Quite often, this is the question I hear. Should I plant a Bradford Pear, or should I look for something else? As is often the case, my official certified arborist answer is “That depends.” Let's look at the things you need to know about the Bradford Pear before you plant one.
Bradfords have been one of my favorite ornamental trees for a long time. They have a beautiful shape, gorgeous blooms, pristine leaves, and are very disease resistant. Once established, they grow quickly into one of the best looking trees in any neighborhood.
If your not “up to speed” on ornamental trees, you may wonder by my description why there would be any hesitation to plant one of these beautiful specimens. The key problem with a Bradford Pear is weak crotch formations. It is so prevalent a defect that it has become stereotypic. Every time the wind kicks up, we wonder how many Bradfords we'll be cleaning up in the next few days. Tightly formed “V” crotches are the culprit defect which leads to a major section or two breaking out of the tree when it is reaching a nice full size. Find any decent size Bradford, and you will probably find evidence of a broken section sometime in it's past.
There are some things that can be done to help reduce the risk of this happening to your Bradford. Some corrective pruning at a young age can help avoid this problem in later years. Cabling and bracing can be installed in some situations as a preventative measure or as a remedy for an existing split or crack.
Lately, I have been recommending a different variety of flowering pear. The Chanticleer Pear, which also may be labeled as a Cleveland Select Pear, has a little less tendency to the bad crotch problem. This variety also has all of the great traits of the Bradford. It's not that you should never plant a Bradford Pear ever again, it's that you should never plant one without knowing all of these things first.
It is time for a new column feature (for me anyway). Question & Answer. E-mail me your tree questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org . I may use them in an upcoming column. Provide as much detail as you can in the description of your question. The tree species is very important if you know what kind of tree you have.