How to Care for The Bradford Pear Tree (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’)

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The Bradford Pear Tree, scientifically known as Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’, is a popular ornamental tree celebrated for its stunning spring blossoms and vibrant fall foliage. It is a variety of Callery pear that is originally native to Korea and China. Introduced commercially by the USDA in 1963, the tree was marketed as the perfect street and urban tree and planted all across America in residential and commercial landscapes.

The tree has deciduous oval leaves that are finely toothed, 1 to 3 inches in length, and about as wide. They are short acuminate, rounded, broad-cuneate, leathery, and glossy green on the upper side. It buds early and in autumn, the leaves, which are lustrous dark green in summer turn shades of yellow, red, and brown during fall. They fall off very late, typically in late November or early December.

When young, this tree has a narrow, regularly conical shape with upright branches. As it gets older, its overall shape becomes mostly pyramidal, relatively open, and airy, providing a dense shading. It often has raised and branched stems, but its conical shape doesn’t lend itself well to pruning. It is grafted at the collar. The branches are initially ash gray and pubescent, then become glabrous. The bark starts out red-brown and then becomes dark brown and scaly.

Quick Facts

Common NameBradford Pear, Bradford Callery Pear
Scientific NamePyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’
TypeDeciduous Ornamental Tree
FamilyRosaceae
Sun RequirementsFull Sun
FoliageAlternate, simple, broad-ovate to ovate, 1 to 3 inches in length and about as wide, rarely elliptic-ovate, short acuminate, rounded, broad-cuneate, and leathery. Leaves are lustrous dark green in summer and shades of yellow, red, and brown during fall.
Size30 to 50 feet in height with a 20 to 35 foot spread
HardinessZone 5 to 8. For an idea of your plant zone please visit the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
HabitModerately conical (pyramidal) in youth, and broadening with time
Growth RateFast
FlowersWhite, 3/8 to 3/4 inches across, borne in 3-inch diameter corymbs before or with the early leaves. Usually in full flower in early to mid-March
Diseases & InsectsResistant to fireblight which is so troublesome to the Common Pear (Pyrus communis); basically free of pests
Soil PreferenceVery adaptable to many different soils
CareWater regularly after initial planting and prune in winter or early spring as necessary to maintain form and desired shape
FertilizationFertilize an area three times the canopy spread of the tree 1 to 2 times a year with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Only fertilize an established tree

Uses and Landscape Value

With relatively fast growth and average lifespan, this species is well-suited for use in urban street plantings or as standalone specimens. Trees grafted onto the Pyrus calleryana rootstock tend to perform better in the long run. Unlike those grafted onto Pyrus communis, they do not experience a significant difference in trunk diameter.

This tree thrives in urban climates and is also resistant to sea spray. It exhibits heliotropism, sometimes growing in an inclined manner to seek light. Additionally, it is generally resilient and doesn’t experience many health problems.

Flowering

The “Bradford Pear” flowers in spring, producing small clusters of white flowers. These flowers are usually 3/8 to 3/4 inches across, borne in 3-inch diameter corymbs before or with the early leaves. They are usually in full bloom in early to mid-March.

The flowers produce small pears, which are about half an inch in diameter. When ripe, they are round and brown. These pears are not edible for humans, but birds are attracted to them and eat them. Most of these fruits are small, seedy, and not very noticeable, but some varieties produce edible pears.

The “granularity” of the pear comes from lignified cells called sclereids. When a cell becomes lignified, it becomes very hard. These sclereids are thought to provide additional support to the cells surrounding the fruit, but this idea has little scientific basis.

Planting Your Bradford Pear Tree

The ideal planting period is during the tree’s dormant season, from late fall to early spring. Avoid planting during extreme cold or wet conditions to minimize stress on the tree. Select a location that receives full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day). While Bradford Pears can tolerate partial shade, they bloom best with ample sunlight.

Additionally, opt for well-draining soil. While these trees are adaptable to various soil types, they thrive in loamy, slightly acidic to neutral pH soil. Also, ensure adequate space for growth. They can reach a spread of 20-30 feet, so avoid planting near structures or other trees.

Planting Process

  1. Prepare the Site: Dig a hole three times the diameter of the root system, with a depth no deeper than the original soil line on the trunk. Break up the soil to the finest consistency possible.
  2. Amend the Soil: Mix compost or organic matter into the removed soil to improve nutrient content and drainage.
  3. Planting: Place the tree in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the ground surface. Backfill with the amended soil, gently tamping down to remove air pockets
  4. Watering: Water the plant heavily to seal soil around the roots and remove air pockets. Water well, and remember to water regularly until they have started to grow.

Ensure adequate space for growth. Bradford Pears can reach a spread of 20-35 feet, so avoid planting near structures or other trees.

Care and Maintenance

The Bradford Pear tree is quite resilient and can adapt to various soil types, including salty coastal soil. While it prefers temperate climates, it can tolerate winter dormancy temperatures as low as 64.4°F (-18°C) without significant damage. Maintaining optimal conditions for this flowering pear tree isn’t too challenging, but it is helpful to follow some recommendations to ensure a healthy and lush specimen.

Location and substrate

This tree thrives in full sun or semi-shaded areas, therefore it should always be planted outdoors with a minimum distance of about four meters from other tall plants that could overshadow it. It has good resistance to cold and heat and can tolerate full sun as long as the temperature is not too hot to avoid harming the delicate bark. It also does well in partial shade and can withstand wind.

While a pot is not the ideal location for a flowering pear tree, it can be placed in one for the first few years and then transplanted to its final location. During the initial years in a pot, a universal substrate will be sufficient to sustain it.

In the garden, it can grow in almost all types of soil, including sandy or clayey soil, as long as it has good drainage and fertility. Even when grown in a pot or container, it is undemanding and can tolerate various soil conditions, such as compact, light, acidic or alkaline, dry, or temporarily waterlogged soils. However, it does not thrive in superficial and highly calcareous soils.

Watering

Although the flowering pear tree can tolerate periods of drought and be watered when the soil is completely dry, it will grow healthier and fuller if we water it regularly.

  • Young Trees: Water deeply once a week from fall to the end of spring, and 2 to 3 times a week during the summer during the first year. Ensure the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Established Trees: Once established, water during prolonged dry periods. Deep watering every 2-3 weeks is usually sufficient.

Fertilization

The Bradford pear tree is a fast-growing tree, which means it typically does not require fertilization. However, providing it with an additional supply of nutrients once a year, at the beginning of spring, using organic fertilizers such as manure, will ensure it receives adequate nutrients for optimal and consistent growth.

Fertilize an area three times the canopy spread of the tree 1 to 2 times a year with a 10-10-10 fertilizer, but only for established trees. If the tree is in a pot, use liquid fertilizer mixed with the irrigation water.

Mulching

Mulching your Bradford pear tree conserves moisture, suppresses weeds, and regulates soil temperature. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around the base, keeping it a few inches away from the trunk to prevent rot.

Pruning and Shaping

Prune during its dormant season (Late winter or early spring) to maintain form and desired shape. Pruning during this period also promotes vigorous growth and minimizes the risk of disease or pests infesting fresh cuts. Avoid trimming in late spring or summer, as this can disrupt the tree’s growth and leave it vulnerable to diseases like fire blight.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prune a Bradford Pear tree properly:

Prepare the tools

Gather the necessary tools before starting the pruning process. You will need sharpened bypass pruners for smaller branches (up to ½ inch in diameter), loppers for larger branches (up to 2 inches in diameter), and a pruning saw for even larger branches. It’s important to use clean, sharp tools to make precise cuts and minimize the risk of damage or disease transmission.

Remove dead or diseased branches

Inspect the tree for dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Dead branches are usually dry, brittle, and devoid of any foliage or buds. Diseased branches may exhibit signs of discoloration, cankers, or areas of dieback. Use pruners or a pruning saw to remove these branches at their point of attachment with the main trunk or larger branch. Make clean cuts just outside the branch collar, the slight swelling where the branch attaches to the trunk or parent branch, to facilitate healing.

Thin out crossing or crowded branches

Focus on thinning out crossing or crowded branches within the canopy of the Bradford Pear tree. These branches can rub against each other, leading to wounds and potential entry points for diseases. Identify branches that are inward-growing or closely parallel to other branches and remove one of them to provide better airflow and canopy structure. Make your cuts just outside the branch collar, avoiding unnecessary damage to the tree.

Maintain the natural shape

While pruning, aim to maintain the tree’s natural shape and avoid excessive or drastic trimming. Bradford Pear trees have a distinctive rounded or vase-like growth habit. Remove any branches that disrupt this overall shape or grow too close to the ground. Retaining the tree’s natural form enhances its aesthetic appeal and ensures its health and structural integrity.

Regular maintenance pruning

Once you have addressed dead, diseased, crowded, or crossing branches, step back and assess the overall appearance and balance of the tree. Make any final adjustments to achieve a well-balanced canopy and remove any remaining branches that detract from the tree’s overall structure. Regularly inspect and prune your Bradford Pear tree, making small adjustments as needed to maintain its health and shape.

Wear protective gear such as gloves, safety glasses, and a sturdy helmet to protect yourself from falling branches or debris. Ensure there are no power lines or other obstacles in the vicinity that could pose a hazard during the trimming process.

Pest and Disease Management

Common pests

Aphids, mites, and caterpillars: Regularly inspect the entire plant, especially the undersides of leaves, for signs of infestation such as webbing, holes, or wilting. If an infestation is detected, use a strong spray of water to dislodge the pests or treat them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Diseases

Fire Blight: Look for dead, blackened tips on branches. During dry weather, prune out infected branches at least 8 inches below the affected area, making cuts at least 6 inches into healthy wood. Disinfect pruning tools with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water between each cut to prevent the spreading of the disease.

Fungal Infections: To prevent fungal infections, ensure proper spacing between plants to allow for good airflow. Water the plants at the base and avoid overhead watering to keep the foliage dry. If signs of fungal infections, such as powdery mildew or rust, are observed, treat the plants with fungicides according to the instructions.

Propagation of Bradford Pear Trees

Bradford Pear trees can be propagated through various methods, including seeds, cuttings, and grafting. Here are some tips and strategies for successful propagation:

Propagation by seeds

Bradford pear trees can be easily propagated from seeds, and in some areas, they are considered invasive as a result. Birds eat the tree’s fruits and spread the seeds through their droppings, allowing the tree to spread rapidly.

Cold Stratification: Bradford Pear seeds require a period of cold stratification to break dormancy. Place the cleaned seeds in a moist paper towel or sand, and store them in the refrigerator for 60-90 days. Maintain a temperature of 32-41°F (0-5°C) during this period.

If you live in a very cold climate, simply plant the seeds in an 8-inch diameter pot filled with universal substrate and water them when the substrate is dry. If you live in a warm area, the seeds need to undergo artificial stratification in the refrigerator for four months.

Place the seeds in a container with a lid and cover them with moistened vermiculite, remembering to open the container occasionally to allow for air circulation and prevent the growth of fungi. After this period, the seeds will be ready to be transferred to a seedbed and eventually germinate. You can then transplant the seedling to its final location during the spring.

Propagation from cuttings

To propagate from cuttings, choose a healthy Bradford Pear tree. Pick a new wood cutting from a branch tip that is 1/4 to 1/2 inch in width, with plenty of growth nodes along the stem. Next, make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle ¼ inch below a leaf node. Remove the bottom one-third of the bark from the cutting and place it in water for five minutes.

Then, dip the end of the cutting into a 0.2 percent IBA rooting hormone, gently tapping off any excess. Prepare a planter with equal parts vermiculite and perlite, dampened but not wet. Make a hole for the cutting and gently place the hormone-powdered end into the hole. Firm the soil around it.

Cover the cuttings with a plastic bag, secured at the top to create a mini greenhouse. Place the pot in a warm area with no drafts, ideally on a heating mat set at 75°F (21°C). Keep the cuttings moist but not wet to prevent rotting.

After about three months, when the cuttings have grown enough, transplant them into the garden.

Grafting

To graft a Bradford pear tree, start by selecting a suitable rootstock for grafting, such as a dwarfing or semi-dwarfing pear rootstock. During the dormant season, collect scion wood from a healthy Bradford Pear tree.

Make a clean, slanting cut on the rootstock and a corresponding cut on the scion wood. Align the cambium layers of the rootstock and scion wood, ensuring they fit tightly together. Secure the graft with grafting tape or a grafting clip.

Next, seal the graft union and protect it from drying out by applying grafting wax or a grafting compound. Keep the grafted tree in a protected area until it establishes and starts growing. Monitor the tree for any signs of graft failure and provide appropriate care.

Seasonal Care

SeasonTask
SpringMonitor New Growth
Check for pests and diseases.
Fertilize to encourage healthy growth.
SummerEnsure consistent moisture during dry spells.
Apply mulch to conserve soil moisture.
FallRemove fallen leaves to prevent disease.
Apply a fresh mulch layer to prepare for winter.
WinterYoung trees may need burlap wraps for frost protection.
Prune during dormancy to shape and maintain the tree.

Bradford Pear challenges

Although they profuse early bloom, a restricted pyramidal shape, and good fall color, the weaknesses of the Bradford Pear only became apparent over time. Yes, it is beautiful but not the panacea for urban planting it was once thought to be. Here are the key cons associated with planting Bradford Pear Trees:

Structural weakness

With its tight branch crotches and weak branch structure, a strong wind or heavy ice storm can cause the tree to self-destruct. In fact, any storm can and, in most cases, will destroy a Bradford Pear. Also, as a result of these structural weaknesses, Bradford Pears often have a shorter lifespan compared to other ornamental trees, typically living only 15-25 years.

Invasive nature

Bradford Pears can cross-pollinate with other Callery pear varieties, producing viable seeds that spread easily. This has led to the proliferation of invasive offspring that displace native plants and disrupt local ecosystems. In fact, some regions have restrictions or outright bans on planting Bradford Pears. So, you might want to check local regulations before planting.

Bad smell

Odor: While the flowers are visually appealing, they emit a somewhat rank odor that can be unpleasant, especially when the tree is in full bloom. This fish smell, which is often likened to sperm or rotting meat, is caused by trimethylamine, a compound that is released when the tree flower decomposes.

Rootstock issues

The rootstock of the Bradford pear tree can cause problems on poorly prepared urban surfaces. This is because it produces thorns and ‘water sprouts’ or ‘suckers’ that can grow from the base of the tree. These growths from the rootstock can pose a real danger to vehicle tires, lawn equipment, and people’s feet.

While it is tolerant of dryness and pollution, enthusiasm for the once-popular cultivar has now tempered. With incompatibility and severe splitting occurring in older trees (and some adolescent trees), Bradford Pears are not as attractive for landscape use as once thought.

FAQs

How tall is the ‘Bradford Pear tree’?

Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ has a fast growth rate and can reach a height of up to 30 to 50 feet with a 20 to 35-foot spread, depending on the planting location and climatic conditions.

How fast does Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ grow?

Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ has an fast growth rate and can reach a height of up to 10-12 m, depending on the planting location and climatic conditions.

What fall color will Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ have?

The leaves of Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ turn colors in the fall.

When should Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ trees be planted?

The best time to plant Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ is during the dormant period. In Western Europe, balled and burlapped Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ trees can generally be planted between mid-November and the end of April, but this depends greatly on climatic conditions and the species.

When does Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ flower?

Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ flowers in April. Small clusters of white flowers in spring. Pear trees belong to the Rose family which also includes apples and quinces. The “granularity” of the pear comes from lignified cells called sclereids. (When a cell becomes lignified, it becomes very hard). These sclereids are thought to provide additional support to the cells surrounding the fruit, but this idea has little scientific basis.

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