Bradford Pear Trees: Good or Bad?
Few tree varieties have been more popular or better known than the “Bradford” pear, one of the best selling trees in the nursery business. Customers often ask us for “Bradford pear” when they really mean “ornamental pear” (as opposed to orchard-type pears). Bradford Pears are one variety of Callery pear, a family of ornamental pear trees with fruit so small it is often eaten by birds before it drops. Ornamental pears display beautiful white blossoms in spring, grow rapidly in almost any soil into a rounded pyramidal shape, and have intense red late fall color.
Unfortunately the Bradford is not the best ornamental pear, and reputable nurseries are now advising against Bradford pears and offering other ornamental pears instead. This is because mature Bradford pears have several fatal flaws that cause them to split in half in later life. Their worst habit is “bark included crotches”, which means that where their limbs attach to the trunk there is a weak spot. This defect makes Bradford pears very susceptible to ice and wind damage. Even frequent professional pruning can’t prevent this from happening.
Bradford pears also tend to grow all their main limbs from the same spot on the trunk, usually two or three feet from the ground. This makes Bradford pears hard to walk or mow under. Planting Bradford pears too close to pavement is a common mistake, and many Bradford pears have been removed because they eventually block driveways and sidewalks with low-hanging limbs as they get older. Mature Bradford pears trees grow more than thirty feet wide, and the weight of their sagging limbs causes them to split in half under ice loads.
A solution is to plant better ornamental pear varieties like “Cleveland Select”. These superior pear trees were developed as replacements for the Bradford. The newer varieties have alternating branching, better limb attachment and a narrower form to reduce ice and wind damage. They also respond well to “limbing up”, which makes them easier to live with as driveway or street trees since you can walk or drive under them if they’re properly pruned.
ALL ornamental pear trees are grafted onto the rootstocks of non-hybrid, native Callery pear. This means that sprouts emerging from the base of the tree, or seedlings sprouting from dropped fruit, are not the same kind of tree you started with. Native Callery pears are multiple-trunk clump trees with vicious thorns, shaped more like huge shrubs. They make dense thickets, smother other trees, and are hard to control. The popularity of Bradford pears over many years has led to the rapid spread of Callery pears from seed. In many areas, Callery pears are considered an invasive species and planting them is discouraged by the government.
GoodSeed Nursery doesn’t carry Bradford pear, and instead we suggest “Cleveland Select” pear, an improved variety that’s much stronger, with a fifteen-foot branch spread.
All ornamental pears are fairly short-lived softwood trees so they won’t become landmarks like oaks or hard maples, however they grow fast and are very trouble-free in any kind of soil. They are an good choice for new homeowners who want instant results, and for inexpensive driveway tree plantings.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.
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