Pears are excellent backyard trees. They produce a fruit sweeter and juicier than most apples; a fruit that easily ripens off the tree.
After careful selection and early training, pear trees will require generally less upkeep than other fruiting trees. They live longer than most apple trees and they require less pruning and thinning.
European pears have a classic pear shape and are soft, sweet, and juicy when ripe. Asian pears tend to be round and firm but still sweet.
There are pears for fresh eating out of hand and pears for cooking, usually poached.
Types of Pears
There are three basic types of pears:
- European pears have the traditional teardrop pear-shaped with a neck either short or long; these pears ripen to be either soft or semi-soft and are usually sweet and juicy to the bite.
- Asian pears are sometimes called apple pears because they are round and crisp, firm, and hard to the bite; they, too, are sweet, but not usually juicy.
- The third type of pear is the European-Asian hybrid.
Pears for Fresh Eating; Pears for Cooking
When you select a pear tree, consider how you intend to use the fruit. Here’s how pears are classed for use:
- Dessert pears are for fresh eating; they are picked firm, ripened off the tree, and eaten out of hand.
- Culinary pears are for cooking; these pears do not ripen soft enough for eating out of hand; they remain firm and can be baked or cooked.
- Dual pears can be eaten fresh or cooked.
- Few pear trees are self-fruiting. Pears yield best when they are matched with a cross-pollinator. Plant at least two cultivars.
- Pear varieties are commonly divided into pollination groups; the members of each group flower at the same time so they are good pollinators for other members of the group. It is important to plant at least two varieties from the same group (the same flowering time) to ensure pollination. (Pollination occurs when bees or other insects carry pollen from the flowers of one variety to the flowers of a second.)
- When you select a pear tree, the plant tag or label will tell you if the tree is self-fertile or list other pear varieties that are pollinators.
- Even self-pollinating cultivars will benefit from having a second variety that flowers at the same time nearby—a sort of pollination insurance policy.
Pear Pollination Groups
When you decide on the pear variety you want to grow, look at a pollination chart to make sure you select a second variety that is a pollinizer. Here are two examples of pollination charts:
Example One: Choose two varieties from the same flowering time group:
- Group A: ‘Chojuro’, ‘Korean Giant’, ‘Packham’s Triumph’, ‘Seckel’, ‘Tsu Li’.
- Group B: ‘Bartlett’, ‘Anjou’, ‘Conference’, ‘Harrow Delight’, ‘Hosui’, ‘Magness’, ‘Warren’, ‘Winter Nelis’, ‘Hessle’.
- Group C: ‘Beurré Bosc’, ‘Clapp’s Favorite’, ‘Concorde’, ‘Comice’, ‘Gorham’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Max-Red Bartlett’, ‘Winter Nelis’.
Example Two: Selected the variety you want to grow and match it with a compatible pollinizer. Here are popular varieties followed by pollinizers.
- ‘Bartlett’ pollinators include ‘Anjou’, ‘Bosc’, ‘Comice’.
- ‘Bosc’ pollinators include ‘Bartlett’, Comice’, ‘Anjou’, ‘Seckel’.
- ‘Anjou’ pollinators include ‘Bartlett’, ‘Bosc’, ‘Comice’, ‘Anjou’, ‘Seckel’.
- ‘Seckel’ pollinators include ‘Bosc’, ‘Comice’ (‘Bartlett’ is not compatible).
- ‘Chojuro’ pollinators include ‘Shinseike’, ‘Bartlett'.
- ‘Nijisseiki’ (also called ‘Twentieth Century’ pollinators include ‘Chojuro’, ‘Shinseike’, ‘Bartlett’.
- ‘Hosui’: self-fruitful or any other pear in the same bloom time.
- ‘Shinsike’ pollinators include ‘Chojuro’.
Some specific pear varieties will not pollinate other specific varieties:
- ‘Comice’ and ‘Bosc’ will not pollinate ‘Conference’ and vice versa.
- ‘Bartlett’ will not pollinate ‘Seckel’.
- Some Asian pears bloom earlier than European pears so they are not good choices for cross-pollination of European varieties.
- Later blooming Asian varieties will pollinate European varieties.
- Like many fruit trees, pears are grafted onto rootstocks that are adaptable to many soils or are disease resistant.
- There are two main types of pear rootstock: quince rootstock called ‘Quince A’ and a fireblight resistant pear rootstock called ‘Old Home x Farmingdale’–‘OHxF’.
- Most dwarf pears are grafted onto ‘Quince A’ rootstock; these trees grow to about 8 feet tall. Quince roots are shallow and pears on quince rootstock cannot tolerate drought or very cold soil (hardy only to 0°F or greater).
- ‘OHxF’ rootstock grows taller trees—from 10 to 15 feet tall—and is hardier than quince, withstanding colder winters. Choose a rootstock recommended for your region; check at a local tree nursery for advice or call the nearby Cooperative Extension Service.
Pear Tree Yields
- Standard and semi-dwarf pears yield 150 to 200 pounds of fruit each year.
- Dwarf pears yield about 30 to 45 pounds of fruit each year.
Best Climate and Site for Growing Pears
- Most pears require slightly warmer winters than apples; most not much colder than 20°F. A few pear varieties can survive winter temperatures as low as -20°F.
- Pears need at least 600 hours of winter chill, that is 45°F or lower each year to produce a crop; 900 hours of chill is even better.
- Pears are early spring bloomers; frost during bloom time will cause blossoms to drop and the crop to fail. In cold winter regions, protect pears from frost at bloom time; situate trees south-facing or on a slope where they get early morning sun and warmth and are protected from lingering frost.
- Plant pears where they are protected from wind and frost—especially during their bloom time. Plant pears in a sheltered, sunny spot, out of the wind.
- Plant pears in well-drained loam or compost-rich soil. Pears can tolerate damp, heavy clay soil though it’s not optimal.
- Pears grow best where the soil pH is about 6.5.
Pear Tree Size and Spacing
Choose the size or form of a pear tree that will fit your growing space; remember you need two or three different cultivars to ensure pollination and fruiting. Tree forms include:
- Standard pear trees that grow to 20 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Plant standard pears at least 20 feet apart.
- Semi-dwarf pear trees that grow to 15 feet tall and wide. Plant semi-dwarf peats 15 feet apart.
- Dwarf pear trees that grow 8 to 12 feet tall and wide. Plant dwarf pear trees at least 8 feet apart.
- Trained fan-shape and espalier pears which grow 11 to 13 feet tall and wide or smaller.
- Cordon trained pears that are trained to grow “arms” along single or double wires similar to an espalier; these trees are usually grown to about 3 or 4 feet tall and wide.
- Plant pear trees in spring or fall when trees are dormant.
- If you live in a cold winter region, it’s best to plant bare-root pears in spring.
- Container-grown and ball-and-burlapped pears can be planted at any time of the year that the soil is workable.
- Avoid planting pear trees when the weather is hot and dry.
- Bare-root pears are usually one or two years old; container-grown trees may be older. Choose a tree at least one-year-old tree and ½ inch to 1 inch in diameter that is 4 to 5 feet tall with one to three branches.
- Prepare a planting site in full sun that is sheltered from a prevailing breeze or wind.
- Dig a hole half again as deep and twice as wide as the tree’s roots.
- Work well-rotted compost or manure into the soil and add a cupful of all-purpose fertilizer to the bottom of the hole.
- Put a tree stake in place before planting. Drive the stake into the ground to the side of the hole to at least 2 feet deep.
- Set the tree in the hole so that the soil mark on the stem is at the surface level of the surrounding soil; the graft union should be 2 to 3 inches above the soil surface.
- Remove all twine and burlap from ball-and-burlap trees.
- Spread the roots out in all directions.
- Re-fill the hole with half native soil and half aged compost or commercial organic planting mix; firm in the soil so that there are no air pockets among the roots. Water in the soil and create a modest soil basin around the trunk to hold water at watering time.
- Secure the tree to the stake with tree ties.
- After planting, water each tree thoroughly and fertilize with a high-phosphorus liquid starter fertilizer.
Container Growing Pears
- Dwarf pear trees can be grown in containers. Choose pears grafted on dwarf rootstocks.
- Choose a large pot or tub at least 18 inches wide and deep that is well-drained.
- Plant trees in a commercial organic potting mix.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not wet.
- Feed pears growing in containers with an all-purpose fertilizer that is slightly higher in potassium.
- Repot the tree after two years into a container that is 24 inches wide and deep. Once tree is full size, repot it every year when it is dormant; prune back the roots and tops before repotting.
- In cold regions, protect trees growing in containers by moving them to a protected place–a garage or covered porch–in frigid weather.
Pear Care, Nutrients, and Water
- Newly planted pear trees require moderate watering weekly. Set the water on low and allow it to seep into the soil; roots will follow deep watering and become well established.
- An established pear tree requires only infrequent watering but be sure to water trees during prolonged dry periods.
- Feed pears with a mulch of aged compost applied liberally around the base of the tree once or twice a year, in spring or in late fall after leaves have dropped.
- Feed pears after new growth start in spring; use a complete fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium. Too much nitrogen can spur leafy branch growth and leave pears vulnerable to fireblight disease.
- Low levels of potassium, calcium, or boron can reduce growth and fruit quality. Test the soil for its nutrient content. Spread gypsum on the soil to raise the calcium level.
- Yields can be improved with a foliar feeding of seaweed extract when buds begin to show color, again after petals fall, and once again when fruits are less than 1 inch in diameter.
- Protect young trees from frost by covering them with a floating row cover when frost threatens.
- Pear trees are naturally upright growing with mostly vertical branches. Vertically growing branches tend to have narrow crotches which can easily crack or break when loaded with fruit.
- The strongest and most fruitful angle for a branch is 45 to 60 degrees; a branch with a narrower angle will be weak and could break off.
- A young pear tree can be trained to a single leader (main trunk) or to three or four leaders (multi-leader) form. Training to two or more leaders is insurance against leader damage due to limb breakage, wind damage, or disease.
- Central leader: A mature central-leader tree has a somewhat conical shape. The main stem is the central leader; from the central leader even spaced lateral branches are selected to grow as the tree’s scaffold branches. At planting a one- or two-year-old whip is cut off at about 30 inches above the ground; four even spaced lateral branches are selected to become the scaffold branches; all others are removed. In the second year, even spaced sub-lateral branches are selected to grow on; other sub-laterals are removed. Each year the central leader is shortened by one-third of the previous summer’s growth until the conical shape of the tree is established.
- Modified central leader: A modified central leader tree does not have a central main stem or trunk; the main stem is shortened in the second or third year and lateral-scaffold branches are encouraged to grow. Follow the training directions for a central leader form tree; once 4 or 5 strong scaffold branches have formed, cut back the central leader to just above the topmost scaffold branch. Sub-laterals will grow from the scaffold branches; prune these to keep the form of the tree and remove any vertical sub-laterals.
- Training branches: In the first couple of years after planting, spread the branches each spring so that they do not shoot straight up; spread branches so that they grow 60 degrees from vertical; use a stick notched at each end to spread apart the two branches or hang a weight near the ends of one branch to hold it down and train it to a wider angle; begin this training each spring after blossoms fall.
See also: Pear Pruning
Maintenance Pruning Step-by-Step
- Prune pear trees in late fall after the tree has dropped its leaves and gone dormant or in early spring before new buds appear. Very light pruning can be done at any time of the year.
- Remove all diseased, dead, or broken branches. Prune off branches infected with fireblight, a bacterial disease.
- Remove crossing or rubbing branches. If two branches cross and rub against each other they can cause a wound that may allow insects or fungal disease to attack the tree. Remove the least desirable branch.
- Remove all water sprouts. Water sprouts are fast-growing vertical branches that usually have no side branches.
- Remove all suckers. Suckers are fast-growing shoots that grow out of the soil from the roots below the soil surface.
- Pears send up many tall whip-like branches from the center of the tree; prune each year to keep the tree from growing too tall; head whip-like branches down.
- Head back side branches that grow taller than the central leader. Head back new whip growth by two-thirds of their length. Keeping a pear tree headed back will direct growth to the fruit-bearing spurs which develop on older wood.
- Do not prune in winter where bacterial canker is a problem; wait until spring when new growth has begun.
- Pears set fruit on short stubby spurs that develop on older branches. Spurs can vary in shape and length but they commonly have a knob-like end which is covered with new buds. When thinning shoots, be sure to leave ample fruiting wood; prune back shoots only if they grow longer than 18 inches; head back to a flower bud just before bloom this will stimulate fruit set.
- Spurs bear fruit year after year and should not be pruned off.
- After limbs set fruit, thin ends of all secondary branches to an upright shoot or bud; the fruit will then be borne on heavier wood rather than fragile branch ends.
- Pinching shoot tips in early summer before June drop will increase the final crop of slow to bear young trees.
- Four to eight weeks after bloom, thin fruits to leave one or two fruits per cluster. Spot pick mature fruits during the harvest to allow the fruits that remain to mature and grow larger.
- Thin crowded fruit clusters a second time to just one fruit about mid-season; if the crop is thin leave two pears per cluster.
- Remove small and blemished fruit a few weeks before picking the main crop.
- To prevent branches from splitting or breaking due to heavy crop, tie up the main scaffold branches with a strap or rope.
Harvest and Storing Pears
- Standard and semi-dwarf pear trees bear a full harvest five to seven years after a whip is planted.
- Dwarf varieties begin to bear fruit three to five years after a one-year-old whip is planted.
- Pears come to harvest from midsummer to mid-autumn, depending on the variety.
- A pear is ready for harvest when it reaches mature size and the green color lightens but the fruit is still hard. The stem of the fruit will part readily from the spur when you lift up on the fruit with a slight twist. If the stem does not snap on its own, wait a couple of days and try again.
- The fruit will ripen off the tree in a cool place. Pears that fully ripen on the tree can have a grainy texture.
- Store pears at high humidity and temperatures near freezing. The length of storage varies with the cultivar, but some pears will store for up to three months. Remove the fruit from storage and ripen it before you eat it.
- Winter pears which are hard when they fall from the tree will soften in storage.
- Pear trees can be grown from seed.
- Pears grafted onto quince or ‘Farmingdale-Old Home’ rootstock grow best.
Pear Problems and Controls
- Fireblight is a bacterial disease that causes branches to blacken and die. Cut back infected branches to green, healthy growth. Disinfect pruning tools with bleach between pruning cuts. Plant fireblight resistant varieties if you live where summers are warm and humid. There is no cure for fireblight.
- Pear psylla is a small sucking insect that attacks leaves and branches. Spray pears with a dormant spray or all-season horticultural oil to control overwintering pests such as psylla. Kaolin clay in the form of an organic spray can be used as a protective barrier against psylla; spray the whole tree.
- Codling moth larvae burrow into fruit leaving black frass where they enter. Pick off and dispose of damaged fruit regularly; when you do this, you will be disposing of the coddling moth larvae and will interrupt the pest’s life cycle. Pheromone traps can control coddling moths.
European Pear Varieties to Grow
- ‘Anjou’: large, greenish with a pink blush; good flavor and texture; midseason harvest.
- ‘Bartlett’: standard summer pear; medium to large; thin-skinned; yellow; very sweet, very tender; midseason harvest.
- ‘Bosc’: medium to large; russeting on green or yellow skin; good flavor, firm, juicy flesh; holds shape when cooked; late harvest.
- ‘Comice’: large to very large; thick greenish-yellow skin; great flavor and texture; late harvest.
- ‘Seckel’: self-fruitful; bears heavily with pollinizer; small; yellow-brown skin; very sweet; a good choice for home gardens; good for canning; early mid-season harvest.
- ‘Ure’: cold-hardy hybrid developed in Canada; small, round fruit; greenish-yellow skin; sweet and juicy; use fresh or canned.
See also: Pear Varieties for Backyard Gardens
Asian Pear Varieties to Grow
- ‘Chojuro’: oblong; greenish-brown; white flesh; mildly sweet; harvest midseason.
- ‘Housi’: medium to large; brownish skin with rose and yellow undertones; excellent flavor; late harvest.
- ‘Seuri’: large, orange fruit; delicious flavor, late harvest.
- ‘Shinko’: medium; bronze, russeted; juicy, sweet flavor; late harvest.
- ‘Shinseiki’ (‘New Century’): large; yellow skin; white flesh; sweet, juicy; early harvest.
- ‘20th Century’ (‘Nijisseiki’): medium size; clear yellow skin; white flesh; sweet to slightly tart; harvest mid-season.
Also of interest: How to Choose a Pear Tree for Planting