It is August 22, 2014


Bradford Pear

The Bradford pear, a common item in our landscape here in middle Tennessee, is sought after for its bright bloom, fast growth, fall color, and classic tight form. Also known for its ability to withstand drought and abuse, it graces many a driveway and house corner. Placed prominently in the landscape, a large healthy Bradford pear can add thousands of dollars to the value of a home.

Bradford pear trees first gained a toehold on the American horticultural scene in the 1950s, when researchers in Maryland noticed an especially promising tree grown from seed collected in China more than a half-century earlier. From there it was hybridized, and rushed into production without field trials. It wasn't until it had matured, installed in the landscape that the problem became obvious.

The Bradford pear grew with quite narrow branch angles, weak by nature.

When a branch angle is wide, the trunk's wood grasps and grows around the limb's wood as they both grow. In a narrow, weak branch angle, the trunk' wood is separated from limb's wood by their respective barks, and so can only press its bark against the limb's bark. This "included bark", precludes the fork strengthening at the rate that the limb grows longer and heavier. This time bomb eventually overpowers the fork, ripping open the trunk. From a valuable asset to a wounded eyesore in a moment, stormy or calm, it is a loss and a pricey mess to clean up. Eventual removal of tree and stump costs even more. Leave it there and decay speeds up the rest of the tree falling apart.

So what do we do, cut them all down and start over with a better tree? By the way, there are pear cultivars that grow with better branch angles. The Redspire, Aristocrat, Chanticleer and Cleveland Select are good quality, long-lived ornamental pears, and worthy of purchasing. But not be too hasty. Proper maintenance can add years to the life expectancy to our investment and our enjoyment of its good qualities.

After 8 years of study, and servicing hundreds of Bradford pear trees, Glenn Christman, owner and head arborist at the Gentle Arborist has developed a maintenance procedure that addresses this special trait of the Bradford pear. This procedure includes several separate processes.

The most important process is proper pruning. Weight reduction, especially on the limbs that have the weakest forks is the essence of this process. Effort is made to keep the outer canopy of the tree full. Topping, or "round-over" seem to make sense at first, but only over stimulate the tree, and the sprouts eventually create their own problems. NEVER top a tree. Proper cabling is another important procedure to employ, and a "Bradford pear only" style of cabling has been developed to address the complexity of the Bradford's multi-stem style. Cables are good for 15-25 years, and usually are not needed until the tree gets large. Proper pruning, started early in the tree's life can forestall the need for a cable.

Proper fertilizing, or soil amending is also important. Nitrogen forces limb growth and weight, so NO nitrogen fertilizer should be used on a Bradford pear unless it is needed. Most nutrients can be supplied by our soil at reasonable levels. Soil health and soil microorganisms are what are most often needed in urban soils. Mycorrhizae, bacilli, humic acid, and "bio-stimulants" improve soil and benefit tree roots. These are injected into the soil at a depth where tree roots feed.

So what does all this cost? It mostly depends on the size of your tree. For a large Bradford, proper pruning and cabling will cost $250-300. Soil amendments are $.10/sqft and costs vary with the size of the available root zone. Subsequent pruning, at 3-5 year intervals cost $100-200. Smaller trees are less expensive to prune. These prices are on site prices, with small projects bearing the extra cost of crew transport, setup and breakdown time. Please call or use our online contact form for a quote.
Copyright 2014 The Gentle Arborist, Inc.