How to prune an ornamental pear tree

Tree pruning tips and advice about Bradford pear trees

While it may boast beautiful blossoms and add a nice aesthetic touch to a landscape, many customers may not be fans of their Bradford pear trees.

Take a look at a few things you should take into consideration when it comes to Bradford pear trees, as well as some pruning tips associated with this tree.

Safety hazard, offensive odor

The Bradford pear is a nonnative species that was brought over from Asia in the 1960s, according to the Mississippi State University Extension.

These trees can grow to be about 30 to 40 feet tall, and while they are pretty to look at, for many customers, that’s where the appeal ends.

“In certain areas and certain types of landscapes, (Bradford pears have) become a problem and people are starting now to have to deal with the consequences,” Eric Wiseman, an associate professor of urban and community forestry at Virginia Tech, told ABC 13 News.

Bradford pear trees don’t have the same lifespan that most trees do, as this type only lives about 20 to 25 years, and sometimes they don’t even make it to the 20-year mark before falling apart. If a Bradford pear does make it to the age of 25, its branches will be very brittle and prone to breaking.

This tree is notorious for sporting limbs that split away from the main trunk, which creates weak crotches that can allow larger limbs to snap off with little to no warning.

Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

“It has a tendency to fork into multiple stems, known as ‘codominant’ stems,” the Mississippi State University Extension says. “These stems have equal diameter, which results in a weak structure. Where such a junction forms in a tree and the bark becomes incorporated into the joint, this is called an ‘included bark junction.’ Branches with included bark are substantially weaker than normal tree forks.”

Customers with these trees in their yard could be looking at safety hazards for parked cars, pets and children that are near the trees if these limbs were to fall.

“The wood is very brittle, so it tends to break up real bad during wind storms,” Stuart Sutphin, an agriculture extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, told ABC 13 News.“They can grow three, four, five feet a year, so they get up in the power lines very quickly.”

The beautiful white blossoms the Bradford pear tree produces are pleasing to the eye, but the pleasantries end once the odor of said blossoms enters into the equation.

“Although the blossoms are attractive to many, they can have a fairly noxious odor that smells a lot like rotting meat,” the Mississippi State University Extension says. “The smell evolved over thousands of years to attract insects to the blossoms for pollination.”

On a positive note

While the list of negatives far surpasses the good, it’s true that there are, indeed, a few good aspects that accompany the Bradford pear tree.

“While the Bradford pear is often a poor selection for a tree planting, it is not necessarily an environmental catastrophe,” the Mississippi State University Extension says. “Some commentators have claimed it is worse than Kudzu, but the Bradford pear is much easier to remove than that creeping plague of the South.”

The Mississippi State University Extension adds that the Bradford pear’s canopy does provide a few ecosystem benefits like air-pollution removal, intercepting rainfall, temperature reduction and carbon sequestration.

Besides being beautiful in look, these trees are also very disease resistant. True, they can still fall prey to a multitude of illnesses, but they are much more likely to perish from forceful winds or ice storms than diseases.

“In short, we shouldn’t plant new Bradford pears, but we shouldn’t be in rush to remove the old ones unless they are a significant risk to health or property,” the Mississippi State University Extension says.


For customers who have Bradford pears in their landscape currently, if they aren’t in the mood to have them completely removed, doing a thorough pruning could be a helpful alternative.

Photo: Beth Hyatt/Total Landscape Care

As previously mentioned, the branches of the Bradford pear grow weaker and weaker as they age, and they are very susceptible to storm and wind damage.

If you keep a regular watch on your customer’s Bradford pears and do routine pruning, it can help make the trees a little less problematic in the future. However, it’s best to start this pruning process when they are still young, as extreme pruning on older ones will leave them looking a bit lackluster afterward. As they age, their branches become so large that pruning them off tends to ruin their classic shape, which is one of the main selling points of their beautiful look.

When pruning, keep in mind that Bradford pears will need a strong, central leader trunk with well-spaced branches widely angled at 45 degrees or more.

Begin by removing sucker limbs, then thin out branches that are already rubbing or that are closely spaced together. If there are any branches that are growing vertically against the trunk, go ahead and remove those as well.

Bradford Pear – Pruning | Walter Reeves: The Georgia Gardener

I recently received a query that has been repeated over and over this spring. A gardener in Roswell asks for my advice on the proper pruning of her Bradford pear tree in order to avoid limbs breaking as it gets larger.

The gardener, I’m sure, has been admiring the gorgeous clouds of white blooms lining the streets of metro Atlanta this spring. She’s smart, though, to have noticed that Bradford pears seem particularly prone to splitting apart during storms. Big limbs, even entire trees, lie broken after our yearly spring tempests.

Bradford pears are a victim of their own vigorous growth. Every twig and limb seems convinced that it can head for the sky immediately after it sprouts. The result is many vertical branches crowded around the trunk, all reaching heavenward. Simple physics explains that the attachment of a vertical branch is weaker than one which extends at an angle more toward the horizontal. Though the upright oval form of this tree is attractive, the means by which it is achieved leads to weakness.

In addition, so many branches sprout from a trunk that they eventually crowd each other for available space. After ten to fifteen years, large branches on a Bradford pear begin to split and fall if the tree has been left unpruned. The best time to prune a Bradford pear is in the first few years of its life in your landscape. If you wait much longer, limbs will grow too large and their removal could ruin the shape of the tree. This is an excellent time to grab your pruning tools and help your Bradford pear live long and prosper.

PRUNING YOUNG TREES Dr. Jim Midcap, Extension woody plant expert, suggests five steps to pruning a young Bradford pear:

1. Take out any branch that is dead or dying.

2. Select the strongest and/or tallest trunk in the center of the tree to be your central leader. Shorten by half any other branch that is trying to grow parallel to the leader.

3. Prune out the weaker of any two branches along the central trunk that have sprouted within 15 inches of each other. Midcap explains that in five years, pencil thin twigs will be five inches in diameter. When two big limbs grow closely together, either or both are weakly joined to the trunk.

4. Remove any branches that rub against a bigger branch or which pass within six inches of a bigger branch.

5. Try to leave only the branches that grow from the trunk at a 45 degree angle or more; these will be most strongly attached. HINT: You can make wooden spreaders from strong dowels to force adjacent limbs apart permanently. Wedge a spreader between branch and trunk to guide limbs to a proper clearance.

PRUNING OLD TREES An unpruned Bradford pear tree planted five or more years ago is likely to be a tangled mass of twigs and big limbs. With careful observation, you can still decide which limbs should stay and which should go. First to go are the thin vertical limbs in the center of the tree. They provide few blooms and impede air circulation through the tree. Next out are the major limbs that are spaced too closely together along the main trunk. When choosing between two limbs, keep the one that grows more horizontally. Remove the large limbs now, before green leaves appear and they become even harder to manage. Use the “three cut technique” described below to avoid tearing off bark below the limb.

THREE-CUT TECHNIQUE TO REMOVE LARGE LIMBS You can seriously harm the tree (and yourself!) if a big limb is cut carelessly. If only one cut is made next to the trunk, the limb will sag before the cut is complete and strip bark off for a distance down the trunk. It is best to cut the limb once from below and then from above, a couple of feet from the trunk, allowing most of the limb to fall away. The stub that is left can be removed with a single cut just outside the branch collar on the trunk.

TOO MUCH IS JUST ENOUGH If you follow the steps lined above, you might be concerned about the mass of limbs that is piled on the ground after the job is complete. Ignore the shrieks from your spouse and the jibes from your neighbors. The clouds of white blossoms that grace your Bradford pear may be slightly diminished the season after pruning but in succeeding years the blossoms will return in full force. And the wails of your neighbors, whose unpruned Bradford pear limbs have fallen across their new SUV, will be music to your ears!


Pruning Ornamental Shrubs and Trees


Bradford pear crowded limbs

Bradford pear limb failure

Bradford pear limb failure

How to cut a pear. Pruning pears in spring and autumn.

In order for a pear to reward you with a bountiful harvest, it must be pruned annually. The main thing is that you need to prune the tree during the period when the plant is in a state of sleep, that is, early in spring or autumn with the onset of cold weather.

Types of pear trimming

There are several types of trimming:

1. Sanitary trimming. Involves the removal of damaged and diseased shoots. In this case, a little wood is usually removed so that the disease does not go further. Held mainly in autumn.

2. Shaping cut. It is held both in spring and autumn. Depending on the goal, there are several types of shaping:

  • Postplant pruning. Time for work - spring. Young plants are subjected to this procedure in order to properly form the crown.
  • Pruning is necessary to prevent overgrowth of shoots. Thanks to her, the seedling becomes more bushy. Usually pruned young pears.
  • Maintenance pruning - remove branches that grow down, sideways or that have become too long. As a result, the crown becomes more ventilated, and the plant "breathes" better. This procedure is necessary for mature trees.

Pear cutting rules

1 . You can not cut the pear too much at one time. The plant activates all the forces for an urgent recovery, and you should not expect a good harvest. It is better to divide the whole procedure into two stages - remove part now, and cut off the rest only for the next year.

2. First of all, remove shoots growing from the trunk at an acute angle, and vertical ones that are directed parallel to the trunk.

3. When removing branches, it is important not to leave stumps or cut off excess. The reference point should be the annular influx of bark, which is clearly visible at the base of the shoot. It is there that tissues are located that can quickly heal and restore the tree. If you leave a protruding stump or make a deep cut, then the wound will be difficult and long to overgrow (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 – scheme for pruning branches “on a ring”

4. The technique for cutting shoots thicker than 3 cm should be as follows - first, an inscription is made from below, and then it is already possible to saw from above. Otherwise, the bark under the branch may be damaged when the incompletely cut branch breaks under the weight of its weight.

5. After pruning the pear, the cut areas must be processed immediately (Rannet, Sadovy Var). Otherwise, the tree will begin to secrete juice, and this will lure harmful insects and weaken the plant.

Pear pruning in spring

Pear pruning is most popular with gardeners in spring. Spring formation of the crown can be carried out before the leaves bloom.

1. Annual seedlings are pruned in spring at a distance of 50 cm from ground level, this promotes the formation of shoots from the lower buds.

2. In 2-3 year old pear seedlings, the central stem is shortened by 1/4 of its length, and adjacent branches are cut off under the ring.

3. Lateral shoots that serve as the basis of the trunk are left, but not more than 4, the rest are removed. They should leave the trunk at a 45° angle (Figure 2).

4. Shoots with ovary are bent down, leaving them in a horizontal position.

5. The remaining branches are folded back and tied with twine.

6. Over time, the plant matures, and young shoots form less and less in spring. To increase the speed of their formation, a shortening pruning of the old pear is carried out along the entire crown. Give a pyramidal shape.

Fig. 2 - Scheme of bending and tying pear branches.

It is undesirable to prune pears in summer. In the warm season, the leaves accumulate glucose and other useful substances. Pruning leads to a large loss of young foliage and, as a result, nutrients.

A year later, this work is repeated, while making sure that the second-order shoots do not exceed the growth of the main ones.

Autumn pruning

Autumn work should be carried out from the end of August to the last ten days of September. Pruning the tree at this time helps to get a high yield.

1. When pruning in autumn, dry and diseased branches are removed from pears - they are burned.

2. In the fall, annual shoots are also shortened, leaving a few buds for the formation of new branches in the spring, this is where the pruning of the tree in the first year ends.

3. Inward growing branches are also removed. Pruning of side branches that interfere with the penetration of light is carried out under the ring.

Pear cut in autumn to prevent the spread of diseases, pests and good winter care.

Pruning pears in winter is not recommended at all, as the probability of freezing is very high. The cuts will not have time to heal, and the plant will die. In addition, pear wood is very fragile and brittle, with careless movement, you can simply break the plant.

Autumn pear pruning for beginners: clear diagrams, clear tips

Autumn pruning raises many questions for beginner gardeners. Let's figure out which branches you need to get rid of the pear and when is the best time to do it so that the tree survives the winter well and pleases with juicy fruits next season.

Proper pruning of pears in autumn will form a beautiful sparse crown, as well as a strong and stable skeleton that can withstand a heavy load of fruits. If you do not consider yourself a professional gardener, you can easily get confused in the flow of information that various sources offer. We have collected the most important tips for you in one article and illustrated them with clear diagrams.

Significance and advantages of pear pruning in autumn

Many novice gardeners refuse to prune young and mature pears for fear of harm. Others believe that the larger the fruit tree grows, the more likely it is to reap a good harvest from it. However, this is fundamentally wrong. The overgrown crown prevents sunlight from reaching the fruits, which negatively affects their juiciness and taste. In addition, leaving old dry branches, you risk that they will damage healthy ones, breaking off in winter under the weight of snow.

The pruning value also depends on the age of the pear. For young trees that have not yet entered the fruiting season, it is important to properly form the skeleton and crown. Those already fruiting need help distributing nutrients in order to achieve a better harvest. But for old trees, the need for rejuvenation comes first.

Pear pruning is most often done in spring and autumn. The advantages of autumn pruning are as follows:

  • The vegetation process is completed, which means that no new shoots are formed on the cut this year.
  • Sap flow is slowed down, so the juice will not flow out through cut wounds.
  • Proper pear pruning in autumn and the formation of a sparse crown stimulate fruiting in the next season.
  • More opportunities to get the job done without haste and risk to the tree. Spring can come quickly, and you may not have time to complete the work before the start of sap flow. Or, conversely, after early pruning, frosts can occur that prevent wound healing. But autumn pruning can be done at any time after the fruit has been removed. The main thing is to complete it 2-3 weeks before the first frost.

Autumn pruning of pear seedlings in the year of planting is not performed. This can stunt the growth of a young tree and reduce its chances of overwintering successfully. In all other cases, the procedure is recommended to be carried out annually or at least every other year.

Fruit tree pruning tools

To prune a pear or apple tree, you will need the following tools:

  • Pruner . For cutting thin and medium branches (up to 2.5 cm in diameter), as well as for removing dry knots and young growth.
  • Lopper . In terms of functionality, it is similar to a secateurs, but has longer handles, which means it provides convenient access to high-lying branches.
  • Garden saw . For removing branches over 2.5 cm in diameter.
  • Knife . For pruning shoots, cleaning wounds.
  • Oil paint or garden varnish . for cutting cuts.

Tools must be sharp so that cuts are even and smooth. Before and after pruning, it is important to disinfect the inventory, for example, with a solution of potassium permanganate, copper sulfate, bleach or alcohol.

Bud cut and ring cut - what's the difference

There are 2 main ways to prune a pear - shortening the branches by cutting off the crown of the shoots (bud cut) and thinning (ring cut). Each method pursues certain goals and is carried out according to certain rules.

  • Cutting off the shoot on the ring

If your goal is to get rid of a branch, the best place to cut is in the ring of bark at its base. It is in this place that wound healing occurs faster. It is important to make the cut as close as possible to the trunk or parent branch, but without damaging them. Any "dredging" (deepening of the cut into the trunk) disrupts the flow of juice, due to which the tree loses its strength. Leaving a stump, on the contrary, we will get peeling of the bark, rotting of the wood and the formation of a hollow, which most often becomes a focus of disease.

Thinning by cutting off the shoots on the ring is carried out until the crown is fully formed. At the same time, only a few main branches are left on the trunk, and the rest of the growth is removed.

  • Kidney cut

This type of pruning helps to change the direction of the branch. To do this, a bud is found on a one-year-old stem, which "looks" in the direction necessary for the correct shape of the crown. The shoot is cut above this bud at an angle of 45 degrees. It is important to leave a small stump (about 1.5-2 cm). Too long a stump usually dries up, and the kidney does not wake up in the spring.

Peculiarities and timing of autumn pear pruning

When to prune a pear, every gardener decides for himself. In central Russia, it is recommended to do this after harvesting - in late August or early September. In the southern regions of the country "haircut" can be postponed until October. But you should not delay the procedure too much, because. wounds need time to heal before the onset of cold weather.

Astrologers do not recommend pruning for the growing Moon. At this time, the juices are understood upwards, and the tree spends a lot of time and effort on healing the cuts. It is better to choose the days of the waning moon (ideally, phase 4).

The lunar calendar will help you choose a good day for pruning.

To understand how to prune a pear after the summer, you need to understand that the autumn "haircut" is, first of all, sanitary in nature. From the end of August, the movement of juices slows down, although it is still far from a complete stop. The tree will be able to tighten the cut points, but for this it will have to expend the forces stored up for the winter. In order not to deplete the reserves of the pear and leave it without useful substances, autumn pruning should be extremely gentle.

If you miss pear pruning, it's best to postpone pear cutting until spring. Otherwise, the tree may not cope with stress and will not survive the winter well.

Before moving on to specific pear trimming patterns, it would not be out of place to familiarize yourself with the general rules and nuances.

  • Choose dry days for trimming . Rainy weather increases the risk of wound infection. After the onset of frost, pruning is no longer carried out. The optimum air temperature is not lower than 8°С.
  • Use garden ladder . Pear wood is denser and harder than that of an apple tree, but at the same time it is more fragile, and therefore prone to breakage. This means that it is strictly forbidden to climb the skeletal branches during the sanitary procedure.
  • Don't cut too hard . Do not remove more than 25% of the total wood weight at one time. If the tree needs major pruning, postpone the procedure until early spring, and only shorten the branches a little in the fall (about a quarter of their length). The cuts are susceptible to freezing, which means that severe pruning can cause the tree to disappear. In addition, strong pear pruning at a young age delays the onset of fruiting.
  • Cut skeletal shoots larger than 5-7 cm in three steps . First, make an inscription from below, otherwise, under its own weight, the branch will break, and the bark will tear. Then file the branch on top, leaving a stump. When you have already got rid of the main part of the branch, you can proceed to the leveling saw cut.

  • Treat all cuts . Slices need to be covered with garden pitch or linseed oil-based compounds. Adult dry branches are treated immediately, and young ones need to be given about a day to dry.
  • Do not leave cut branches in area . Autumn pruning is often associated with the release of a tree from branches affected by pests. Therefore, it is better to immediately get rid of them, for example, burn them.

What and why to cut: step-by-step pear pruning instructions

We offer detailed instructions with illustrations for sanitary pear pruning in autumn. Everyone can understand our schemes.

1. Remove dry and diseased branches

Removing dry, damaged and diseased wood is where to start pruning not only pear trees, but also apple trees in the fall. This is important to eliminate the risk of breaking healthy branches when diseased branches collapse under the weight of snow in winter.

Cut branches affected by pests, starting from the point of spread of the disease. "Dead" wood is easy to distinguish from healthy: during the summer period, neither foliage nor fruits appeared on it. It may also vary in color.

2. Cut off young basal shoots

Young wild pear growth can be removed both in spring and autumn. These shoots have nothing to do with the fruit crown, but are, in fact, a continuation of the root system. Break off non-lignified shoots at the base, lignified ones - cut with secateurs or dig up to the place of growth. But it is better to get rid of thick basal shoots only in late autumn. This is a favorite wintering place for aphid larvae and powdery mildew spores, so you should not postpone this work for later.

3. Cut the tops

Tops are powerful fattening shoots, most of which grow vertically. They appear most often within 1.5-2 m from the trunk at the base of large branches or directly from the trunk. These branches do not give fruit, but they take a lot of strength from the tree. Cut the tops as close as possible to the point of their growth on the main branch.

4. Thin out the crown

a-branches growing too close, b-branches looking down, c-branches looking down, d-crossing branches

Autumn pruning of pear is not the main goal of crown formation. But if possible, why not take care of the formation of a beautiful crown (at least partially) in the fall. If two or more shoots grow from roughly the same spot at a slight angle to the main branch, they will compete and thicken the canopy, preventing sunlight from penetrating the lush summer foliage. Therefore, leave the healthiest of them, and delete the rest. It is desirable that the branch that you leave grows at an angle of 60 degrees to the main one. A sharp angle can cause the branch to break off when the fruit ripens on it.

Don't forget to prune branches that grow down towards the trunk, as well as 90-degree angles and cross shoots.

5. Shorten branches to be removed in spring

Since major pruning is not carried out in autumn, it is worth limiting yourself to shortening branches that you can get rid of in spring so that the tree puts all its strength into new shoots during the growing season. Make shorter branches that seem superfluous to you. If the tree needs extensive pruning, it is best to extend this process over 2 or 3 years.

6. Trim the annual growth per kidney

For a good harvest, the annual growth is cut to about a quarter of the original length. Be sure to leave a few buds on annual shoots for further development in the spring. The cut is made under the kidney, counting two more from it, we will get a kidney directed to the periphery of the crown. This is due to the fact that a shoot grows from the first (closest to the cut) bud, "pressed" against the mother branch. From the second kidney - an escape directed to the center of the crown. And it is the 3rd shoot that gives the optimal angle for the formation of a pyramidal crown shape. It should be left afterwards.

If you have any questions, look for more information in the pear pruning video in autumn.

Peculiarities of pear cutting

Columnar pear pruning principles in autumn differ from the general rules, because these varieties do not have a highly branched crown.