The Bradford pear was introduced to Western horticulture in 1908 from its native Korea and China. The ornamental tree is known for its lovely pyramidal shape and beautiful white spring flowers (which do not have a very nice fragrance.) The tree has a vase-shaped growing habit and is prone to splitting at branch junctures. The life span of a Bradford pear is from 25 to 30 years. A mature tree can reach 30 to 50 feet, and it is hardy from USDA zones 5 through 9. Pruning is necessary to remove dead, diseased or broken branches; to train and control the structure of the tree; and to remove any suckers.
Cut away any dead, damaged or diseased branches as soon as possible by making your cut at the breaking point, or by removing the entire branch. Make a clean cut, leaving no torn or ragged edges. Clean cuts allow the tree to heal properly. Emergency pruning should be done when necessary (the tree does not need to be in its dormant stage).
View the Bradford pear from all angles to determine if you need to prune any branches to create and maintain the desired shape of the tree. Pruning for shape should be done in late summer or late winter. Ideally, you want to have five to seven scaffold limbs growing from the crotch at 45-degree angles. (This is something that you need to strive for when the tree is young. The angle allows the limbs to withstand the weight of the branches, leaves, and clusters of tiny fruit.)
Locate the branch collar (on the underside of the branch where it connects to the trunk) and the branch bark ridge (on the top of the branch where it connects to the trunk). Cut right in front of the branch bark ridge and the branch collar. Make sure that you leave the branch bark ridge and the branch collar intact for the health of the tree.
For heavy branches, make an undercut up from the branch collar about halfway through, then cut from the top down, slightly in front of the undercut. That will prevent the saw from binding. When the branch is off, cut away the stub so that it is flush with the collar and bark ridge.
View the crown of the tree to determine the density of the growth. If it appears too dense you will want to thin out some of the branches. Thinning allows the sunlight in, and also provides additional air circulation. Thinning is a judgment call; if you do it, prune out select branches to open up the crown. Thinning also should be done in late summer or late winter.
Cut off any suckers (shoots that are growing from the bottom of the trunk or up from the roots). You can do that at any time during the year. Suckers take away valuable nutrients that the tree requires and can create a messy base for the tree.