Yellow or Brown Leaves on Bradford Pear Trees

Two threes that are the same but appear different
David Beaulieu

Bradford pear trees (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') are subject to many problems, including weak branches that are prone to breaking during snow, ice, or wind storms. Another common issue is brown leaves or yellow leaves during a time of year when a healthy specimen should have foliage that is green in the spring and summer and red in fall. There are several possible causes for unseasonable brown or yellow leaves on Bradford pear trees.

Bradford Pear Tree Leaves Turning Brown in the Summer

Leaves turning brown is a common problem with Bradford pear trees that are planted in the summer. It's natural to assume that the problem is related to watering. However, the biggest problem is not how much or how little water your Bradford pear tree may be getting, but rather the time of year you decided to plant it. Summer simply isn't the best time to plant trees. Generally speaking, spring and fall are the best times.

In this case, Bradford pear trees are slow to establish roots. The summer heat is very difficult for new trees to tolerate under the best of circumstances, and this is doubly true for plants that are slow to root. Shading the tree with a shade cloth or some other shelter can help to some degree to protect the tree from the blistering sun.

A Bradford pear tree planted in summer is under stress and the brown leaves may be due to leaf scorch. Watering requirements for young Bradford pear trees depend on several variables, particularly soil type.

As a general recommendation, newly planted trees should be watered with:

  • One inch of water per week for well-draining soil.
  • Two inches of water per week for sandy soil.
  • Less than one inch per week for clay soil that retains water well.

Bradford Pear Tree Leaves Turning Yellow in the Spring

When you see leaves turning yellow on a Bradford pear tree during the spring, it is always a good idea to rule out some kind of nutrient deficiency. For example, an iron deficiency in the soil causes chlorosis in plants. Get your soil tested by sending a sample to your county extension office. The agents can interpret their findings and offer recommendations.

Yellow leaves on Bradford pear trees in the spring could also be a sign of overwatering. Whether the plant is receiving too much water from rain or excessive manual watering, poor drainage is likely to be the underlying—and bigger—problem. Water will pass relatively quickly through soil that drains well, and plants are less likely to be adversely affected by too much water. If you have clay soil that tends to retain water, you may need to improve the drainage and/or aerate the soil. If the specimen sits in a low spot, you may also need to improve the drainage of the surrounding ground.

Aerating clay soil usually involves puncturing the ground with an auger. Improving drainage can be done by digging channels to facilitate runoff; however, this is more feasible in a mulched area than in a lawn area. In terms of watering, a Bradford pear tree should be watered twice a week during the spring season. If it has been raining a lot, it might be best not to supply any supplemental watering at all.

What If the Neighboring Trees Are Fine?

Problems based on soil conditions (nutrient deficiencies, drainage problems, etc.) can be extremely localized. Soil conditions can change in just a few feet. Likewise, not all plants are created equal. For example, one plant may develop chlorosis in the very same soil in which another plant is growing without problems. According to the University of Arizona Extension, "susceptibility to iron deficiency varies greatly between plants, and it is not uncommon to see a plant with severe iron deficiency growing adjacent to one in identical soil with no symptoms at all." Never take it for granted that two trees of the same type that are growing right next to each other are necessarily going to fare the same.

Article Sources
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  1. Chlorois. University of Wisconsin Extension Service.

  2. Recognizing and Treating Iron Deficiency in the Home Yard. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.