Cutting Trees for Arbor Day?

Forgot about American Arbor Day this year?  It’s recognized on the last Friday in April (April 27th this year) but many states celebrate on their best tree planting date.  Still, you may decide to chop down a tree for Arbor Day rather than plant one.  Yes, that’s what I said — chop down a tree.

The first tree I planted over 20 years ago was a Bradford pear. Weeping and kwanzan cherry, rose of sharons, lilacs, flowering plum, weeping willow, star magnolia, Harry Lauder’s walking stick, redbud, and my beloved dogwoods followed.  Most thrived.  A few didn’t.

For years, I longed to line my driveway with more of those pretty Q-tip shaped, white flowering Bradford pear trees like I’d been admiring in other sweeping driveways.  Thankfully, I never got around to it, even though I lamented year-after year, “Think how big those trees would be by now.”

pear trees
CC BY-SA 3.0 Attribution: jwshaw

Certified Nurseryman and Arborist Durant Ashmore, who has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and over 30 years experience, says, “The Bradford pear is worse than kudzu.”  Builders cursed many neighborhoods by landscaping with an abundance of Bradford pear trees.  Besides smelling bad (some say like stinking fish although I haven’t detected it in the one Bradford pear I do have) flowering pears now appear on some invasive plant watch lists, and their wood is weak.   The Bradford pear’s life expectancy before breakage is only 25 years.  Seems mine is ready to go.

tree chopped

Avoid cultivated forms of this invasive species (aka Pyrus calleryana or Callery pear tree) and commonly available ornamental pear cultivars which include:  Bradford, New Bradford®, Cleveland select, autumn blaze, Aristocrat®, capitol, Chanticleer®, and dozens more. 

Ashmore says the problem with Bradford pear trees is that they aren’t sterile.  “No two Bradford pears will ever reproduce among themselves, but they do cross pollinate with every other pear tree out there, including the Cleveland select pear trees.  The introduction of other pear varieties has compounded the problem to the point where it is almost too late to rectify.  Because of the cross pollination problem, pear trees have now proliferated exponentially across our environment. And, to make matters worse, the evil offspring has reverted to the ancient Chinese Callery pears which form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke out the life of pines, dogwoods, maples, redbuds, oaks, hickories, etc.”  So, for Arbor Day I’m considering chopping down my one Bradford pear.

If your Bradford pear is splitting, maybe you want to cut it down too or if you already have a lot of these pear trees Ashmore suggests applying the Principle of Regeneration. “Plant substitutes in the gaps between your pears, and when the substitutes gain a few years of maturity, cut down the pears at that point and have a great celebratory bonfire.  Pears make great firewood.”

So, if you’re ready to regenerate and “plant” in recognition of National Arbor Day, check out some fun options on the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) website.   A mere $10 can get you 10 seedlings to plant in your hardiness zone, or 10 seedlings planted in your honor in a needy national forest.  This small donation helps millions by preserving clean air, drinking water and the habitat — a small gift with big results (and probably less than you spend on a month of cell service or latte’s).

The first American Arbor Day was on April 10, 1872 when an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska.  Global Forest Watch states 73.4 million acres of tree cover were lost in the world’s forests by 2016 due to poor forest management, climate change-driven drought and fires.  This was a 51% increase over 2015!  In 2018, the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) will provide 5 million trees to help replenish those wiped out by fires and storms in California, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico.




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