Issue: May 24, 2003

Yellow leaves on Bradford pear tree

Question:

I have a problem with a Bradford pear tree in Las Cruces. The leaves are quite yellow and eventually turn brown at the tips of the branches. There are no "shepherd's crook" shaped branches or visible cankers to indicate fire blight. I've talked to two Master Gardeners and both were perplexed. I have noticed several other Bradford pear trees with the same sort of problem, notably the row along Terrace Drive behind Memorial Medical Center. My tree has had these symptoms for three years. It does put on new growth every year. Could this be a chemical deficiency or possibly a fungus? Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Mary C.

Answer:

The fact that you have already talked to two Master Gardeners and they were perplexed gives me reason to be cautious in answering without seeing the tree. One possibility could be iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can cause the chlorosis (yellowing) symptoms you have described. If the chlorosis is not too severe, the yellow leaves will have green veins. In more severe cases, the leaves will be quite yellow and will begin to turn brown and die. Try spraying a solution of iron sulfate on the leaves to see if you get a development of green in the leaves. If you see green spots where the iron sulfate solution collected on the leaf, this is a good indication that iron deficiency is the problem. If this is the case, use an iron chelate or iron sulfate application to the soil. Such treatments are most effective before mid-summer. If iron treatment doesn't help, you might try applying a micronutrient fertilizer to the soil at the dripline of the tree. There are other mineral deficiencies that can cause yellowing and browning. Another possibility is salt accumulation in the root zone. These salts may have occurred naturally in the soil or may have resulted from irrigation with salty water. Some salts can interfere with mineral uptake causing the symptoms you described. A soil test can help determine if salt is the problem.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.