One very common and popular tree that is planted around here is the Bradford Pear. Bradford Pears look like the perfect tree or how man would design a tree if he could. They are very symmetrical trees. They grow very dense making them great screens. They bloom very early in spring and leaf out early as well. They have red fall color and around here are the last trees to still have leaves, often late into December.
So all of that sounds pretty good but many of those same characteristics are also part of their problems. Let’s go through these in reverse. I don’t know about you, but when I rake up leaves, I’d like to know I am done. However, most of the time, the Bradford’s leaves don’t even start to fall while the other trees are dropping their leaves. So it is one more round of leaf clean up late into December right while you are getting ready for the Christmas holidays. Like there is not enough to do then.
The bloom very early and sometimes cold weather will turn the blooms brown. Not all that attractive. The flowers in my opinion stink, kinda like old fish. Yet often you see them planted near a front walkway.
They grow very dense. Visually I find them to look very heavy. No light gets to the ground underneath them making it hard for anything else to grow under them. Many homeowners also don’t prune the lower branches while they are young which compounds the problems. The lowest branches should be kept above head height.
Now what could be possibly wrong with the symmetry. Aside from my general views on symmetry in the garden that I talked about in a earlier post, what happens when you lose a major limb? Bradford pears are fast growing. Any wood that grows fast generally is weaker wood. The dense symmetrical form comes from branches growing at tight angles to each other. As these branches grow, they actually push against each other. Add wind or ice, or both and the tree splits. A few years ago here in Durham NC, we had an early December ice storm. The trees still had leaves on them. I saw Bradford tree after Bradford tree damaged. Most of them looked like Godzilla had stepped on them. Every limb was laying on the ground radiating out from the trunk like spokes on a wheel. The trunks were sticking up 4-5 feet in the air. I took pictures of them which unfortunately I no longer can locate. (The pic I have attached I stole from the web). As I took those pictures, I also took a picture of a Southern Magnolia, which of course had leaves since they are evergreen. There was only one small limb lying on the ground under it. It had ice on it just as the Bradfords did. In fact the ice storm was so bad that most of the city was without power for nearly a week. When people said that the Bradfords were only damaged because they still had leaves on them, I just showed them the picture of the Magnolia.
Even if the whole tree is not damaged completely in a storm, if it loses a major branch it still looks very bad. A strongly symmetrical tree looks lie a big bite was taken out of it for a long time afterward.
Guess how many Bradford Pears I have planted in my career. ONE! That one was a replacement for a Bradford that had been damaged in an ice storm and the homeowner insisted that another one be planted in it’s place. I’m sure that in the 20 years since it was planted, it has been damaged from ice as well.