Fast growing alternatives to bradford pear

Asked December 10, 2015, 12:17 PM EST

We want to plant a tree in our yard to block the outdoor light on the neighbor's house. We recently removed a long-dead weeping willow from that spot, which was never wet enough for it. The soil is rich, probably slightly acidic, but I haven't measured the pH. My husband wants something fast growing and is leaning toward a bradford pear, which I know is considered invasive. But I don't know what might be a better choice. A Leyland cypress perhaps? What would you suggest?

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

Bradford pears (Asian pears which were originally supposed to be sterile) have resulted in billions of berry-like fruits that have spread them all over the East Coast. Millions of tax-payer dollars go to fight these invasive plants which displace the native plants that our natural ecosystem needs to survive. Bradfords, and all Callery pears from Asia, should not be planted.

Not only are they invasive, but just when they are full grown and attractive, the weak structure tends to start breaking apart and you end up with an ugly misshapen tree.

The faster-growing the tree, usually, the weaker the wood. This means problems down the road. Leyland cypress is fast growing but the wood is not particularly weak--the root structure, however, has trouble keeping up with the top growth and may blow over if it is in a particularly windy site. If not, you should be okay.
This is a really big tree. Be sure you want a tree that big. Google its ultimate size.

Another option is Green Giant arborvitae, another nice evergreen, which grows very quickly. Also gets tall.

There are also shrub hollies that grow quite large. Determine how much height you really need to block the light. A large shrub may work for you. A deciduous shrub/tree such as a crape myrtle grows pretty fast and may be enough. Always check the tag for size as there is great variety within crape myrtles and hollies.

Whatever you plant, do not try to boost growth with fertilizer. That can lead to tender growth and weak growth that is susceptible to disease.

The most important thing you can do is be sure to water your tree when there is insufficient rainfall, for at least the first two years while roots are getting established. Plants like about 1" of water a week, and soil as wet as a wrung-out sponge. (So don't drown it with soggy soil either.)