Planting bradford pear trees

I Planted a Bradford Pear Tree. Here’s Why I Won’t Do It Again

‘Bradford’ pear trees are the trees people love to hate. Notorious for their funky-smelling flowers, these blooming trees are a sign of spring in many places—but that’s not to say they’re welcomed with smiling faces. The invasiveness of ‘Bradford’ pears has become so bad that a county in Kentucky is offering a free alternative tree to anyone who cuts down a ‘Bradford’ in their yard. Years ago, I decided to pass on the rumors of this infamous callery pear cultivar and plant an alternate instead, because I believe every plant deserves a chance. Plus, how beautiful are those white flowers? Here’s what I learned.”

Image zoom Image courtesy of Adobe Stock. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

‘Bradford’ Pear Tree History and Issues

‘Bradford’ pear was introduced in the mid-1960s and soon became the most popular cultivar of callery pear (Pyrus calleryana). In fact, it’s so popular that the two terms are pretty much used interchangeably by the public. It was a favorite of landscapers and municipal planners alike. The trees were covered in white flowers in spring and you could look forward to pretty fall foliage as well. ‘Bradford’ grew fast, took any kind of soil without complaint, and was pest- and disease-free. It was even described as one of the best cultivar of trees developed in the 20th century.

At first, the shortcomings could be written off. ‘Bradford’ was supposed to be small but ended up growing 40 to 50 feet tall. And the flowers had a sickeningly sweet aroma that hung in the air when the trees were planted in groups (a common practice with street trees). Other flaws were harder to ignore. ‘Bradford’ was a structural challenge, with a bunch of weak branches arising from the same section of the trunk. If a winter storm didn’t make a wreck of the tree, the poorly engineered branches would do it themselves. The trees literally fell apart after 20 years.

The biggest pain became evident: ‘Bradford’ was crossing with other pear trees. Even worse, the offspring reverted to the characteristics of the species, which meant tire-puncturing thorns and thug-like thickets that crowded out native plants.

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My Experience With ‘Bradford’

One solution to ‘Bradford’ issues was to use sterile cultivars that wouldn’t reproduce. I bought one, a ‘Cleveland Select’, which had an upright, columnar shape that promised to be better behaved. Plus, it still had great fall foliage—a mix of burgundy and yellow in mid-November after everything else was finished. As for the flowers, I planted mine behind the garage, so I never noticed a smell.

One thing I did notice was fruit. After 10 barren years, my tree suddenly became a mother. As it turns out, “sterile” trees can still produce fruit if there’s a cross-pollinator nearby.

The verdict: Although a “sterile” version of this tree may not drop fruit or produce a bad smell, there’s a chance it’ll still cross-pollinate. This habit sucks the power out of hardworking native plants, essentially choking them out.

If you’ve got one, consider cutting it down (it makes good firewood!) and replacing with a better-behaved, less-problematic flowering tree. Some of my favorites include kousa dogwood, pagoda dogwood, serviceberry, flowering cherry, and fringetree. Not only will your neighbors thank you for sparing them from the stench of a ‘Bradford’, but native plants will be ever so grateful.

Really? Seriously? Topping ornamental pear trees is a terrible idea | The Kansas City Star

Topped Bradford pear trees Submitted.

From Dennis Patton:

And people actually call it pruning! It is statements like this that get me into trouble with tree services in the Kansas City area. But whoever dreamed up the worst pruning practice for any tree — topping ornamental pears to “save them” from their fate — is out of their mind.

Let me back up and explain. Ornamental pear trees (many of you call them Bradford pears) have one of the worst branching habits of any tree ever released in the trade. This tree has a number of closely spaced, narrow, upright limbs that attach at the same point on the trunk.

As the tree ages, these limbs all grow together and share the wood that forms the trunk. As a result the limbs are very weakly attached to the trunk. When the inevitable wind or ice storm comes along, they fail. Some describe their failure as peeling a banana. That is, they split out, falling to the ground, and the tree is destroyed. This has not happened widely for a number years in the KC area. So many of you forget they are prone to failure. But it is really only a matter of time.

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Now someone has figured out that if we top the trees every few years, reducing the weight of the branches on the crotches, they are less likely to break. Okay, I buy this justification, but only to a point. Because wait, the resulting tree that has been butchered — okay, topped — is ugly, ugly, ugly. It takes several years for it to regrow and develop its natural shape. I will grant you that its natural oval shape is becoming in the landscape. But a tree that has been hacked back multiple times is uglier than Cinderella’s stepsisters and does not deserve a place in the landscape.

This topping does prolong the tree’s life, but at what cost? I will tell you at what cost — a reoccurring expense to your pocketbook. For topping to be effective it must be done over and over every few years. Topping ornamental pears creates a cash flow for the tree company at your expense. If you stop the retopping, you are right back where you started with a brittle tree, even more susceptible to snow and ice.

So why do this in the first place? Is this tree that we have known for years as an “accident waiting to happen” really worth the repeated pruning expense? Not to mention that ornamental pears have now become an invasive weed tree, choking out native vegetation such as the milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. Why do we prize this tree when really one cut pruning should be done; I hope you get my drift of where the cut should be made. Hint: think low and permanent.

Yes, I agree the tree is pretty when it flowers. But is 51 weeks of ugly really worth one week of pretty? Topping this tree to keep it around is really like throwing money down a hole. If you have that much disposable income to keep this tree around let me tell you about my poor children’s college fund.

Bite the bullet and get over it; this tree is not worth a dime. Don’t let a bad practice lull you into a sense of security thinking you are doing the right thing. Take that money you will invest in pruning and remove the tree. Plant a new, better quality tree that will last for generations to come.

As I see it, it just does not make sense to waste good hard-earned money on a tree that has so little value in the landscape. I know this article will leave some of you steaming mad. But as you can see it is a subject I am passionate about, so I’ve gone overboard to help you see that there is a better solution. I guess you know how to let me know if I’ve pushed one too many buttons. But since I have adopted and accepted the philosophy that life is too short to accept ugly plants, I have been liberated and feel the need to share in an effort to end this absurd practice.

Why Bradford Pears Are The Worst Tree Ever

Today my friends I wanna talk to you about a tree that all of your neighbors have planted, and you should not. It is called a Bradford Pear, and these are the reasons why. Number one, yes the flowers, the white flowers in the spring time were beautiful, they also stinks. Do you notice when they’re all in bloom you walk out in your neighborhood and the whole neighborhood smells like fish? Do you want to b known as the tuna neighborhood? No, you do not. The flowers stink. Number two, when they introduced Bradford Pear they told us it was gonna be a small ornamental tree. It is not small. This thing grows to be at least 50 feet tall and nearly as wide. So it swallows your whole front yard and because it’s got such dense branches, you can’t grow anything underneath it. You can’t even move in your front yard. It’s just too big. This is a self-destructing plant. If you look at a you’ll notice that all of its main branches come out from the same point on the trunk. This makes it extremely weak-wooded. So all you have to do is. Drive around your neighborhood and you’re gonna see all these bright repairs that looks like they’ve exploded. It could be big branches lying on the ground. And this will never stop until the tree actually has the old branches. Why would you want something like that in your yard. Don’t plant a Bradford pear. There’s an old song that says, breaking up is hard to do. Let me tell you. If you plant a Bradford pear, breaking up is simple.

In writing about our personal experiences, we sometimes mention products or services that we use or recommend. This page may contain affiliate links for which we receive a commission.

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The Bradford Pear tree, a variation of the Callery Pear which is native to China, was developed in 1963 by government scientists in Prince George County Maryland.

It quickly became widely adopted for its quick growth and pleasing colors that lasted well into fall. This ornamental fruit tree with its snowy white spring blossoms became very popular.

Neighborhoods and individuals across America have planting Bradford Pear trees for years. They provide almost immediate gratification when it comes to adding beauty to your yard or along a city boulevard.

Growing to a height of about 30 to 40 feet, the Bradford Pear tree’s foliage forms a nice tight round ball shape that looks very appealing — at least for awhile.

Unfortunately, like many things originating in China, the Bradford Pear tree seems to have earned a rather questionable reputation over the years and has lost favor with many gardeners.

Here are some of the reasons you may want to reconsider planting a Bradford Pear tree on your property…

Bradford Pear Trees Don’t Last Long

As quickly as they grow, the lifespan of the Bradford Pear tree is only about 20 or 25 years.

Despite all the beauty they lend to thousands of landscapes throughout the region, the trees are plagued with one fatal flaw: due to their combination of vigorous growth, weak wood and poor branch structure, they often begin falling apart after only 20 years. Source

More concerning is the fact that, in all likelihood, most Bradford Pear trees won’t make it through their expected lifespans intact.

Bradford Pear trees are notorious for having limbs which split away from the main trunk. With weak crotches that allow large limbs to snap off without warning, many a car has been damaged extensively from such occurrences.

Even the U.S. National Arboretum has removed the Bradford Pear trees that once lined its parking lot in order to avoid further damage to vehicles.

Notoriously prone to storm breakage, a Bradford Pear that has lost a major branch is structurally compromised and best removed by a pro. Source

This video shows an example of a Bradford Pear tree that, like many, came down for no apparent reason:

On the other hand, the Bradford Pear tree is very disease resistant. While sickness and disease are not unheard of with Bradford Pears, the fact is that ice storms or high winds are much more likely to kill off a Bradford Pear than sickness or blight.

Bradford Pears will develop blackening of leaves from root stress problems (drought, too much water, root injury, etc). This is their form of leaf scorch. Fire blight is also a disease that affects Bradford Pear. Source

Even the snowy white blossoms (which are beautiful to look at) have a putrid odor to them. The fruit is equally unpleasant. Beyond possibly making wine with them, the small woody berry-like fruit is just another cleanup issue to deal with.

The fruit — more like hard little berries — that the tree produces is softened by frost in the fall and favored by birds, who have deposited the seeds everywhere you look, pushing out other native trees. You can see the evidence on your drive to work each morning. Source

Bradford Pears Are Invasive

Environmentalists have labeled the Bradford Pear an invasive species, since it has crossed with other Pear varieties, reproducing very rapidly and spreading through many public areas. If left to their own devices, runners will proliferate and turn the area into a tangled thorny mass.

Bradford Pears are on the list of Invasive Pest Species in South Carolina. The cultivar was bred to be sterile and thorn-free, but ornamental pears are easily cross-pollinated. Birds eat the resultant fruit and drop seeds during their travels. Seeds germinate and produce unwelcome thorny thickets of pear trees. Source

Many communities have adopted programs to rid themselves of this problematic tree. However, getting rid of a Bradford Pear tree requires more than simply taking down the tree. The fact is the tree, stump, roots and all must be taken out of the ground, or the Bradford Pear tree will regenerate very quickly.

Bradford Pear Pruning Tips

Maintenance is the key to keeping the Bradford Pear tree looking good and staying contained within the area where it is intended to be.

In fact, too much pruning is just enough!

Your Bradford Pear tree should be pruned to have one strong central leader with side scaffolding branches that are even spaced at wide angles. Care needs to be taken with this type of pear tree to avoid narrow crotches. If this is not done, the limbs will eventually split away from the trunk. This will destroy the tree’
s shape and make it prone to disease. While pruning, you also need to remove limbs that are upright, crossing and crowded. Suckers need to be removed to avoid them turning into woody, weak wood. Pear trees bloom and bear fruit on the sharp, short spurs that grow between its branches. Thin the spurs regularly. Older spurs should be removed occasionally to be replaced by more vigorous young ones. If you end up with too many small fruits set in one year, thin them out to let the remaining fruit grow large and not have to compete for nutrients. It is generally best to prune pear trees late in the summer. You will stimulate the least amount of re-growth by pruning after the trees have finished growing for the year and have hardened their wood. If you live in an area where there’s a chance for winter damage, wait to prune until late winter. Source

Trimming and pruning Bradford Pear trees is mandatory. That is, unless you choose some alternatives to the Bradford Pear.

The splitting of the Bradford Pear is a very common problem. It’s not that it just suddenly happened, it’s just that it finally got too large and the limbs too heavy. The way they grow, with very “V” shaped crotches, lends it self to this problem. The very last thing you want to do is top them. What you want to do is thin out the branches at the crotches. This will relieve the stress and weight above. Source

Bradford Pears Aren’t All Bad

While the Bradford Pear is a tree with a troublesome reputation, if you don’t mind the ongoing maintenance that’s required, Bradford Pears might be worth the effort to you.

Admittedly, they can be a beautiful addition to the landscape. But, like many things, beauty doesn’t come cheap or easy.

This video slideshow reveals the 4 seasons of the Bradford Pear and shows the type of beauty they can add to your property:

More About Bradford Pear Trees

  • The Worst Tree Sold In America: The Bradford Pear Is Pure Junk
  • Bradford Pear Trees – To Plant, Or Not To Plant?
  • Many Questions & Comments About Bradford Pears

I’ve been involved in RVing for 50 years now — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you’ve got a good idea of who I am.

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Bradford Pear Trees: Facts, Pruning, & More


The Bradford pear tree, also known as the Pyrus calleryana or Callery pear, is a deciduous tree growing across much of North America. It’s easily identified by two things: its white blossoms and the rotting fish smell it can give off during the spring and summer. That’s why this plant has often been identified as a tree not to keep in one’s yard if you want to avoid power lines or yards being ruined during harsh weather conditions, or visitors quickly walking away once they smell it.

Here are some additional factors to consider when your Bradford pear tree starts blooming in the spring.

Drawbacks of Bradford Pears

There are several downsides associated with Bradford pears that homeowners need to be aware of when deciding to keep or remove them.

1. Weak branches

While Bradford pears grow quickly to a great height of 40 to 60 feet tall, their branches are very thin, and they are quite susceptible to high wind conditions. For example, if winds happen to reach up to 40 mph or more, they can break and fall down into pieces on your front lawn or worse, the power lines nearby. This could result in power outages, a lawn in disarray, or in the worst case scenario, someone injured.

2. Their smell

As aforementioned, the semll of Bradford pears is akin to fish rotting on a bank or the smell of sex. This is not the particular smell you want to walk out the front door to on the way to work. The Bradford pear has even been coined as the “semen tree” on Urban Dictionary for its atrocious odor. Consider how much you want to hold your breath from spring through summer to withstand this smell.

3. No grass

Bradford pears, while having very weak branches, are still really dense. This means that sun can’t get through the branches. So any grass underneath them won’t get the nutrients they need to grow. Unless you live in a climate where grass isn’t acceptable, like the desert, this probably isn’t something you want to deal with, either. It also doesn’t look good when you have brown grass and roots sticking because of the Bradford pear’s long rooting system spreading across the lawn.

4. Non-edible fruit

A pear tree should be able to produce edible fruit, but the Bradford pear tree’s fruit is inedible. Humans can’t eat it, and worse, it can be poisonous for dogs. Dog owners who have these trees in their yard need to be sure to remove any that fall from the tree before their animal gets ahold of it. It’s also a problem for lawn mowers because of how hard the fruit is.

Trimming & Pruning Bradford Pear Trees

If you decide to keep the Bradford pear in your yard, here are a few of the best way to go about trimming or pruning them:

  • Remove the dead and dying branches.
  • Prune anything that’s weak or close to falling off.
  • Remove anything that’s rubbing against the strong branches to avoid them falling off as well.
  • Leave any strong branches that are thick or growing at a 45-degree angle or more.
  • Prune any that are near power lines or the home roof, in case of strong winds, to avoid them falling and damaging things.
  • Remove any fruit that’s matured if you plan to mow the lawn or have a dog.
  • Remove any branches with mold or other disease infections and then treat the stump with a concentrate to avoid further growths.

Be aware that the best time to prune or trim a Bradford will be when it goes into dormancy around the fall. Spring and summer is when new growth occurs, so only trim and prune then if there are branches getting close to the roof or power lines, or in the case of fruit about fall on the yard.

Removing Bradford Pear Trees

If you decide to remove the Bradford pear tree and replace it with a pear tree that’s stronger and has edible fruit, you can have the tree removed professionally for between $500 and $1000. However, because Bradford pears keep most of their energy in their shoots and roots, there’s a chance the tree can grow back. You can have the stump removed in such cases with the tree, or you can wait for the stump to decay by rotting it with chemicals and cutting it away from the ground. You can also dig up the roots and create a trench to level them out and pull the stump out as a DIY project. However, be aware this a very time-consuming project that can be decimate a portion of your landscape. So it may be easier to have it professionally removed with the tree at the same time.

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Bradford pear trees


The New Bradford Pear Tree

‘Pyrus calleryana “Holmford”

The New Bradford Pear’s Mature Height is 25 – 35 feet, Mature Spread 20 – 35 feet, Soil Type Widely Adaptable, Moisture Drought Tolerant, Mature Form Round, Growth Rate Fast, Sun Exposure Full Sun, Flower Color White, Fall Color Gold, Burgundy, Foliage Color Green, P Size White, Zones 5-8, New Bradford pear photos

The New Bradford Pear, ‘Pyrus calleryana “Holmford”, is a broad, oval tree with good branch angles. The branching is the major improvement over the Bradford pear. Stronger branches stand up better to ice and wind.
The New Bradford is covered with white flowers in spring, glossy green foliage for summer, then turning yellow to maroon for autumn. It is an extremely popular, vigorous growing, medium size, shade tree with outstanding clusters of white blooms in spring and very attractive terrific yellow to red to purple foliage color in fall.
The New Bradford pear is a beautiful garden addition that produces no edible fruit. This flowering tree grows best in full sun. This is a great tree for lawns or for a street tree and it is very disease resistant.

New Bradford pear photos

Invasive Listing Sources

  • Alabama Invasive Plant Council
  • California Invasive Plant Council
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 1994.
  • Delaware Invasive Species Council
  • Delaware Invasive Species Council Invasive Species List
  • Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council – Category 3
  • Indiana Invasive Species Council – Invasive Plant List
  • Invasive Plant Species of West Virginia
  • Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland
  • Kentucky Exotic Pest Plant Council – Severe Threat
  • Maryland Code and Regulations of Invasive Plants
  • Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. 2003. Invasive Plant Control in Maryland. Home and Garden Information Center, Home and Garden Mimeo HG88. 4 pp.
  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources Policy: Restriction on Planting Exotic Invasive Plants
  • National Park Service, Mid-Atlantic Exotic Plant Management Team Invasive Plant List
  • Native Plant Society of Oregon, 2008
  • New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team 2017 Invasive Species List
  • Non-Native Invasive Plants of Arlington County, Virginia
  • Non-Native Invasive Plants of the City of Alexandria, Virginia
  • Nonnative Invasive Species in Southern Forest and Grassland Ecosystems
  • Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Invasive Plants
  • Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas
  • South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council
  • Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council
  • Virginia Invasive Plant Species List
  • WeedUS – Database of Plants Invading Natural Areas in the United States
  • West Virginia Invasive Species Strategic Plan and Volunteer Guidelines 2014
  • West Virginia Native Plant Society, Flora West Virginia Project, and West Virginia Curatorial Database System, September 3, 1999

The curse of the Bradford pear: These pretty trees can be a menace to people and the environment

GREENVILE, S.C. — Now that spring is within shouting distance, some parts of the nation are filling up with the fluffy white blossoms of the Bradford pear tree.

In recent decades, the trees have become commonplace in suburban yards across the country, but many gardening experts caution against the beautiful trees, saying they are a menace to people and the environment.

The trees were introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture as ornamental landscape trees in the mid-1960s. They became popular with landscapers because they were inexpensive, transported well and grew quickly.

Here are a few things to know about Bradford pear trees:

Bradford pear trees can be dangerous

They can grow up to 30 feet tall, which is dangerous because the trees have a weak branch structure. Bradford pear trees often break apart within 20 years, as former Tribune-Times columnist Durant Ashmore has reported. Anything, and anyone, under a Bradford pear is at increased risk as the tree ages and its steep V crotch structure is strained.

Callery pears are like kudzu

Crossbreeding of Bradford pears with other pear trees has caused a boom in Chinese Callery pears, which have long, thick thorns that can’t be mowed down by traditional tractors and can choke out native trees much the same way as kudzu.

More:Grab your chainsaw and end this Bradford pear curse once and for all

‘Do not plant’ Bradford pears

The South Carolina Forestry Commission has cautioned against planting the trees: “Do not plant Callery or Bradford pear. Instead, plant native alternatives, such as serviceberry, fringe tree, tupelo, or dogwood, among many others. Trees should be cut and stumps immediately treated with herbicides to eliminate sprouting response.”

The Peggy Clark apricot and crape myrtles are also worthy alternatives, Ashmore has reported.

I’ve seen a lot of plant invasions, but I have NEVER seen anything like what I saw in northern Martin County this week. A beautiful forest with nothing but callery pear seedlings in the understory. ’Sounds bad’, you say, ‘but I don’t know what callery pear is and probably don’t have it in my neighborhood.’ Oh, but you do. If you look outside right now, it’s likely you’ll see callery pear in bloom.
You may know it by its popular cultivar names – Bradford pear, Chanticleer pear, Aristocrat pear, Cleveland Select pear. They are all cultivars of callery pear, a small ornamental flowering tree brought to the U.S. from China in the late 1800s. Fast growing, tolerant of air pollution, disease resistant, and pretty white flowers in early spring – what more could you want in a landscaping tree? Bradford pear was the first popular cultivar and was widely used in landscaping from the 1950′s on. Cultivars are propagated by cloning, so that each individual is genetically identical. Because callery pear is self-incompatible, Bradford pears could not pollinate themselves and produce fruits. So on top of all the other advantages, it didn’t produce messy fruits.
Unfortunately, Bradford pear had a big flaw – it has a weak branch structure meant that the branches would eventually split and kill the tree. So horticulturists developed other cultivars with better branch structure. Over time, many other cultivars were released and used in landscaping. Each one of those cultivars is genetically different from the other cultivars, which means they can cross with each other and produce fruits. Lots and lots of fruits. Callery pear is also a popular root stock for grafting other pears. If the grafted pear dies, the callery pear root stock will continue to grow and will produce abundant fruits.
The callery pear invasion in northern Martin County came from a nursery in the area that grew callery pear back in the 1910s and 1920s. The nursery eventually went out of business, but the pears lived on. Over the years, fruits were produced and birds ate the fruits and then spread the seeds far and wide. And now? It’s estimated there are 900 acres of forest with an understory completely dominated by callery pear. Areas of the forest are so dense it is impossible to walk through the forest. Thousands more acres of forest have callery pear in the understory, but it does not yet dominate the forest floor. Forest areas that have had timber harvest are a sea of white flowers in mid-April, with callery pear dominating the regenerating forest.
I’m bringing this to your attention because right now, this is the only place in the Midwest where callery pear has invaded so densely over such a large area. There are places throughout Indiana where we are seeing scattered callery pear in old fields, highway cloverleafs, and other disturbed habitats, but this Martin County invasion is a glimpse of what the rest of the state could look like in coming years. The only difference between the Martin County invasion and the forest or prairie in your back yard is the length of time that callery pear has been planted on the landscape.
We still have time to stop this coming invasion. It’s simple. Don’t plant callery pear in your yard. If it’s in your yard now, kill it. Replace it with a native flowering tree. Then tell your neighbors. Tell your local nursery that they should not sell this species. Tell that local strip mall with dozens of callery pears that using this species in landscaping is hurting our forests.
We have time to stop this invasion, people – let’s get on it!
If you find callery pear growing outside of cultivation, please report it through Report IN so we know where it has invaded.

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