My Bradford Pear Has Yellow Leaves This Spring. What's the Problem?

It Could Be a Drainage Issue

Image: proof that 2 plants can be the same type, growing next to each other, yet be different.
These two trees -- both Bradford pears -- and growing just feet apart, clearly are not "in lock-step" with each other. The soil under them could account for the discrepancy. David Beaulieu

A reader wrote in to ask, "My Bradford pear tree has yellow leaves this spring. Do you know what the problem could be? It is mid-April, and the leaves continuously turn yellow and fall off the branches, two or three of them at a time. Is my plant dying? What can I do, if anything, to solve this problem?"

Why a Bradford Pear Tree's Leaves Might Be Turning Yellow in Spring

When you see leaves turning yellow on a Bradford pear tree, it is always a good idea to rule out some kind of nutrient deficiency first (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.

Have you ruled out a nutrient deficiency? Yellow leaves on Bradford pear trees in spring could also be a sign of over-watering. In this case, the culprit could be either nature or you. That is:

  1. Has it been particularly rainy this spring in your region?
  2. How often have you been watering the plant?

Whether the plant is receiving too much water from nature or from you, poor drainage is likely your bigger problem. Water will pass relatively quickly through a soil that drains well, and your plants are less likely to be adversely affected. 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.

To aerate clay soil, you may have heard of puncturing the ground with an auger. To improve drainage, you could dig channels to facilitate run-off. The latter, of course, is more feasible in a mulched area than in a lawn area. But hopefully it is just a case where you have over-watered the plant and simply need to stop watering so much.

 The most that you should be watering a Bradford pear tree 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.

But the Tree Right Next to This One Is Fine. How Can That Be?

Note that problems based in the soil (nutrient deficiencies, drainage problems, etc.) can be extremely localized. That is, just because the ground drains well in one location in your landscape, that does not mean that you may not have a drainage problem at another location in your yard -- even when the latter is just a few feet away from the former.

Likewise, not all plants are created equal. Take susceptibility to chlorosis, for example, the direct cause of which is partial failure to develop chlorophyll, but the indirect cause of which is an iron deficiency. One plant may develop chlorosis in the very same soil in which another plant is growing without problems. The University of Arizona Extension observes that "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."