Beautiful in bloom, handsome in full leaf, heavy with luscious pears, attractive in fall, picturesque in winter, pear trees are very beautiful additions to the landscape across the seasons. Easy to grow and productive, pear trees can be very rewarding, no matter how large or small your garden is. There are thousands of varieties of pear of varying sizes, appearances, and flavors. Pear cultivars can be dessert (eating fresh), culinary (cooking) or dual-purpose. There is surely one for you!
Main types of Pears
- European pears (Pyrus communis) are the most common in American and European markets. Among the longest-lived fruit trees, they tend to be pyramidal in habit with strongly vertical branches. They produce pear shaped fruits, usually with a buttery texture, and sweet, aromatic flavor. Their skin may be yellow red, brown, russeted, or smooth. The fruits do not ripen on the tree. They must be harvested on a scheduled date for each variety and ripened indoors.
- Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) are extremely beautiful trees that would likely be grown as ornamentals even if they did not produce fruit. They produce usually round fruits with a crisp flesh that explodes with juice in your mouth. They are deliciously sweet and low in acidity, and each variety has a distinctive bouquet. Their skin may be green to yellow or bronze colored with a light bronze russet. Asian pears ripen on the tree and are ready to eat when harvested. Also called nashi, apple pears, or salad pears, they are excellent combined with other fruits and vegetables in salads.
- Most pear trees can be grown in hardiness zones 4-8, though some varieties are hardy to zone 3 such as Loma, Julienne, Patten, Southworth or Summercrisp.
- Pear trees must receive ample winter cold in order to produce flowers. European pears require between 600-900 hours of winter chill (hours of temperatures below 45ºF (7ºC) in the winter for their buds to open in the spring). Asian pears have lower chilling requirements ranging from 300 to 600 hours. Some low-chill cultivars such as Hosui or Shinseiki are best suited to warmer regions such as zone 9. Flordahome, Hood, Keiffer, Monterrey can be grown in zone 10.
- Full sun lovers, pear trees are easily grown in deep, fertile, moist, well-drained soils. They tolerate heavy, poorly drained soils better than most tree fruits. However, productivity is best on deep, well-drained loams. Since they flower early in spring, they are more at risk from spring frosts. Provide a warm, south- or west-facing, sheltered site in your garden for the best results.
- Pear trees should be planted when dormant in late winter or early spring.
Pear Tree Sizes
- Most varieties have been grafted onto rootstocks. It is the rootstock more than anything else which controls the size of the tree. A full-size pear tree on a standard rootstock grows about 30 ft. tall (9 m) and 20 ft. wide (6 m) with branches that tend to grow upright. Dwarf rootstocks have been developed, bringing the tree height down to 8-10 ft tall and wide (2-3 m). The fruit itself is full size and not dwarfed.
- Dwarf pear trees will fit into the garden without sacrificing too much garden space. They can add a charming presence, tucked into a shrub border, or planted as a specimen.
- Pears can take from 3 to 10 years to begin flowering and bear fruit.
- Some pear varieties are precocious, producing fruit a year or so earlier, and reaching full production a year or so earlier. Among them are Anjou, Harrow Sweet or Moonglow.
Blooming Season, Pollination, Harvest Season
- Pears bloom 1-3 weeks before apples, and are therefore prone to frost damage in most regions. Once flowering begins, cool, frost-free weather with little wind and rain creates a blossoming display that can last as long as 2 weeks. Heat shortens flower life and quickly encourages the unfurling of new pear leaves. Pears mature in as little as 90 days, or as long as 200 days.
- Most pear trees are not self-pollinating. They require pollen from a different cultivar that flowers at the same time. A few pear trees are self-fertile but they produce better in the presence of a pollinator. Pears are grouped into 3 pollination groups based on their bloom season: early season, midseason, late season. Choose two different cultivars in the same or adjacent pollination groups and plant them within 60 ft. (20 m) of each other. Certain pear cultivars do not produce fertile pollen (triploids) and cannot fertilize other pears.
- Most pears ripen between late summer and late fall, depending on climates and varieties (early, mid or late harvest season).
Training, Pruning Pear Trees
- Young pear trees are suitable for all training forms: classic bush tree with a clear trunk, espaliers against a wall or fence, cordons (trees grown as a single upright or oblique stem, or as multiple upright stems growing from a single leg at the base), pyramid (small, neat cone-shaped trees) or stepovers (horizontal cordons on a short leg). If size is an issue, consider a dwarf bush, pyramid, cordon or stepover. These all can be grown in a small space, or even in a pot.
- Pears should be pruned every year to get the best crop. They also need to be thinned to about 5 in. apart (12 cm) if you want to reap the best-quality fruit.
- Pear trees trained as free-standing bushes are best pruned every winter, when the tree is dormant, to ensure a good cycle of fruiting wood and create an open goblet shape with a framework of four to five main branches.
- Pear trees trained as cordons, espaliers and pyramids should be pruned in summer to allow sunlight to ripen the fruit and ensure good cropping the following year.
Pear Pests and Diseases
- Growing pears is generally easier than growing apples, as they have less pest and disease issues.
- Keep an eye out for aphids, caterpillars, codling moth, pear blister mite, pear midge and pear and cherry slugworm.
- Watch for pear scab, pear rust, brown rot, blossom wilt and fireblight. The easiest way to control diseases such as fireblight, one of the most serious diseases of pears, is to plant a resistant variety such as Keiffer, Moonglow or Orient. Asian pears enjoy a greater resistance to fireblight than European pears.