Bradford pears mature in a way that’s structurally unstable. Their branches grow too close to each other at the trunk which causes the tree to split as the limbs increase in size beyond the limits of the trunk’s support.
The best ways to keep a Bradford pear tree from splitting include:
- Cabling and Bracing
- Killing and Removing
Bradford pear trees can be very problematic but some people .
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Pruning a Bradford Pear Tree to Prevent Splitting
Smart pruning helps create a more supportive structure that lets air pass through the branches more easily, keeping the tree more stable during storms. If you are committed to your Bradford tree and want to extend its life, consider pruning its branches for greater stability.
Invest in some sharp shears and cut off select branches while the tree is young to optimize space between branches along the trunk.
The Georgia Forestry Commission recommends arranging scaffold branches so there is at least a foot between them. This allows the trunk to better support the branches. However, the commission states,
“The problem is that this usually prohibits the development of the characteristic ‘lollipop’ shaped crown” (source).
While you can prune your Bradford pear to avoid splitting, it defeats the main reason for planting the tree in the first place.
Of course, if your tree is older and the branches are already crammed, break out a saw and join the multitudes of other suburbanites conducting major surgery on their fast-growing Bradfords.
For more information, read Should Bradford Pear Trees be Topped?
Here are some tree pruning tips from the University of Minnesota to keep in mind:
- Cut off branches that show signs of cracking at the base
- Thin out competing branches
- Begin cutting large branches underneath so when the limb falls it does not rip the bark off of the trunk
- Cut the larger branches at the top of the tree first
- Remove suckers and watersprouts
- Do not operate a chainsaw above shoulder height or on a ladder
To prune a large branch, Utah State University Extension recommends the double cut method which actually consists of three cuts:
- Cut 1 – Branch Underside
The first cut should be underneath the branch but farther out than the final cut. Cut a third of the way through the branch.
- Cut 2 – Top of Branch
Make the second cut on top of the branch a couple inches past the first cut. Cut until the branch falls away cleanly without damage to the bark. This removes most of the limb’s weight to help make a clean and healthy final cut.
- Cut 3 – Final Collar Cut
The third and final cut should be made along the base of the branch ideally about halfway into the collar and 45 degrees from the vertical trunk. With the way Bradford pears bunch up close together, you might not have the luxury of a clean collar cut.
This video from Utah State University Extension covers the key things to remember when making these cuts.
You’re more likely to achieve a solid structure if you mold your Bradford pear while it is still young. Ideally, you can turn your lollipop trees into something resembling rock candy.
Should You Use Supports to Prevent Bradford Pears from Splitting?
Cabling and bracing trees is another method for extending the life of trees that show signs of splitting or have the potential to split. Large trees with more than one leader (aka main stem) are at greater risk of splitting.
Cabling is not a recommended DIY project, and it costs hundreds of dollars to pay an expert to drill cables into your tree while they themselves dangle from a cable.
Consider for a moment that a Bradford pear only lives for about 20 years, similar to the lifespan of a Canada goose--pretty short. Don’t forget that these trees are bad news to begin with. Did you know that Indiana even made it illegal to sell Bradford pear trees?
Overall, investing in a support system for Bradford pears is not a good idea. Prune them or, better yet, replace them.
How Do You Remove a Bradford Pear Tree?
The Bradford pear glows with white blossoms before any other tree flowers pop open in spring, but even this does not make up for the Bradford pear tree’s many flaws.
Not only do its flowers smell nasty and its structure is so weak that it’s known for splitting apart and wrecking cars, roofs, and power lines, but it is also an aggressively invasive species that chokes out native wildlife.
Any horticulturist will encourage you to replace this tree, and replacing the tree will definitely eliminate splitting as an issue. It is best to kill the tree in the removal process to avoid regrowth.
PennState outlines several ways of killing and removing Bradford pears:
- Remove young trees by hand.
Ensure all the roots are pulled out to keep the plant from resprouting. Simply cutting the plant only encourages more growth.
- Cut trees and apply herbicide.
Cut trees and apply an herbicide any time of year. Oil-based herbicides do not require immediate application, but both the exposed cross-sections and the sides of the stump need treatment. Water-based herbicides must be administered right away on the newly exposed tissue.
- Apply herbicide to foliage.
To kill immature trees with stems 6 inches in diameter or less, spray the leaves with glyphosate and a water-based triclopyr formula. Of course, leaves on the trees are required, so this method is not a year-round option.
- Apply herbicide to basal bark.
Take an oil-based herbicide and apply it to the bottom 12-18 inches of the stem. Cover the bark around the tree. The tree will absorb the herbicide through the bark. This method is effective any time of year.
For trees with stems larger than 6 inches in diameter, the hack-and-squirt method is effective year-round. During the dormant season, the trunk should be girdled and then herbicide applied to the freshly exposed wood. During the growing season, hack at the tree to form cuts a maximum of 1-inch apart and spray concentrated herbicide in the cuts (source).
There are tree removal services that will extricate large trees from your yard and remove stumps. Even if you can’t afford one of these services yet, you can prevent further growth and prepare for removal by treating the tree with herbicide.
Support the environment by replacing the Bradford pear tree with a native species.
If you have a ticking time bomb in your yard known as the Bradford pear tree, it’s understandable why you’d want to try and save it--they are angelic in the spring and colorful in the fall.
Making Bradford pears structurally sound with surgical cuts is your best bet for prolonging their rather short and problematic life.
However, before you decide to invest in your unstable, non-fruiting pear tree, consider replacing it completely and killing any remains with herbicide so there is no resurrection from the roots.
Replace the tree with a different, stronger tree that perhaps also produces beautiful white flowers! Reach out to your local Extension office about native look-alikes that will give you the beauty without the pain.
Support the ecosystem and keep your roof intact.