves that develop good fall color in shades of yellow and deep orange-red. In the springtime, small creamy white flowers attract butterflies. The flowers give way to bright red berries that attract birds.

    Carolina buckhorn is easy to grow in average-quality, medium-moist soil. These plants prefer some consistency in soil moisture and would do poorly in very dry conditions. You could grow buckhorn as a hedge planting or as a stand-alone ornamental shrub. Plants tend to be hardy and adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions.

    Chokecherry

    A close-up of the Chokecherry showcases its clusters of vibrant red berries, which glisten in the sun. The leaves are lush and green, providing a beautiful contrast against the red berries. The branches are slender and light gray in color.
    In order to preserve a larger single stem, suckers that form at the base of the main stem can be trimmed.
    botanical-name botanical name Prunus virginiana
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 20 to 30 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 to 7

    Chokecherry is native throughout most of North America but does best in cooler climates. There is a purple-leaves cultivar, ‘Schubert’, which is very attractive and frequently sold as a landscaping plant.

    In the springtime, chokecherry produces clusters of fragrant white flowers. These flowers are very showy and attract butterflies.  Later in the season, clusters of small purple-black berries ripen and attract fruit-eating birds. Fall foliage turns shades of yellow and orange.

    Chokecherry does best in full sun but will tolerate a partially shaded location. It prefers average-quality but well-drained soil. Use it as a small to medium-sized ornamental tree or grow it along a hedgerow.

    Chokecherry develops suckers at the base of the main stem. Prune these off to maintain a larger single stem, or allow them to grow into a naturalized thicket. The wood is somewhat brittle and may experience damage from heavy snow and ice accumulation.

    Cornelian Cherry

    A close-up of a Cornelian Cherry features fruits that are oval-shaped and have a bright red color. The leaves are small and red that are attached to slender, dark branches. In the blurred background, there are several large trees with yellow leaves.
    The Cornelian cherry blooms with yellow flowers in the early spring and fills with leaves as the petals fade.
    botanical-name botanical name Cornus mas
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 15 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

    Cornelian cherry is a very attractive small to midsize tree, closely related to dogwood. Plant it in the corner of your yard, or make it the centerpiece in a sunny area.

    Trees tend to develop additional suckers growing from the base. Prune these regularly to keep an upright tree form, or else you will end up with a more dense assortment of multiple stems.  

    In the early spring, the Cornelian cherry is covered by masses of attractive yellow flowers. Leaves fill in as the flowers fade. A well-pruned and well-trained Cornelian cherry has a very attractive small-tree form.

    In the fall, these plants yield numerous small red fruits that attract birds. This is a low-maintenance and adaptable tree, well-suited to a sunny location with uniformly moist, well-drained soil.

    Eastern Redbud 

    An Eastern Redbud tree showcases its slender branches, which elegantly extend outwards, adorned with delicate pink blooms. There are several large trees that can be seen in the background.
    Both full sun and some shade are good for growing eastern redbuds.
    botanical-name botanical name Cercis canadensis
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 20 to 30 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

    The Eastern Redbud is native to the central and eastern United States and is a familiar sight in the springtime. This tree’s pinkish-purple flowers bloom along the branches and even emerge directly from the trunk when most other trees are still leafless and bare.

    You can easily identify redbud trees blooming in yards and parks, along forest edges, and near roadways. After flowering, redbud trees develop an abundance of attractive, green, heart-shaped leaves. There are also some cultivars that have purple leaves. 

    Eastern Redbud grows well in both full sun and partial shade. These trees do best in rich, moist, well-drained soil. They are somewhat intolerant of prolonged drought and may wilt, lose leaves early, and possibly die if they are dry for too long.

    Trees are also somewhat susceptible to powdery mildew and other diseases. Trees tend to be pretty tough and will recover, but they may look rather rough at times, especially late in the season.

    Fringe Tree 

    This Fringe Tree displays its stunning white flowers, blooming amidst its lance-shaped, green leaves and slender, dark branches. The clear blue sky forms a perfect backdrop to the tree's pristine white blooms, casting a soothing and serene atmosphere.
    These trees thrive in rich, moist soil but requires watering during droughts.
    botanical-name botanical name Chionanthus virginicus
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 12 to 20 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 9

    The fringe tree puts on a stunning display of feathery white flowers in mid to late spring. A healthy tree in full bloom is covered with sweetly fragrant fringes. The flowers give way to small black fruits that are favored by birds.

    These trees are dioecious, and while both male and female trees produce abundant flowers, male floral displays are showier, and only the females produce fruits. 

    In the fall, leaves change from green to pale yellow to a rich deep yellow color. These trees are native to the eastern United States and are easily grown in rich, moist, well-drained soil. They are intolerant of prolonged drought and would benefit from deep watering if the soil has been dry for an extended period of time.

    Japanese Maple

    A close-up shot of a Japanese Maple branch with leaves. The leaves are small and intricately shaped, with pointy tips and serrated edges. Some of the leaves are fully green, while others are a mix of green and deep red.
    Numerous types of Japanese maple exist, with stunning small to medium-sized trees.
    botanical-name botanical name Acer palmatum
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 10 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 8

    There are many varieties of Japanese maple, and they are all beautiful small to medium-sized trees. They have star-like palmate leaves that display excellent fall color, some trees becoming entirely scarlet red in late autumn.

    Reddish-purple flowers bloom in the spring but are insignificant, followed by reddish samaras (“helicopters”) that hang on the tree until early summer. 

    Japanese maple can be trained to be a very shapely small tree, or you can let it grow naturally and enjoy its more sprawling form. However you manage your Japanese maple, these are very showy trees throughout the year.

    Overall, this tree is low-maintenance and easy to grow. Japanese maples are readily available on the retail market, so you should have no trouble finding one. They do well in full sun or light shade but would prefer some afternoon shade in warmer climates.

    Magnolia

    A close-up of Lily Magnolia displaying its gorgeous dark pink blossoms, perched on its woody branches. The tree's small leaves provide an excellent contrast to the vibrant blooms. The woody branches look sturdy yet graceful.
    Adding mulch around the base will help keep the roots from drying out.
    botanical-name botanical name Magnolia liliiflora
    plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 8 to 12 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 8

    The lily magnolia is a bushy or shrubby plant with beautiful flowers. In mid-spring, large, showy, dark pink blossoms emerge.

    A larger, more mature shrub in full bloom will certainly catch your attention. Lily magnolia would create an excellent privacy hedge because it can grow into a rather large and dense mass of vegetation.

    Grow lily magnolia in full sun or partial shade. This plant prefers rich, well-drained soils. It should have consistent moisture, and mulching around the base can help preserve soil moisture and prevent roots from drying out. By late summer, plants can start looking a bit scraggly, especially in a sunnier hot, and dry location.

    Pagoda Dogwood 

    A close-up of a Pagoda Dogwood featuring green leaves that are shaped like ovals and are arranged alternately on the stem. The green flowers are small, upright, and clustered, forming a beautiful contrast to the leaves.
    Flowering dogwood and pagoda dogwood are both great trees for your landscape.
    botanical-name botanical name Cornus alternifolia
    plant-type plant type Deciduous shrub
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 15 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 to 7

    You may be more familiar with the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and both of these flowering trees are well worth consideration as an addition to your landscape. Pagoda dogwood has clusters of small white flowers that bloom in the spring.

    The flowers attract butterflies, and the mid-season berries attract fruit-eating birds. Branches develop in a somewhat layered effect, vaguely resembling a pagoda.

    Pagoda dogwood is a large shrub or small tree. Some plants will stay fairly compact, while others grow more tree-like. Pagoda dogwood thrives in partial shade with rich, moist, well-drained soil. In warmer climates, it prefers shade to sun, although in cooler summer climates, it will do fine with a full-sun location. In the fall, enjoy the attractive yellow foliage color.

    Saucer Magnolia

    A Saucer Magnolia tree stands at the center, proudly displaying its exquisite pink blooms on its multiple dark branches. The surrounding tall trees' bare branches provide a perfect contrast, highlighting the magnolia's beauty.
    This tree is a great choice for landscaping and needs a sheltered spot with moist, well-drained soil.
    botanical-name botanical name Magnolia x soulangeana
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 20 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

    Saucer magnolia is a winner for the landscape. This attractive small to medium-sized tree prefers a somewhat protected area where it has some dappled afternoon shade and consistently moist, well-drained soil.

    During times of drought, offer some supplemental watering, and mulch around the base to help retain soil moisture. 

    Saucer magnolia is at its best in early spring. Before leafing out, trees are covered with large, showy, fragrant pink flowers. When the petals drop after flowering, the ground below the tree will be temporarily pink with petals! Leaves are broad and somewhat glossy. In late summer and early fall, the seed pods may attract birds.

    Serviceberry 

    A cluster of delicate, white flowers adorns the slender branches of the Serviceberry plant. Each petal of the small, star-shaped flowers appears almost translucent.
    Beautiful white blooms and crimson berries may be seen on this native American tree.
    botanical-name botanical name Amelanchier arborea
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 15 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

    Serviceberry is native to the central and eastern United States. At a glance, serviceberry could be easily confused with a Bradford pear, but this tree has a year-round appeal and is not invasive. In early spring, serviceberry bursts into bloom, covered with snowy white flowers.

    The flowers are showy and pleasantly fragrant, attracting butterflies and other pollinators. Flowers give way to bright red berries that are favored by birds. In the fall, leaves turn brilliant shades of reddish-orange.

    Serviceberry, also sometimes referred to as common serviceberry or juneberry, is an easily-grown shrubby tree. It does well in full sun or partial shade and tolerates a range of well-drained soil types.

    Plants naturally develop multiple primary stems, resulting in a more shrubby appearance. If you prefer a single stem, you can remove side suckers as they emerge, and your serviceberry will develop a more tree-like form. 

    Sourwood

    This Sourwood tree stands tall and proud, displaying its stunning red leaves against the clear blue sky. Its branches are adorned with clusters of bright yellow seeds. Behind it, a group of lush green trees provides a stunning backdrop for this magnificent tree.
    Sourwood tree blooms small white flowers that attract bees and produce delicious honey.
    botanical-name botanical name Oxydendrum arboreum
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 20 to 50 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 9

    While not a well-known tree, the Sourwood it is worthy of consideration as a landscaping plant. Sourwood is native to the eastern and southeastern United States, where it grows naturally in moist woodlands.

    Trees do well in full sun but also thrive in partial shade. However, they are particular about soil conditions and need rich, moist, well-drained soil. Offer supplemental watering during times of drought.

    Sourwood has oblong, pointed leaves that turn brilliant shades of red, pink, and orange in the fall, making this an excellent fall foliage specimen tree. In the springtime, it develops drooping clusters of small white flowers that are highly attractive to bees. Sourwood honey is a favorite of honey connoisseurs! 

    Weeping Cherry

    This weeping cherry tree is adorned with delicate pink and white blossoms, creating a stunning contrast against its dark branches. The blooms are in full display, adding a touch of elegance to the surroundings. Against the clear blue sky, the tree stands out as a beautiful natural wonder.
    Due to its various lovely cultivars and simple growing requirements, Weeping Cherry is a favored landscaping tree.
    botanical-name botanical name Prunus pendula
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 15 to 25 feet
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 to 8

    Weeping Cherry is a popular landscaping tree for a good reason. There are several beautiful cultivars of Prunus pendula, and while they may look a little different from each other, they have the same basic growing requirements.

    Weeping Cherries do well in full sun or partial shade. They also do best in rich, well-drained soils with consistent soil moisture. Avoid dry or sandy soils. 

    Weeping Cherry trees are typically grafted. A sturdy upright base is grafted to a weeping top. This offers a healthy and hardy root system combined with an extremely ornamental display. Weeping Cherries make excellent centerpiece trees. In the springtime, before leaving out, they are covered with an abundance of showy pink or white blossoms. 

    Yellowwood 

    The yellowwood plant is surrounded by towering green trees, creating a serene forest setting. Its clustered leaves have a glossy sheen, and their bright green color adds vibrancy to the landscape. The trunk is sturdy and straight, indicating a healthy and robust plant.
    Medium-sized Yellowwood trees can endure average soil and some shade.
    botanical-name botanical name Cladrastis kentukea
    plant-type plant type Tree
    sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to part shade
    height height 30 to 50 feet 
    hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 8

    Yellowwood is a medium-sized tree native to the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. It grows well in full sun to partial shade in average-quality, medium-moisture soil. Once established, it is tolerant of some drought. Branches are somewhat brittle and can break under heavy wind, snow, or ice. 

    Yellowwood blooms in the spring. The flowers develop in long, hanging clusters. They are white and pea-like with an intensely sweet fragrance.

    In the fall, leaves turn an attractive yellow-bronze color. The bark of this tree is very smooth, and the interior wood is, as the name implies, yellow. Trees don’t typically grow tall and straight but rather dense, compact, and rounded, making them excellent shade trees.

    Final Thoughts

    Why would you want to plant a Bradford pear if there are so many other options that are beautiful, hardy, useful, and well-mannered? Consider what environmental conditions your yard can offer with regard to sunlight and soil type.

    Also, consider how much space you have. Would you prefer a full-size tree, a smaller tree, or something more shrubby? There are so many beautiful trees to choose from, it may be hard to choose just one. But whichever trees you choose, they will be more interesting than a Bradford pear and certainly better for the environment.

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