What to Know About Pretty (But Smelly) Bradford Pear Trees Before You Plant

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated March 4, 2022
A brick house with blooming pear tree
Photo: dbvirago / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Bradford pear tree is a popular flowering tree species.

  • The trees are considered invasive in parts of the U.S.

  • In spring, the flowers emit a foul smell.

  • These trees have a short lifespan of up to 25 years.

  • They require minimal care but are prone to splitting.

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If you’ve ever walked along a tree-lined street, admiring the white flowers on a leafy tree, only to be hit with a foul odor…you’ve probably experienced a Bradford pear tree. These trees, while smelly, are pretty and affordable, making them a popular choice for homes, municipalities, and retail spaces alike. And while this tree has its benefits, its impact on the environment is also of concern. 

Before you plant, here’s what you need to know about Bradford pear trees.

What Are Bradford Pear Trees?

A blooming Bradford Pear Tree
Photo: Joe_Potato / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Also known as Pyrus calleryana or the Callery pear, Bradford pear trees are native to China and Vietnam. They grow about 30 to 60 feet in height and have pretty short lifespans, lasting only 15 to 25 years. Bradford pear trees were once handed out for Arbor Day celebrations in the 1960s and became popular across the U.S. in the 1980s and ’90s. But today, they are considered an invasive species in many regions.

Pros of Bradford Pear Trees

If you’re looking for an affordable, fast-growing tree, look no further.

They’re Affordable

Bradford pear trees became popular because of their affordability. The trees cost about $5 to $150, depending on the size during purchase. Comparatively, planting other types of trees costs can range from $100 to nearly $2,500.

They’re Fast-Growing

You may celebrate a family milestone by planting a tree in the backyard, but waiting years for it to grow can feel agonizing. Some trees can take over 100 years to reach maturity, but a Bradford pear tree can grow 15 feet in just eight to 10 years.

But some states are beginning to enact bans on sales of the tree because of its aggressive growth. Pennsylvania started phasing out Bradford pear tree sales in February 2022, Ohio will enact a ban starting in 2023, and South Carolina is set to ban new sales of the species in 2024.

They Bloom in Spring

If you want your landscape to look lively in the spring, Bradford pear trees are a reliable choice. This species flowers in the spring, with small white flowers growing amongst the leaves.

They Grow Under Most Conditions

While you might not be able to grow a lemon tree in your climate, many homeowners like Bradford pear trees for their ability to thrive in many conditions. This species will tolerate most soil types.

Cons of Bradford Pear Trees

Before you plant one in your yard, make sure you research the Bradford’s drawbacks so you’re not surprised later.

They’re Invasive

With some states banning Bradford pear trees, it’s clear there are many reasons to not plant this tree. Because it thrives in many locations and grows quickly, Pyrus calleryana is an invasive species that may crowd out native plants.

They Have Softwood

Another issue with this fast-growing tree is that the wood is soft. That allows it to grow so quickly, but it also makes the tree vulnerable to split due to heavy winds or snow. Even in mild conditions, the trees tend to split after about 15 years. 

They Need Lots of Upkeep

Because of the soft trunk, homeowners will need to keep up with pruning the top branches to minimize the risk of splitting. Also, the branches of this tree grow sharply upward, which also makes it easier for the tree to split. Bradford pear trees have a short lifespan of up to 25 years, in part due to their inclination to split.

They’re Smelly

If its invasive nature and short lifespan don’t put you off, the Bradford pear tree’s distinct odor certainly will. In the spring, the flowers emit a putrid smell that’s almost fishy. This is thought to be from trimethylamine and dimethylamine in order to attract pollinators. It might entice some butterflies, but this stench will probably repel you from your own yard until summer.

How to Care for Bradford Pear Trees

There may already be Bradford pear trees in your yard, or perhaps you’ve decided to plant some in your landscape. Keep in mind that these invasive plants may disrupt your local ecosystems, so be wary when deciding to plant them.

To start, plant your new Bradford pear tree in the spring for best results. You’ll need to keep up with pruning, so hire a professional tree service near you to help tame branches and prevent the tree from splitting. 

The tree’s watering schedule will depend on your location. For newly planted or young trees, give each Bradford pear about 1 to 2 gallons of water per week. In the summer, water the trees up to three times per week, and decrease to twice per week in the fall. One benefit to Bradford pear trees is that they can somewhat withstand drought, so don’t stress too much about watering.

What Can You Plant Instead?

Long story short, Bradford pear trees can be a hassle, and they might even be banned in your state. But if you’re seeking out the perfect blooming tree, the Bradford isn’t your only option. Instead, try flowering dogwood, serviceberry, redbud, fringe, yellowwood, or sassafras trees.

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