Yellow or Brown Leaves on Bradford Pear Trees

Image: proof that 2 plants can be the same type, growing next to each other, yet be different.
These two trees are the same type (Bradford pear) and growing right next to each other, yet one has fall foliage and the other doesn't. David Beaulieu

Bradford pear trees (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') are subject to a number of problems, including branches that are prone to breaking  during snow, ice, or wind storms. Other common issues are brown leaves or yellow leaves during a time of year when a healthy specimen would have foliage of another color (typically, green in spring and summer; reddish in fall). There are a number of possible causes for unseasonable brown or yellow leaves on Bradford pear trees.

Bradford Pear Tree Leaf Turning Brown in Summer

Leaves turning brown is a common problem with Bradford pear trees planted in summer, and 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.

More specifically in this case, Bradford pear trees are slow to root and should be planted only in spring. 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 shade cloth or some other shelter can help to some degree, providing protection from the blistering sun.

A Bradford pear tree planted in summer is probably just plain stressed out, and the brown leaves may be due to something referred to as 'leaf scorch.' As to watering requirements for young Bradford pear trees, this depends on a number of variables that must be factored in, particularly soil type.

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

  • 1 inch of water per week for an optimal soil (that is, soil that is well-draining but not excessively so).
  • 2 inches for a sandy soil (where drainage is actually a little 'too good').
  • Less than 1 inch for a clay soil (which retains water well).

    Bradford Pear Tree Leaf Turning Yellow in Spring

    When you see leaves turning yellow during spring on a Bradford pear tree, 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. Have your soil tested by sending a soil sample in to your county extension. If you do not understand their findings or recommendations, they will be happy to explain—just ask.

    Yellow leaves on Bradford pear trees in spring could also be a sign of overwatering. Whether the plant is receiving too much water from rain or from excessive manual watering, poor drainage is likely to be the underlying—and bigger—problem. Water will pass relatively quickly through a soil that drains well, and plants are less likely to be adversely affected by too much water. If you have clay soil (which 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, the most that a Bradford pear tree should be watered in the spring season, generally speaking, is twice a week. In fact, 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?

    Note that problems based in the soil (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.