Q: My Bradford pear tree is looking very leggy this year. It has few leaves. Would it help to prune it back? When should pruning be done?
A: Typically, Bradford pear trees don’t need much pruning other than occasional thinning of the more upright limbs. Bradford pears genetically have a weak limb structure. The limbs grow upright with a narrow angle of attachment with the trunk. This is a weak attachment. And, with time, as the limbs become larger and heavier, they have a tendency to split and break away from the trunk. This is especially problematic in a high wind climate region of the country. And Northwest Florida is a high wind climate region. Unfortunately, Bradford pear trees will “fall apart” with time.
A UF/IFAS Extension publication on Bradford pears states, “The major problem with the ‘Bradford’ Callery Pear has been too many upright branches growing too closely together on the trunk. Prune the trees early in their life to space lateral branches along a central trunk. This is not easy and a skilled pruning crew is needed to build a stronger tree. Even following pruning by a skilled crew, trees often look misshapen with most of the lower foliage removed and the lower portions of the multiple trunks showing. This tree probably was not meant to be pruned, but without pruning has a short life, thus `Bradford’ Pear defines a Catch-22.” Here is a link to this publication. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st537
If the tree used to look better and now is thinning on its own or is producing fewer leaves, it may have a problem. Check to make sure that the lower trunk has not been injured by mowing equipment (string trimmer or lawnmower). Bradford pears, as well as many other species of trees, are unforgiving when it comes to their trunks being damaged from mowing equipment. With some trees, hitting the trunk one time with a mower or string trimmer becomes a “death sentence” with time. Also, the herbicide in a number of weed and feed products is detrimental to trees. So be extremely careful with any weed and feed product in the root area of trees.
If major pruning is needed, the best time to prune is when the tree is dormant. This would be anytime from December to late February but before the tree begins to produce new growth including blooms. Below is a link to a UF/IFAS Extension site with much information on pruning. http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml
When you plant trees, you are planting the future. In some cases this means future problems. It’s best to do your homework before selecting and planting a tree.