With all the initiative to create more green space and increase the urban canopy, it’s rare to read stories about cutting trees down; that’s the case in a recently published video by the South Carolina Forestry Commission. Bradford or Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana) were planted in large numbers during the 1970s because of their ornamental features. Healthy Bradford Pears bloom in the Spring with white flowers and have a deep red color in the Fall right before the leaves drop. In the 2000s, the trees started to cross-pollinate with other Pear trees. The once sought after Bradford Pear reverted to a much less desirable version called the Chinese Callery Pear. The Callery Pear has beautiful white blooms; unfortunately, they have a smell similar to dead fish! The Pear tree also produces extremely sharp thorns up and down the branches, not unlike the Honey Locust (Gledistia triacanthos). The seeds produced are typically consumed by birds, which then carry the seeds in their stomach to another location. The seeds germinate and the issue of invasive plant species is further spread to another location. The SC Forestry Commission is telling everyone to cut them down. What should you do if you have one of these trees in your front yard? I would suggest three action steps to help you decide whether or not to keep the tree around.
- How old is the tree? Many Bradford Pears have a max life span of 25 years if they stay healthy. This is like a drop in the bucket for the tree world. When the tree is young, structural pruning every other year to reduce the number of codominant attachments is crucial. Codominant attachments typically grow side by side without any structural wood between them. This is what creates the “Bradford Death” during ice and wind storms. The branch unions can’t support their own weight and the union fails.
- Where is my tree planted? Bradfords are fairly hearty in all soil types which made them desirable when they were first being planted. With the planting conditions we ask trees to grow in these days, the tree just keeps powering through. Is the tree going to outgrow its spot? Is it in the middle of the front yard or right next to the house? If a tree falls in the middle of the yard with no targets underneath it, it is much less dangerous than a tree up next to the house.
- How healthy is the tree? Bradford pears don’t suffer from many things; however, a disease called Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) will cause health issues quickly. Fireblight is a bacteria that gets into microscopic openings on the branches of the tree. The bacteria produce a canker which kills the branch and causes a distinct blackened branch end that curls over like a shepherds hook. Fireblight can spread quickly through the crown of a tree by insects or splashing rain. Applying proper treatments right as the leaf buds open is critical for the control of the disease.