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DALY: Popular Bradford pear trees have drawbacks

One of the most popular flowering trees over the past few decades has been the Bradford pear tree. They have been planted extensively by homeowners and landscapers for their rapid growth, beautiful pyramidal form, white spring flowers and colorful fall foliage. These trees have the ability to grow in all types of environmental conditions and are pest resistant.

Bradford Pears are beautiful trees with one serious flaw: they are very prone to limb breakage. The trees have a rapid growth rate, weak wood and poor branch structure, which becomes apparent when they are 10 to 20 years old. The angle of the Bradford Pear's branches is quite narrow. As they increase in size, the tree begins to push itself apart. Large sections of the canopy will collapse under its own weight or parts of the tree will break off as a result of wind, rain or ice. The broken branches can potentially fall on someone's house or car. Often, many older trees can be observed missing sections of their limbs and trunk.

There are other types of flowering pear trees that do not have as serious problem of limb breakage. Examples include Aristocrat, Chanticleer, Select or Stonehill. One disadvantage to the alternative varieties is that some are susceptible to a bacterial disease called fire blight, which causes the ends of the stems and leaves to turn black, become crisp and curl. There is also a wide variety of other attractive and durable trees for the landscape.

For fast growing alternatives, consider using Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) or Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrulata) since both are sturdy, can grow in difficult situations, are pest resistant and have excellent fall color. For spring flowering trees, consider using alternatives like crabapples, service berries (Amelanchier) or fringe trees (Chionanthus). Some of these trees also produce ornamental fruit and can grow 20 to 40 feet in height. The crabapple variety Callaway can tolerate the intense heat and dryness of summers in Georgia. Two types of Fringe Tree are available: the American fringe tree has a growth giving it an informal look, while the Chinese Fringe Tree grows a more compact canopy. Both of these trees have glossy leaves like the Bradford pear.

The excessive use of the Bradford pear has taught us a valuable lesson.

Growing and observing them in a variety of environmental conditions has helped us to understand the obvious disadvantages of a tree that at first leaves an impression of beauty.

Timothy Daly, MS, is and Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.