I Just Hate Bradford Pears!

February 28, 2011 | By | Comments (31)

If there’s a pretty white tree in front of your house in spring, chances are it’s Bradford pear. And it looks something like this.

BP 002

What’s wrong with that, you say? Here are just a few of the imperfections Grumpy refuses to tolerate.

 

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1. Bradford pear has a very weak branching structure. So when a nice 30-foot tall tree encounters a wind gust of 40 MPH, it breaks up into little pieces and ends up as a pile of debris in the street. The reason is that all of its major limbs diverge from a single point on the trunk and the trunk can’t take the stress. Bradford carnage may not happen this year or next year, but it will happen. Hope it doesn’t fall on on your house, car, hot tub, chicken coop, still, grill, or classical cheese sculpture.

BP 001

2. You can’t grow grass under a Bradford pear.The dense branching produces dense shade, which lawn grass hates. The worst place to plant a Bradford pear in your yard is on a slope, because after the grass dies, the soil washes away, and you’re left with ugly gullies that seem to collect all of your empties.

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3. Bradford pear is quickly becoming an invasive exotic pest. Selected years ago by the U. S. National Arboretum as a thornless, highly ornamental version of the Chinese callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), Bradford was supposed to be seedless and sterile. That’s because its flowers can’t pollinate themselves. All was hunky-dory, until the Arboretum and others starting releasing releasing selections that didn’t bust up in storms or get as huge as Bradford does (up to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide). Then all of these callery pears started carousing and cross-pollinating, forming fruit and viable seed. Today, I guarantee that if you take a close look at the surroundings of any shopping centers planted with Bradfords, you will see thorny callery pear seedlings coming up like gangbusters. I took the picture above in north Georgia, where Bradford pears have seeded in so thickly, it’s like a brier patch.

4. The flowers of Bradford pear smell a whole lot like the scene below. This is no problem for my cat, but most people don’t care for the smell of tuna on a trunk.

07deadfish

But Wait, It Gets Worse!

Are you ready for the ultimate? Some folks in my neighborhood have taken to murdering their Bradfords the same way they murder their crepe myrtles! Yep. They get chainsaws and loppers and cut back the branches to stumps in spring. What fools these gardeners be! At least a murdered crepe will still bloom this year. Not a murdered Bradford.

Last Week to Win These Loppers!

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Speaking of crepe murder, you have just one final week to email me a photo of the worst example of crepe murder in your neighborhood. Three lucky readers will win a set of high-quality Corona bypass loppers that you can use to cut down Bradford pears with impunity. But don’t touch the crepe myrtles!

COMMENTS

  1. Amanda vonH

    they are terrible! the only good thing about them is the little bitty blooms falling like snow. thanks for the info.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:13 am
  2. Sarah M.

    Dear Grump,
    Thank you for calling this tree out. I affectionately refer to Bradford Pears as “Dead Squirrel Trees” because the stench from the white flowers is unbelievable.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:17 am
  3. LynnE

    I agree with you 100%. They smell horrible. I wont put on here what I say they smell like…

    March 1, 2011 at 10:32 am
  4. Christy

    I’m with everyone else -the smell is just offensive!

    March 1, 2011 at 10:51 am
  5. Sarah M.

    But they do have pretty white flowers…

    March 1, 2011 at 10:51 am
  6. Laura Ward

    These hateful trees grew up in our field from neighboring plantings. When we cut them down and tried to mulch them up with the bush hog, oh woe be the thorns. Punctured tractor tires many times over. Not worth the white blooms ever.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:18 am
  7. Ann R.

    I am using the native Mexican plum which looks just like the Bradford.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:56 am
  8. east texas tree grower leone’

    And this was the tree of the year in North Texas just 15 years ago. Urban growth with the requirement for caliper replacement is well meant, but a quality tree is still the best long term. Some patches of the Texas prairie are just not meant to be forest.

    March 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm
  9. Shady Gardener

    You’ve taught me more than I’d known about Bradford Pear. (They ARE beautiful in bloom, though. Are they not?) :-)

    March 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm
  10. Henry H.

    Steve I try to steer my customers in another direction from the BP, always. A nice alternative, if it has to be a pear, would be the Evergreen Pear. Same pretty blooms but a little bit more of an open branching structure(IMO) and I haven’t heard of any breakage to date.
    Whachu think Steve-O??????

    March 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm
  11. Jim Long

    I have to cast my vote on the “worst tree in America” ballot, as well. As a former nurseryman, I was guilty once for letting a client talk me into selling him one of those awful trees. I’ve hidden my shame all these years and now I can tell the truth and rest easier at night. They are awful trees. But, I have never seen them reseeding and expanding. My gosh, that’s almost as bad as kudzu! A national wipe-out the Bradford pear campaign should be in the works.

    March 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm
  12. Rhonda

    I hate these things! All over the Midwest there are half- Bradfords…. and people leave them like that (our version of the Crepe Myrtle perhaps?) Besides the foul stench, they break at the slightest hint of wind. Bradford pears are another tree a former professor would have advised to “prune at the roots”
    I have to agree!

    March 2, 2011 at 8:19 am
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Henry,
    My one question about the evergreen pear would be its hardiness farther north.
    As for a substitute for Bradford pear, how about our native serviceberry? It has pretty spring flowers, colorful autumn foliage, handsome bark, tasty berries, and none of the Bradford’s problems. Never seen one? Here’s a link: http://cnre.vt.edu/dendro/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=9

    March 2, 2011 at 11:25 am
  14. Cheryl Martin

    I have to say I have one of these beautiful trees and we love it. I have no problem with the limbs falling, as a matter of fact my nieces climb the tree regularly. We also have no problem with the grass growing underneath the tree. It is a beautiful tree and we get quite a few compliments on it. Now I am not sure how old the tree is as it was on out property when we purchased it and I can say we have never done anything a all to the tree.

    March 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm
  15. esh

    Another vote against the ‘Bradford’ pear and all it’s cousins. I drove down to Macon from Atlanta this weekend and thorny seedlings were all over the roadside. This is fast becoming a pest. The cross pollination issue is now so bad that every pear I see has viable fruit. And it’s formal lollipop shape is just so un-natural looking!
    Good call on the recommendation for Serviceberry. A much better tree for southern landscapes.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm
  16. Henry H.

    Yes I agree they are nice Steve. I didn’t think they did very well where we are because of the heat. We are at the southern edge for dogwoods even. Reading more about the Serviceberry there seems to be a conflict on what heat zones it tolerates. I saw some that said 7, 8 and even 9. I’m not buyin the 9 though…..

    March 4, 2011 at 8:30 am
  17. UrsulaV

    I’ve heard rumors that one of the reasons Bradford pears were so popular with developers was because the growth habit was so oval, you could just grab the basic plastic template off the shelf and trace the oval onto your little landscape drawing.
    Perhaps a legend, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

    March 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm
  18. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Henry,
    I wouldn’t buy Zone 9 either. In Grumpy’s opinion, the reason Bradford became so popular is that it grows fast (cheap to produce for growers), and it’s not fussy about soil and tolerates drought (landscapers don’t have to replace many dead ones). But it’s quickly taking over our roadsides. Serviceberry (see above) is a great alternative where it will grow well. Heck, so is a flowering cherry or saucer magnolia.

    March 6, 2011 at 10:07 am
  19. Russ

    Planted a Bradford 10 years ago. The roots hit hardpan sand and gravel about three feet down and decided to start sending up suckers all over the place. We committed Bradfordcide but actually had to dig out roots to stop the suckers. Any root fragments we missed now send up shoots. So, I would suggest, it is not necessarily seeding to spread.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  20. PCS

    The Mimosa should be rated just as high on the don’t plant list!They seed everywhere and it is a maintenance nightmare on our properties.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm
  21. William Watkins

    cut my pear down years ago

    January 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm
  22. Trish

    Im stuck with 4 of these dreaded trees in my backyard by my pool. They have falling cherry like fruit. My dog eats them and just recently was hospitalized because of it. I know the ultimate answer is to cut them down but they are in a retaining wall area. I have thinned them out tremedously. Is there anything I can do to reduce the amount of fruit?

    February 2, 2012 at 5:01 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Trish,
    If you cut them back severely now, you’ll cut off the flower buds. No flower buds, no flowers and no fruit. That’s the only alternative I can see to removing them.

    February 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm
  24. Rhonda

    I have two huge very tall hardwoods that bloom in early spring. They are actually losing their white blossoms now in the second week of March. My driveway looks like it has snowed. Also, it has hard 2-3 inch woody thorns on it. I don’t know anyone who can identify it. It is so beautiful! I would love to know what it is. Any suggestions?

    March 10, 2012 at 12:07 am
  25. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Rhonda, I know exactly what you have. They are callery pear. ‘Bradford’ is a thornless selection. The problem is that if ‘Bradford’ seeds, the seedlings are thorny. Or if the top graft dies at any point, thorny suckers come up from the roots.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm
  26. Claude

    What about Cleveland Flowering Pear trees? Are they a good substitute for the Bradford Pears?

    July 7, 2012 at 3:03 pm
  27. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Claude,
    Yes. ‘Cleveland Select’ was chosen because it does not branch the way ‘Bradford’ does and therefore is not prone to storm damage.

    July 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm
  28. It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt – Chasing Hurricane Sandy | Brain4rent's Blog

    [...] UPDATE: In my efforts to replace the beautiful though surprisingly stinky (this year most notably  tree, I’ve learned they are just about the most contentious plant for myriad reasons including from weak crotches to invasive suckers and yes, the smell when in bloom is reminiscent of decaying fish.   However, living as I do in Bradford, I can’t imagine  a nicer, more glorious looking, and appropriate neighbor than this tree.  I know it isn’t nice to speak ill of the deceased, but not everyone feels this way; here is a differing point of view. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2011/02/28/i-just-hate-bradford-pear/ [...]

    October 31, 2012 at 5:21 am
  29. Debbie C.

    In the past year I have realized how invasive these Bradford pear-Callery trees are. Last spring as we were traveling up Interstate 85 , we noticed how many of these trees were blooming in open fields. It was alarming. We cut ours down this year, but I have noticed the thorny crosses in our woods. We have two neighbors that have them so I know ours must have crossed with either of theirs.

    November 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm
  30. Steve Bender

    Debbie,
    This problem is getting worse and worse. Pretty soon, all the flowering pears will be thorny.

    December 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm
  31. Cathy Helms

    Yes, they are beautiful but the blooms only last a week, then it’s gone. Plus, their pollen is horrible for allergy sufferers. I’m just waiting for the last one my builder put in to go. Unfortunately, when it finally does, it will probably take out the fence and outbuilding.

    April 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm