A grove of Bradford pear trees can look like a white fairyland in the early spring. If you are thinking about adding this ornamental tree to your landscape, keep in mind that you might end up with a grove of them and possibly even some grumpy neighbors. Bradford pears can be a gardening mistake, according to some experts. The limbs of these fast-growing trees break too easily in stormy weather and that could be the least of their problems.
The Bradford pear, a native to Asia, was developed as the "perfect" street tree for its long-lasting autumn color and spectacular spring display of white blooms. An early bloomer in temperate regions, the flowers do not include the pleasant fragrance of many early-blooming ornamental trees. They also bear tiny pears, which, while not especially ornamental, do serve as food for wild birds.
Nonetheless, it's a fact that these flowering trees are highly problematic. Additionally, they are prone to suckering, and, unfortunately, manual control is the only viable method, as the root system would take up any herbicide applied and it would harm the parent plant.
Problem: Bloom Season Odor
The showy but delicate pink or white flowers of a Bradford pear tree are considered malodorous. The foul odor of a rotting animal is the tree's way of attracting pollinators, such as blowflies. The smell has also been described as ranging from rotting fish to urine and other excrement. The early spring blooming lasts for about two weeks.
Problem: Effect on Other Plants
Bradford pear trees are considered invasive in some parts of the United States. Because these trees crowd out native plants and provide little to no food for insects, the result is a damaged ecosystem.
States are now able to exercise the option to ban the growing, selling, and planting of Bradford pear trees. Ohio was the first state to enact such a ban on the tree. If you are unsure of the status in your area, contact your local cooperative extension office for information.
Problem: Wilting Leaves
If you have inherited a Bradford pear in your landscape, there are a few common care problems that you are likely to run up against, such as wilting leaves.
It’s common for newly transplanted trees to experience transplant shock. Their disturbed roots find it difficult to nourish the leaves with sufficient water, as an established tree would be able to do. High winds simply exacerbate the problem; the result is leaf-wilt.
To help your plant, don’t fertilize your struggling tree. Fertilizing would support the root system to foster extra leaf growth. You do not want extra growth at this time, because the tree’s disturbed roots are already struggling to function properly. Water your Bradford pear tree regularly and wait patiently to see how it pulls through.
Problem: Japanese Pear Rust
You've never had a problem with your Bradford pear tree, but all of a sudden, you spot a very bright orange fuzzy coating on the little pears one summer. This substance is falling on the lawn. It consists of little orange spikes that are coming right out of the fruits.
What you're observing is a kind of a "rust," which is a fungal disease. Specifically, it is most likely Japanese pear rust. Check with your county extension to see if they can recommend an anti-fungal spray.
However, Japanese pear rust, while unsightly and a nuisance, is generally not something that is going to kill your plant. It doesn't occur year after year, so it might be best to try just waiting it out for the rest of the growing season. This fungus will also affect junipers.
Problem: Fire Blight
Fire blight is another disease that can be spread by rain, wind, insects, or pruning with unsterilized tools. Fire blight causes leaves and branches to turn brown, die off, and shed. From a distance, the trees themselves look healthy. But if you look up into the tree closely you will see small dead branches at the end of a limb ready to fall.
Problem: One Tree Is Blooming, the Other Is Not
There are many possible reasons for Bradford pear trees not blooming, such as:
- The flower buds are sometimes damaged in cold winters.
- The trees may not have received sufficient water.
- Your soil could be deficient in nutrients (having a soil test done can help).
Even though your Bradford pear tree may have bloomed when it was younger, the soil under it could now be slightly different or the tree could have sustained some sort of injury when it was planted.
Problem: The Leaves Are Turning Brown and Dropping Off
With very few exceptions, most young trees will thrive better if planted in the spring or fall. Trees planted during the summer months struggle with an immature root system that can't uptake enough water and nutrients. The result could be brown and dying leaves shed from the branches. Watering at this point will not correct the problem since the roots have to set in before photosynthesis can begin working efficiently.
Just like other plants, watering schedules for young Bradford pear trees are dependent on a number of variables. You will need to consider the amount of rainfall your area receives. Soil type, drainage, and the size of the tree will also affect its water needs. For young trees, a gallon of water twice a week is a good starting point.
Problem: The Leaves on My Bradford Pear Are Turning Yellow
Yellowing leaves on your tree could indicate a soil problem. You can do a soil test or take a sample to your local cooperative extension to have it tested for deficiencies. Chances are, though, this problem is more likely caused by the type of soil in which you planted.
Soils with a lot of clay hold water longer than sandy soils. Over-watering or too much rain in clay soils can result in root rot. The roots will drown because they can't get enough oxygen. As the roots die, the leaves will turn yellow.
If the whole tree is not dead, there may be time to work compost into the soil to improve drainage though there are no guarantees this will succeed. It may be a good time to remove the plant, amend the soil, and replace it with a better landscape tree.
Before You Plant a Bradford Pear Tree
Weigh your options before planting because a Bradford pear tree is difficult to remove once it becomes established. This tree is covered with small sharp twiggy limbs which, along with the fruits, can make removal a tough, messy job. There is also the possibility of planting just one and then finding yourself removing seedlings every year.
The easiest solution is to find a superior 'Bradford' cultivar to grow. There are other types of ornamental pears that will give you loads of white flowers in spring and good fall color. P. calleryana 'Autumn Blaze' is an example. Other types of "callery" pears (so called because of the species name, calleryana) that can serve as substitutes include:
- 'New Bradford'
Do Not Plant: Bradford Pears. Choose Natives.
What is causing my beautiful Bradford pear trees to smell so bad? Harnett County North Carolina Extension.
Invasive Bradford pear, 3 other species to be banned for sale in SC. Clemson University News.
Ohio outlaws ubiquitous pear trees. University of Cincinnati.
Pear Rust. Oklahoma State University Extension, 2021.
Protect Your Bradford Pear Trees. Carolina Tree Care.
Native Alternatives to Bradford Pear. Missouri Botanical Garden.