Do not plant Bradford Pear

By Jim Janke

We moved here from Chicago, where there are only two seasons: winter and road-under-construction.*

By comparison, the extended spring in the mountains is wonderful. We have as many as 12 weeks of continuous bloom when redbuds, pears, cherries, crabapples, plums, dogwoods, serviceberries, and other flowering trees do their stuff. But not all of these trees should be planted here. Bradford pears, particularly, have major problems.

Bradford pears (Pyrus calleryana) are widely used in landscaping throughout the US. They grow well in a variety of soil types and conditions, including full sun and partial shade. The trees have a tear-drop shape, with the main trunks dividing into many branches at one point. They grow rapidly, in full bloom can be drop-dead gorgeous, and have great fall color. So what’s the problem?

Bradford pear trees tend to split when loaded with ice or snow. Large older trees split more frequently than younger trees. It seems that every second or third spring we get a snow or ice storm, and one or more mature Bradfords in our neighborhood disintegrate and have to be removed.

To correct this tendency to split, new hybrids were developed. Unlike the original hybrids, though, these new trees are not sterile, and their seeds have spread so extensively that Bradford pear is considered an invasive plant in much of the eastern United States. For this reason the National Park Service recommends that you do not plant Bradford pear.

Fortunately a lot of good alternatives exist. For white blooms in spring, consider ‘Spring Snow’ or ‘Madonna’ crabapples, ‘Texas White’ redbud, or ‘Autumn Brilliance’ serviceberry.

When searching for a tree, shrub or perennial, I often use the Monrovia website. The individual plant listings have a wealth of information. Monrovia does not sell to the public, but if you find it on their website a local nursery can often get it for you.

*Some Chicagoans insist that spring does exist there: it’s a Saturday afternoon in April between 2 and 4 p.m. After that it goes directly to summer or reverts to winter.

Jim Janke is a Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828.456.3575.

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