Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Problems with Ornamental Pear Trees


pear tree

Ornamental pear tree with cracking and flaking bark.

Pear trees in our area have a problem.  Cracking, plating, and flaking bark has been reported in many ornamental or flowering pears across the region.  What caused this problems and what can you do about it?

The pear problem actually started a whole year ago, it just took awhile for the damage to come to the surface.  Those of you in Nebraska might remember last November how we had a severe temperature fluctuation that lead to rapid decline of temperatures to subfreezing levels, aka it got really cold really quick.  For some of our trees, pears and willow mostly, the sap wasn’t all the way out of the tree when the temperatures got that cold.  When water freezes it expands, and sap does the same thing.

pear tree 2

Pear tree with missing bark.

Why did it take until now before the damaged was noticed?  Trees put energy into making their buds the year before it needs them.  Last fall the trees had already put the energy into making the flower and leaf buds.  There was just enough energy in the tree come this spring to have the tree look ‘normal’ as though nothing had happened.  Now the energy reserve is depleted in the tree and the tree will start to show signs of stress.

Is there anything to do?  Sad to say no, there isn’t anything at this point in time that needs to or could be done for the tree.  Leave the wounds open to the environment, do not apply a tar or wound sealing product.  It is just going to be a waiting game to see how/if the tree survives the winter.  All of the nutrient and water movement happens just behind the bark.  If there isn’t any bark there, there isn’t any nutrient or water movement.  No movement of these substances and the tree can’t function as it normally would.   As a rule of thumb, a tree can seal (not heal) over a wound if it is less than 1/3rd of the trunk.  In most instances with the pears that I have seen, the damage to the tree was so extensive that the tree is going to have a hard time overcoming that amount of damage.

There are a couple of options for the damaged trees.  If the tree is brittle and the branches break off easily, its not moving any nutrients to that area and it is probably dead.  Remove dead branches at any time, especially if there is the chance they could break off in the winter and fall onto something of importance, like the house, car, or people.  If the tree does survive the winter, be on the lookout next spring when it puts on leaves.  If the leaves are smaller than normal or scattered on the tree, the tree might have a difficult time for long term survival.

Inspect you pear trees for damage.  If you need to, prune out the dead or  wait until spring to see how the tree survives the winter. Rest easy that it wasn’t anything that you did wrong and it was just Mother Nature in Nebraska at her finest.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at, her blog at, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.


Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

12 thoughts on “Problems with Ornamental Pear Trees

  1. I have a question. I have a dwarf ornamental pear tree that is still full and has not lost its leaves. No damage on the bark that we can see. Very worried because the leaves are mostly red.
    We live in the SW corner of the State-Champion NE.
    I know that all kinds of fruit and fruitless trees that we have are latter in shedding their leaves, but I have never had this one do this.
    This tree is about 10 or so years old.
    Do you think there may be a problem?

    • Thanks for the question. As long as the tree’s trunk and bark is in good condition, that is the main concern. We had such a ‘nice’ fall that some trees have held onto their leaves longer than normal. We had the same problem last year in some trees too. The only time it could be an issue is if the snow starts to weigh down the branches with the leaves attached.

    • Thanks for the question, sorry for the delayed response. Did it drop its leaves yet? Some years we have plants (pears especially) who have a tough time shedding their leaves. This can cause issues if we have lots of ice and snow, but as long as they drop them before the new blooms come out that is the important part.

  2. I have another question regarding ornamental pears. I realize last year was a wet year. My pears are 10 years old and had significant issues with leaf spots for the first time. Very near those trees, I also have a patch of hollyhocks that have had issues with spotting. Could the issue with the hollyhocks have spread to the Chanticleer pears? And will my pears continue to have issues in future years regardless of the weather?

    • Thanks for the question. Sorry it took me so long to respond, I have been out of the office and not available. Both of the issues with the plant were probably caused by rust, but the rust species for hollyhock and for pear aren’t the same. Good clean up of the leaves is going to be key. This will keep them from acting like an inoculate source for this years healthy foliage. Last year was the first year I have ever notice rust on ornamental pear… so it depends what the weather does this year whether or not you will have an issue. Rust isn’t detrimental to the plant, which is the good news. Wait and see what this year holds before beginning a spray schedule.

  3. Hi. I have three new Chanticleer ornamental pears (I’m in Sydney, Australia, but don’t hold that against me!). We’re about one month into spring and all three still have about a dozen dark green leaves on them that have not fallen off. The new growth is just now starting to poke through. Should I remove the old leaves or will that do any damage?

  4. Planted an ornamental pear last year in 2016. Just noticed the top of the leaves have purplish spots and underneath the leaves it looks like white roots growing. Is this a rust? Thanks!

    • Yes, it sounds like it could be pear rust. If the leaves look like they have chicken pox, then rust could be to blame. Nothing to do for it now other than good fall clean up of the dropped leaves. Normally we don’t recommend fungicide applications because the infection doesn’t really harm the tree, it just makes it look unsightly.

  5. The pears on my Cleveland pear are very hard like acorns…. Very messy for a tree I was told would not have pears…. The birds and squirrels usually eat them but not this year… I cannot rake them up and they are killing the grass. Any suggections

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