When to Trim Bradford Pear Trees

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The decorative Bradford pear tree (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) sometimes called Callery pear, gives a spectacular show of white or cream-colored flowers in spring and red, orange, purple and yellow leaves in fall. On top of that, it tends to thrive in urban settings, growing more than 24 inches a year until it reaches its mature height of 30 to 40 feet. Its unusual form brings numerous issues as it gets older, requiring careful pruning.

Climate and Growth

The Bradford pear grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5a through 9a. It has a dense, symmetrical oval or round crown that can grow up to 30 feet wide.

Pruning issues have to do with the nature of the crown growth. Most Bradford branches grow from a single point from 4 to 8 feet above the ground. They grow upward at a narrow angle in a rough V shape. A tree with fewer issues has its branches spaced evenly up the trunk, growing horizontally outward in a U shape.

As a Bradford tree matures, its crowded branches rub against one another and after about 20 years of getting thicker and heavier, ice or wind will split the branches from the trunk. Pruning when the tree is young helps prevent this.

Pruning a Seedling

Prune the Bradford pear when you plant it to avoid problems as it matures. The goal is to avoid having branches that merge at one point on the trunk.

Select the tallest or strongest branch in the center of the tree to be your central leader or trunk. Because it grows so rapidly, a pencil-thin Bradford twig will be 5 inches wide in five years.

Shorten by half any branch that is trying to grow from the same point. Prune any branch that rubs against another branch or grows within 6 inches of another branch. Remember, the Bradford grows rapidly. Plan for the future.

Use hand pruning shears for branches up to 1/2 inch wide. Use lopping shears for branches 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch wide.

Tip

  • You want the branches to grow out at more than a 45-degree angle to avoid the narrow V growth of the branches. If there aren’t any limbs growing at a broad angle, cut thick wooden dowels and wedge the dowels between the trunk and the branch to force it to grow out, not up.

Warning

  • To prevent the spread of plant diseases, always sterilize the cutting blades of pruning tools before using them. Soak them for five minutes in a solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol, 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, to 1 part water. Let the cutting surfaces air dry before you use them.

Pruning a 5-Year-Old Tree

Prune the Bradford tree in spring just after it blooms. If you prune it in the winter when it is dormant, you will have fewer flowers in the spring.

  • Prune any diseased limbs or limbs
    that have died for any reason.
  • Prune small vertical limbs in the
    middle of the tree. They block the circulation of air and yield few blooms.
  • Prune vertical limbs that are growing
    at the same point on the trunk with limbs that are growing horizontally.

If you don’t prune to shape a Bradford after you plant it, the Bradford pear tree will likely be a tangled mass of twigs and large limbs in five years.

Pruning Large Branches

To prune a large branch without stripping or tearing the bark when the limb falls, make what arborists call a jump cut.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning saw with a curved blade and coarse teeth
  • Ruler or measuring tape

Step 1

At a point roughly 12 inches from the trunk, cut one-fourth to one-half way through the bottom of the limb.

Step 2

Cut the top of the limb a few inches outward from the bottom cut that you made. The branch will fall from its weight, leaving you with a 12-inch-long stub.

Step 3

Cut the stub at the collar of the branch that you removed. The collar is the raised area where the branch had joined the tree. Do not cut the collar flush with the tree.

There is no need to apply a wound dressing. If you removed the limb properly, the wound will heal rapidly by itself.

To prune a large Bradford limb without stripping or tearing the bark when the limb falls, make what arborists call a jump cut. To do that, you need a pruning saw with a curved blade and coarse teeth.

At a point roughly 12 inches from the trunk, cut roughly one-fourth to one-half of the way through the bottom of the limb.

Cut the top of the limb a few inches outward from the first. The branch will fall from its weight, leaving you with a 12-inch long stub.

Cut the stub at the collar of the branch that you removed. The collar is the raised area where the branch had joined the tree. Do not cut the collar flush with the tree.

There is no need to apply any sort of wound dressing. If you removed the limb properly, the wound will heal rapidly by itself.

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