A grove of Bradford pear trees can look like a white fairyland in the early spring. If you are thinking about adding this ornamental tree to your landscape, keep in mind that you might ends up with a grove of them and possibly even some grumpy neighbors. Considered invasive in some parts of the U.S., Bradford pears are a gardening mistake, according to some experts. The limbs of these fast-growing trees break too easily in stormy weather and that could be the least of their problems.
The Bradford pear was developed as the "perfect" street tree for its long lasting autumn color and spectacular spring display of white blooms. An early bloomer in temperate regions, the flowers do not include the pleasant fragrance of many early blooming ornamental trees. They also bear tiny pears, which, while not especially ornamental, do serve as food for wild birds.
Nonetheless, it's a fact that these flowering trees are highly problematic. Additionally, they are prone to suckering, and, unfortunately, manual control is the only viable method, as the root system would take up any herbicide applied and it would harm the parent plant.
The easiest solution to all of the care problems that you will face in growing the 'Bradford' cultivar is to simply find a superior cultivar to grow. There are other types of ornamental pears that will give you loads of white flowers in spring and good fall color. P. calleryana 'Autumn Blaze' is an example. Other types of "callery" pears (so called because of the species name, calleryana) that can serve as substitutes include:
- 'New Bradford'
Problem: Wilting Leaves
If you have inherited a Bradford pear in your landscape, there are a few common care problems that you are likely to run up against. One of them is wilting leaves.
It’s common for newly transplanted trees to experience transplant shock. Their disturbed roots find it difficult to nourish the leaves with sufficient water, as an established tree would be able to do. High winds simply exacerbate the problem; the result is leaf-wilt.
The positive actions you can take to help the tree, after the fact, are limited. However, don’t fertilize your struggling tree. Fertilizing would foster extra leaf growth that must be supported from down below (that is, the uptake of water and nutrients from the root system). You do not want extra growth at this time, because the tree’s disturbed roots are already struggling to function properly. Water your Bradford pear tree regularly, and wait patiently to see how it pulls through.
Problem: Japanese Pear Rust
You've never had a problem with your Bradford pear tree, but all of a sudden, you spot a very bright orange fuzzy coating on the little pears one summer. This substance is falling on the lawn. It consists of little orange spikes that are coming right out of the fruits.
What you're observing is a kind of a "rust," which is a fungal disease. Specifically, it is most likely Japanese pear rust. Check with your county extension to see if they can recommend an anti-fungal spray for you.
However, Japanese pear rust, while unsightly and a nuisance, is generally not something that is going to kill your plant. It doesn't occur year after year, so it might be best to try just waiting it out for the rest of the growing season. This fungus will also affect junipers.
Problem: Fire Blight
Fire blight is another care problem that can come out of the blue. This is a disease that can be spread by rain, wind, insects or pruning with unsterilized tools. Fire blight will cause leaves and branches to turn brown, die off and shed. From a distance, the trees themselves look healthy, otherwise. If you look up into the tree closely, though, you do see branches ready to fall because they are dead—but it’s just small branches at the end and not an entire limb.
Problem: One Tree Is Blooming, the Other Is Not
There are many possible reasons for Bradford pear trees not blooming, such as:
- The flower buds are sometimes damaged in cold winters.
- The trees may not have received sufficient water.
- Your soil could be deficient in nutrients (having a soil test done never hurts).
You shouldn't put too much stock in the fact that one of the Bradford pear trees has bloomed, as that one could simply have been a healthier specimen at the time of purchase. The soil under it could be slightly different or the other could have sustained some sort of injury along the way (for example, at planting time).
Problem: The Leaves Are Turning Brown and Dropping Off.
The correct time to plant a Bradford pear tree is in the spring with fall a close second. Trees planted during the summer months struggle with an immature root system that can result in insufficient uptake of water and nutrients. The result could be brown and dying leaves shed from the branches.
Watering, at this point, will not correct the problem since the roots have to set in before photosynthesis can begin with any efficiency. With very few exceptions, most young trees will thrive better if planted in the spring or fall.
Watering schedules for young Bradford pear trees (or any plants, really) is dependent on a number of variables. You will need to consider the amount of rainfall your area receives. Soil type, drainage and the size of the tree will also affect its water needs. For young trees, a gallon of water twice a week is a good starting point.
Problem: The Leaves on My Bradford Pear Are Turning Yellow.
Yellowing leaves on your tree could indicate a soil problem. You can do a soil test or take a sample to your local cooperative extension to have it tested for deficiencies. Chances are, though, this problem is more likely caused by the type of soil in which you planted.
Soils with a lot of clay hold water longer than do sandy soils. In such a soil, over-watering or too much rain can result in root rot. Roots drown, so to speak; they can't get oxygen and die. This death is reflected in the yellow leaves.
If the whole tree is not dead, there may be time to work compost into the soil, thereby improving drainage and saving it. This is a lot of work, though, and there are no guarantees of success. This may be a good time to remove the plant, improve the soil (now that you will have better access to it), and replace it with a better landscape tree.
Before You Plant
Bradford pear trees are considered invasive in some part of the United States. If you are unsure of the status in your area, contact your local cooperative extension office for information. Weigh your options before planting because a Bradford pear tree is difficult to remove once it becomes established. This tree is covered with small sharp twiggy limbs which, along with the fruits , can make removal a tough, messy job. There is also the possibility of planting just one then finding yourself removing seedlings every year.
"Pear Rust". Oklahoma State University Extension, 2021, https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/pear-rust.html?Forwarded=pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-12183/EPP-7681.pdf.
Bradford Pear Under Fire From Bacterial Disease". North Carolina Forest Service, 2016, http://info.ncagr.gov/blog/2016/07/13/bradford-pear-under-fire-from-bacterial-disease