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Thorns from a Callery Pear tree, which grow in the wild. The Curse of the Bradford Pear Behind those pretty little white flowers is an ugly truth Did everyone enjoy the white flowers of the Bradford and Cleveland Select Pear trees in mid-March? Weren’t those dainty white flowers charming? Did it make you want to run out and buy one for your own place? I did not. I have never put a Bradford or Cleveland Pear tree in any of my landscape designs. In fact, Bradford Pears are the worst trees to plant in your landscape and there are many reasons to say this. Some folks in the forestry and grassland management business call them a curse. I have to agree. Bradford Pears were introduced in 1964 by the US Department of Agriculture. It is an ornamental tree. Even at introduction, its weak branch structure was considered the worst in nature. The tree begins with an almost perfect shape but due to its weak V-crotch branch structure, limbs get broken during spring storms, winter ice and even sometimes during hot summers. Once broken, the attractive shape is gone and continues to get worse as other branches break. Over time, the natural course of the v-branch structure takes place, causing limb structures to split, crack and bust. I would not even recommend you let your kids climb on them. Another negative is that the tree has a life expectancy of about 20 years. Not very long in the tree world. An attempt to correct some of the flaws of the Bradford was the creation of the Cleveland Select. The branch structure is better, but still has the same v-crotch structure. And the Clevelands will live to 25 years instead of 20. Callery Pear thicket developing near a highway. Both the Bradford and Cleveland are species that cannot reproduce. No two Bradfords will reproduce from among themselves. Ditto for the Clevelands. However, the Bradfords will cross-pollinate with the Clevelands, which were meant to correct/replace the Bradfords over time. Instead, the Bradfords are cross pollinating with them. Worse, the resulting offspring has morphed back into the Chinese Callery pears. These trees feature 4-inch thorns and becoming thickets that even tractor tires can’t endure. They must be cleared using a tractor with steel tracks. They choke out native Oaks, Redbuds, Hickories, Maples, and Pines. And they can reduce property value by thousands of dollars. You may think “well, I don’t live near rural land or forests. Thats miles away.” Cross pollination can take place when trees are miles apart. So yes, that Bradford or Cleveland Pear in your landscape is contributing to the problem. Typical scene in DFW each spring. What to do about it? Cut it down, asap. Replace it with a different tree, something that is native to the area you live in or is known to be able to grow there. Just not a Pear. Periwinkles (vinca). Spring flowers! What to plant In Texas (except the Gulf Coast region), there are some reliable staples in the summer garden. We’ll go over those. There are also plants from other regions that work well here when treated as annuals (must be replaced each year). In the Gulf Coast region, you can almost grow anything you want to. For annuals, I recommend planting Perriwinkle (Vinca) or Begonias as your main flower. These will stand up to the Texas heat and the dry conditions. Both come in multiple colors. To accent those, go with something that grows taller, such as Tropical Hibiscus, Purple Fountain Grass or even Daylilies. For perennials, Lantana can take almost anything and will grow quite wide and tall. Other favorites I have are Gerber and Shasta Daisies, Esperanza and Mexican Bird of Paradise. DFW is usually too far north for the Bird of Paradise to survive the winters, but I’ve seen one recently in its fourth year and is quite large here in DFW. Homestead Verbena continues to be a favorite. And if you have rabbits getting into your gardens, try planting some Society Garlic along the perimeter as those rabbits won’t go near it. I love Hydrangeas, but they do require constant TLC here in Texas. Do not plant them on the west or south side of your home. Plant them on the east side preferably, and north side as well. They require more water than anything else in your landscape (its in the name ‘hydra’) but a lot of folks think they’re worth the trouble. Also consider some non-natives, such as Plumbago which is native to Australia where the climate is similar to Texas. Firecracker Ferns grow very well in Austin and San Antonio, but must be treated as annuals in DFW. Firecracker Ferns are an excellent choice for a pot as they can take the direct sun and heat on minimum water. For shade or partial shade, go with Hostas, Oxalis, Crotons, Foxtail Ferns, Variegated Ginger or Turk’s Cap. Shade is dark, so go bright. Lawn Care Duties By now, you’ve already mowed your lawn at least once. If you haven’t, consider having your mower blade sharpened before the season gets going. If you’re not sure how to sharpen, most lawnmower shops will do that for a nominal fee. While you’re at it, replace the spark plug if needed and change the oil as well. The time to fertilize or weed/feed is here for you folks in San Antonio, Austin, Houston. Those in DFW might wait another week or so before applying. Remember, apply at the rate recommended on the bag and water your lawn immediately after you apply. If things are dry where you’re at, you may consider watering again the next day as well. Remember, fertilizer makes your lawn thirsty. Applying at doses heavier than recommended can have a very bad outcome, causing death, stunted growth, fungus, etc. For Bermuda lawns, I continue to recommend either Scott’s LawnPro or Scott’s Turfbuilder. Both are just solid products that Bermuda responds very favorably to. For St Augustine lawns, I recommend Fertilome’s St Augustine Weed & Feed. You may have to call around some to find it, but it IS what St Augustine wants. Do not apply one on the other as both have weed killing agents in them that will cause issues for the “other” grass. I also encourage you to mower-mulch your lawn clippings and let them return to the turf/soil. A cut blade of grass still contains nutrients that can be used again. Bagging your clippings stops that from happening. Spring (drain) Cleaning Many Texas homes are equipped with drainage systems that carry away excess water during heavy rains and prevent flooding. It is good to clean those drains this time of year now that winter is over, the leaves have finish falling and chances for further accumulation are reduced. One way of doing this is by flooding your drain with pressurized water (water hose, spigot), shoving the hose into the drain a few feet at a time as you go. Go from surface drain to surface drain, removing the cap and inserting the hose. You might also consider using a longer, second hose from the front spigot to increase the power of your cleaning. Doing this regularly each spring will help stop a disaster such as the drain system clogging and causing a flood. If you think a flood is disappointing, wait until you have one with a drain that did not work. It will also stop varmints from building nests in your drains. Sprinkler system inspection Your sprinkler system will again be under stress in a month or so when things turn hot here in Texas. It is very wise to have your sprinkler system tested out for issues before that critical time comes. The worst scenario is having something go wrong WHEN the heat is already here. So its best to take a look now and make sure everything is operating as it should. Remember these guys? Southern Copperhead. Well, they’re back and they’re in places you can’t see, blending into the environment. Because most of us haven’t seen them in a while, we’re probably not on our toes looking for them now. Always look before you extend your hand and arm into a place you otherwise can’t see, such as trimming shrubs and moving around in beds during planting. One slip up and you’re on your way to the ER and likely a pretty rotten rest of your day. In Texas, look for Copperheads, Cottonmouths (aka Water Moccasin), Rattlesnakes. You will almost certainly hear a rattlesnake before you see him. You don’t get that benefit with the other two. In eastern Texas, you also have to include the Coral Snake. With those warnings now made, I encourage you to leave the other snakes alone. They eat the things you don’t want around your place. With that, I’ll take any questions anyone might have! (Mark’s column each month is sponsored by Stagecoach Trailers, Inc., of Naples, Texas. Find them at www.stagecoachtrailers.com)