The Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana “Bradford”) is a native of China and Korea, introduced into the United States under its current name in 1963. It is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5a through 9a, so can be grown in much of the country. This 40-foot-tall tree has a notably difficult branching habit, so pruning effectively is the best way to encourage healthy growth throughout its life.
1. Annual Pruning
The Bradford pear tree needs significant pruning early on in its life to reach a desired shape. Because the tree will spend much of the growing season producing leaf and flower buds and eventually fruit, don’t prune then. Wait until the dormant season. In warmer parts of the country this is usually sometime in February, before the pear flowers. In cooler parts, it may be a little later in the year. Watch your pear tree to determine when it flowers and prune directly before. If you find that your tree sets too much fruit and quality diminishes, prune annually to thin branches a little, but this shouldn’t be necessary later in the tree's life.
2. Pruning for Shape
Bradford pear limbs tend to grow horizontally, crowding each other near the top of the trunk instead of branching in a wider formation and growing laterally from the trunk. When this happens, trees are less structurally sound and have shorter life spans. Pruning the tree within the first few years of its life will help it develop a healthier structure than it would naturally, but you will likely need to get professional help. Wait for the pear tree’s dormant season to call.
3. Damage Control
Whenever limbs become damaged or diseased, you should remove them. If you can accomplish this easily yourself, do so, but for large or difficult-to-reach limbs, you will likely need to call in some help. When pruning out a damaged limb, you don’t need to wait for the dormant season, but make sure your cut is clean. A clean cut will encourage quick healing and will help prevent infection, keeping the tree safer and saving you work in the long run.
Poorly pruned Bradford pears, with many limbs reaching upward and not as many strongly attached at a horizontal, stand a greater chance of breaking and falling off the tree. If your tree is badly pruned, keep children and pets away from it. Whatever time of year it is when pruning, use caution with sharp shears and falling limbs, and clear the area before even minor prunes.