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5 Trees to Plant Instead of Bradford Pear

5 Trees to Plant Instead of Bradford Pear

By Stacey Hirvela, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®

One of the surest signs that spring has arrived each year is the blooming of the Bradford pear trees. Widely planted as a street tree in the parking lots of malls and offices, and in home landscapes, they’re impossible to miss: Oval-canopied trees with a mantle of white flowers so thick that it almost resembles snow. This incredible flower power, coupled with an appealing neat habit, glossy green foliage, handsome fall color, and rugged resistance to all sorts of environmental challenges, has made them one of the most ubiquitous ornamental trees in the U.S. and Canada.

Properly known as a Callery pear – derived from its scientific name, Pyrus calleryana – this plant is commonly known as “Bradford pear,” due to the popularity of the cultivar ‘Bradford’, introduced by the USDA in 1962. Its obvious aesthetic appeal made it an instant success in spite of its notable liabilities. The flowers have a smell that can be charitably described as malodorous (NCSU describes it as “…like a decaying animal”), and their branches occur in tight bunches at extreme angles so they readily break due to wind, snow, ice, and even maturity, obliterating up to half the tree at one go.

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Bradford pear trees that have spread to a natural area. Photo credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

The popularity – and shortcomings – of ‘Bradford’ encouraged the introduction of additional cultivars, which caused an unforeseen liability to develop: invasiveness. The new cultivars cross-pollinated with ‘Bradford’ and with one another, allowing small, corky, rounded pears to develop. Though they aren’t remotely edible to humans, they are relished by birds, which led to the tree spreading into natural areas. In the wild (especially in warmer climates), they form dense communities that out-compete native vegetation and can even make areas entirely impassible. To date, they are known to be invasive in at least 25 states, and are banned from being sold or planted in at least 17 of them. While these bans are good news for nature lovers and conservationists, they pose challenges to garden centers, landscapers, and homeowners, who have been using Bradford pear as a go-to tree for decades.

The good news is that those who need or want an alternative to Bradford pear are spoiled for choice. There are many other options that are equally, if not more, beautiful, offer benefits that Bradford pears do not, and have none of the baggage. Whether you are looking to plant a new tree or replace an existing Bradford pear, these five options will look great in your yard – and let you sleep well at night.

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Spring Glory serviceberry

Spring Glory® Serviceberry

How Spring Glory® serviceberry is similar to Callery pear:

  • Small but abundant white flowers in early-mid spring (flowers have no scent).
  • Attractive pyramidal/oval habit, more loose and natural than the pear.
  • Stunning fall color.

How Spring Glory serviceberry is better than Callery pear:

  • Native to North America; non-invasive.
  • Edible fruits in June are delicious to eat for humans, or if left on the tree, joyfully consumed by birds and other wildlife.
  • Landscape-friendly size and habit: 12’/3.6m tall x 6-8’/1.8-2.4m tall and wide.
  • Tolerates light shade (as few as four hours of sun/day).
  • Hardier than, and equally heat tolerant as the pear.

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Golden Shadows dogwood

Golden Shadows® Dogwood

How Golden Shadows dogwood is similar to Callery pear:

  • White flower clusters in mid-late spring.
  • Striking, dramatic habit and shape.

How Golden Shadows dogwood is better than Callery pear:

  • Species native to North America; non-invasive.
  • Unique yellow and green variegated foliage.
  • Hardier than the pear (USDA zone 3), nearly as heat tolerant (through USDA zone 8).

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Crusader thornless hawthorn

Crusader® Thornless Hawthorn

How Crusader hawthorn is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flower clusters in late spring.
  • Extremely glossy foliage.
  • Tidy habit, with an upright rounded canopy hovering above a straight trunk.
  • Extremely durable and tolerant of harsh urban conditions.

How Crusader hawthorn is better than Callery pear:

  • Native to North America; non-invasive.
  • Ornamental red fruits in summer and fall.
  • Hardy to USDA zone 3 (though not quite as heat tolerant as the pear).
  • 15’/4.6m tall and wide habit is useful in residential, commercial, and urban plantings.

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Lollipop crabapple

Lollipop® Crabapple

How Lollipop crabapple is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flowers in mid-late spring.
  • Distinctive, tidy habit is like a lollipop on a smooth, straight trunk.

How Lollipop crabapple is better than Callery pear:

  • Flowers are delightfully fragrant.
  • Attractive red fruits.
  • A bit smaller (8’/2.4m tall and wide vs. 20’+/6m+ tall and wide).
  • Non-invasive.

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Sweet Sugar Tyme crabapple

Sweet Sugar Tyme® Crabapple

How Sweet Sugar Tyme crabapple is similar to Callery pear:

  • Covered in white flowers in mid-late spring.
  • Distinctive pyramidal/oval habit looks striking and neat.

How Sweet Sugar Tyme crabapple is better than Callery pear:

  • Flowers are delightfully fragrant.
  • Bright red fruits persist through winter for extra color.
  • A bit smaller (10’/3m tall and wide vs. 20’+/6m+ tall and wide).
  • Non-invasive.

Ask for these Proven Winners ColorChoice Trees at your favorite local garden center. If you don’t have one yet, these retailers provide Proven Winners plants throughout the U.S. and Canada.


All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

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