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Red Bartlet Pear Tree

Q: I am delighted to find your site! I have a red bartlet pear tree that was neglected when we first purchased our home. The previous owner had planted for an ornamental and did NOTHING to it for their tenure in the home. It literally looks like a witches broom.

I pruned and played with it for about five years and it continues to bear fruit. Two babies, a return to the work force and an additional 16 years added, it still embodies a "broom" just a very tall one.

Can I flat top it and begin again or should I let my husband cut it ( he simply hates the fruit drop at the end of summer)? Early on the major fruit bearing wood was already vertical. I tried to encourage side branching with minimal success.

Any help or advice would be appreciated. I live in SW Michigan about 40 miles from the big lake. My property is unique in that the home stands on an esker surrounded by marsh and ponds so my plantings usually survive damaging early frosts.

Thanks, J.

A: It sounds like your pear tree has fulfilled its usefulness in the landscape, and it's time to start anew.

If you flat-top the tree, you will probably force dormant buds to grow crazily along the trunk and main limbs. These are called watersprouts, and are often produced when the tree has undergone a severe stress (like, when you flat-top it). It is a survival mechanism, and you end up with a fuzzy-looking tree.

Therefore, I recommend you remove and replace the tree, and care for it regularly. If you like the pear flower but not all the fruit, you can try planting one of the Callery pears.

However, be forewarned -- Callery pears have very brittle wood and are prone to damage from ice and snow storms. We experienced 2 heavy, wet snow storms in April this year here in Cleveland -- the second storm devastated a lot of the Callery pears as they were flowering and slightly leafed out, and the snow very easily broke branches.

Regular pruning to thin the tree out will reduce the number of potential load-bearing branches and the risk of storm damage, but not 100%.

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Tom Mugridge

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