Planting trees native to Oklahoma

STILLWATER – Nurseries and retail shops are selling trees left and right. Oklahomans are eager to add a little something to their landscapes, but they should be careful when making selections.

Unfortunately, a popular choice of the past several years has been the Bradford pear tree. One of the earliest, and certainly the showiest species of trees littering Oklahoma landscapes, the white flowering trees have no business in our yards.

“This plant has proven to not stay put,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “It can be an aggressive invader of native plant communities in many areas of the country and is beginning to creep into prairies and forests in Oklahoma. They can rapidly convert a prairie into woodland.”

Rather than contribute to the Bradford pear epidemic, landscapers should consider a native alternative. Plants such as redbud, American plum and Mexican plum have all proven to be good substitutes.

“In addition to being early blooming themselves, they all tend to be less prone to ice damage, a common complaint regarding Bradford pear,” Elmore said. “Further, as they have more open foliage and limb structure, roosting grackles and starlings are rarely problems.”

Bradford pears are notorious for struggling with the grackle and starling issue, which has led many homeowners and business owners to remove them.

“If you notice callery pears invading your property, early removal is critical to limiting the invasion,” he said. “Birds will ingest the fruit and defecate, further spreading the plant; therefore, eliminating the seed source is needed.”

Bradford pears often will sprout from the root when cut, requiring herbicides to eliminate them. If the tree is large, it should be cut down and the stump should be treated with a systemic glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide.

While the callery pear certainly is an attractive plant for the landscape, there are suitable alternatives that do not negatively impact our native Oklahoma plants and wildlife. Consider them as you shop for your next landscape plant.

A local county Extension office can provide other suitable alternatives for landscaping.