The Q&A Archives: Stunted Bradford Pears Growing under Stressful Conditions

Question: Several years ago I asked about some non-fruit-bearing Bradford pear trees that had gotten drought damaged or-more so-stunted. They are in the parking area in front of my house. I was advised to aerate and fertilize. I did this last spring but it should be noted that the sidewalk and street limit the ability to do this 360 degrees. To be honest, I noticed no difference thru last year. I have been much more watering conscious, too. This year I have driven in (2) fertilizer spikes on opposite sides of the tree. Am I likely to make these go again? All of my neighbor's pears are huge by comparison and they are the same age.

Answer: Well, I am not sure you are ever going to get your Bradford pears to look like your neighbor's. The harsh conditions that your trees' roots are encountering are limiting their ability to grow and flower well. Although Bradford pears are somewhat tolerant of compacted soils, having your neighbor's as a comparison only makes the compaction and root restrictions more obvious.

If it is any consolation to you, Bradford pears are no longer a recommended variety to plant. They have a habit of developing weak limbs, and are frequently torn apart in heavy winds. Seldom do they reach much beyond the age of 15 years. I will list several other options to choose from, however, none may reach its potential. Survival is the best we can aim for under such poor growing conditions. Some of these trees are less than desirable under normal landscape conditions, and their only reason for being acceptable is their adaptability to compacted soil and drought conditions. Consider these:
Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum), a lovely small tree. Actually may be one of the best choices for landscaping use in these tough conditions.
Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) often considered a weed tree for it's suckering qualities, but it is this very persistence that may make it acceptable for you.
Devil's Walkingstick (Aralia spinosa), also know to be a persistent spreader. Stems have large thorns.
Catalpa, several cultivars, flowers in summer followed by bean-like seed pods. Huge leaves, a distinctive tree.
Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), a good choice in spite of its name. Gains beauty with age. Try 'Prairie Pride' with resistance to nipple gall which affects leaves.
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylanvica), a commonly used tree without any unusually attractive visual attributes. Can contract borer and scale.
Honeylocust, (Gleditsia triacanthos) Fine textured leaves. Webworms, mites galls and cankers can be a problem; check varieties for resistance.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) A wonderful tree except for its spiny seed pods which drop in the fall.
Royal Paulownia (Paulownia tormentosa), Often considered a weed species. Fragrant flowers in spring. Has some leaf shedding in summer and a seed pod with thousands of seeds.
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), Wonderful feathery foliage. Although found in wet areas in native plantings, it is adaptable to drier conditions, cannot tolerate high pH.

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