What’s the problem with Bradford pear trees? They’re nicely shaped, have beautiful flowers in the spring, glossy green leaves and you see them everywhere. Builders are especially fond of these trees because they grow fast and look great when they’re young.
Within the tree industry, they’re known as the ‘self-destructing tree’.
Unfortunately, they also have a nasty reputation for breaking apart when they reach maturity. Within the tree industry, they’re known as the ‘self-destructing tree.
Bradford pears are a hybrid, designer tree that have a serious structural flaw. The critical attachment points where branches meet the trunk are shaped like a ‘V’ in contrast to stronger ‘U’ shape attachments. As the tree grows, both the trunk and the branch increase in diameter and eventually they begin to push against each other.
At the other end, branches put on vigorous, heavy growth every year that place tremendous stress on those weak attachment points. Thick canopies catch the wind like a sail and sooner or later, large portions of the tree split apart. You often see this begin when the tree is about twelve to fifteen years old. If the tree is protected from heavy winds by buildings or other trees, it may delay the inevitable by a few years. Rarely do we see Bradford pears in the landscape that are more than 25 years old.
Can anything be done to prolong their life? The answer is maybe, but it’s not recommended because you’ll just be throwing good money after bad. You simply cannot eliminate the risk. They can be pruned frequently to reduce end-weight and to allow the wind to pass through the canopy. Cables can be installed to help support weak attachment points. However, these are only stopgap strategies that will not ‘fix’ the problem, it they may only delay the destruction that is sure to come.
Bradford pears clearly have no lasting value in the landscape. Each year, they get exponentially bigger, and consequently will be more expensive to remove. It’s my opinion that they should be removed as early as possible, under controlled circumstances, before they split apart unexpectedly, possibly causing damage to life or property.
There are certainly alternatives to the Bradford pear. According to The New York/Mid-Atlantic Gardener’s Book of Lists by Dr. Bonnie Appleton and Lois Chaplin, other cultivars of Callery pears such as Aristocrat, Redspire, Cleveland Select, Whitehouse or Capital may be more suitable.
It’s my opinion that they should be removed as early as possible, under controlled circumstances, before they split apart unexpectedly, possibly causing damage to life or property.Paul Martin