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Callery pear trees ripen to a troubled old age

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Question: This past year, several large branches broke off of my flowering pear tree leaving a large wound in the center of the tree. I have always enjoyed the spring flowers, but the tree looks horrible with the missing branches. The tree is next to my driveway so I am constantly reminded of the problem. Should I try to brace the remaining branches or simply remove the tree ? -- J.T., Cranbury

Answer: I would recommend replacing the tree with a different flowering tree. The tree in question is probably a 'Bradford' pear or another cultivar of the Callery pear. Callery pears have weak branches due to their steep upright angles to the main stem. As these trees approach 15 to 20 years in age, the branches often begin to break off during wind or ice storms. Once the tree matures, there is little you can do to solve the problem.

The location of the tree near your driveway provides further motivation to remove the tree. Trees with weak or diseased limbs and trunks that are located near buildings, cars or walkways are called hazard trees. Hazard trees can sometimes be pruned by a horticultural professional, limiting the danger to people and property. In your case, a significant portion of your tree has been damaged, leaving a hazard tree near your driveway.

Although new Callery pear cultivars such as 'Chanticleer' and 'Redspire' were developed with different branching pat terns, they still have exhibited the same weak branch issues and breakage when mature. The most promising newer variety is the 'Aristocrat' pear that has more horizontal branching, but some horticulturalists are skeptical about the 'Aristocrat' as well.

Another problem that has oc curred with these so called improved varieties of Callery pear is that they cross pollinate with 'Bradford' pear. The 'Bradford' pear was introduced as a fruitless tree but now we see small fruits forming on these and other Callery pears as they cross with one another. The fruits are then being spread by birds and other animals throughout the environment. These new hybrids have started to replace native trees along roadways and in forests, creating yet another problem. Some towns have even banned the planting of Callery pears, considering them a hazard tree with invasive characteristics.

Callery pears were once very popular because of their beautiful white flowers, great fall color and few pest problems. The trees could tolerate difficult soils and were once thought of as an ideal small flowering tree. As a result, these trees were planted extensively throughout the country.

Unfortunately, as the trees matured in many landscapes around the nation, it's weak branch structure overshadowed all of attributes. For more information on trees for your landscape, contact your local County Cooperative Extension office or log on to www.rce.rutgers.edu. You can also log onto www.ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu to view a slide shows on tree planting and care.

Bill Hlubik is a Professor and Agricultural and Resource Managemen tAgent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension- The New Jersey Agricultura lExperiment Station, Rutgers University. He is also a host of the "If Plants Could Talk" television series on NJN Public Television.