Bradford pear is a cultivar of the ornamental callery pear species and is widely planted for its profusion of spring bloom and fast rate of growth in the landscape. Bradford pear trees are not generally long lived even when grown under optimal cultural conditions. They are also susceptible to a range of diseases and structural limb loss that can hasten their demise. The signs of a Bradford pear tree in decline are fairly straightforward and will give you time to plan its removal and replacement.
Check the age of your tree. According to Clemson University Extension, Bradford pear trees only live between 15 and 25 years, under good conditions. It may be the end of the tree's natural lifespan.
Inspect the tree for trunk splitting or severe branch splitting that has interrupted the flow of moisture and nutrients through the tree. Bradford pear wood is brittle and susceptible to vertical trunk split where major limbs pull outward away from one another, tearing the trunk wood. This can be caused by high winds, heavy rains or ice or just from age. This problem gets more common once the tree reaches 15 years or older. Sometimes a portion of the tree can be saved, but it will never recover to its previous form and vitality.
Look for signs of fire blight bacterial disease, which can be deadly to the tree. Fire blight manifests as flower clusters turning dark brown-black, the terminal tips of the branches dying back, shriveling and forming a desiccated hook or crook shape. It also causes a scorched look to the limbs and the leaves wilt and stick to the branches as if they have melted. A syrupy substance weeps from cankers on the branches, and the inner bark looks as if saturated with water and turns a red-brown color. Fire blight is usually deadly to the tree if it reaches into the structural limbs, as the only cure is removal and destruction of all infected tissue plus some healthy buffer wood.
Observe the natural growth cycle of your tree in spring to see if your Bradford pear is generally tracking with the most basic life processes. Is the tree developing buds and flowering in spring? Do leaves develop, unfurl and remain healthy and green on the tree during summer? If a tree is simply not flowering, then over-fertilization, drought or other cultural conditions may be wrong. If the tree does not leaf out in the spring and hold its leaves, however, it is likely dying.
- Clemson University Extension: Bradford Pear
- Alabama State University Cooperative Extension: Choose Alternatives to Bradford Pear Trees, Experts Advise
- North Dakota State University Extension: Questions on Pear
- Purdue University: Bradford Pear Diseases?
- Purdue University: Bradford Pear Damaged by Storms
- Photo Credit Arthur Tilley/Creatas/Getty Images
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