There’s just something about fruit trees that seems almost otherworldly. The fruit I buy at the grocery store never looks as delicious as the bright red apple I pick from the local fruit orchard. The experience of eating freshly picked pears is the same. They rarely taste as good when store-bought, but off the tree? The flavor is incredible.
I can make the comparison with certainty because my grandfather has a pear tree in his backyard and it’s been around for as long as I can remember. He’s incredibly proud of that tree.
While he always seems to be waging war with hungry sweet-toothed squirrels, the tree has remained a fixture in the yard for years and continues to bear tasty fruit. I don’t believe there’s another fruit tree nearby, so the variety must be self-pollinating, which is lucky since few pear tree varieties are. The tree is large but manages to fit in fine in the compact backyard space.
I don’t even like pears, but every time I’m given a bag of them from my grandfather, I manage to enjoy every bite.
Pears are a unique fruit in that they are hardy enough to survive in plenty of climates, which is one of the reasons I highly recommend growing pears if you have some room to spare. Another reason is that they can tolerate tight spaces. If you’re extremely short on room, there are also multiple dwarf varieties available. Pear trees are relatively low-maintenance and have fewer pest and disease issues than other fruit trees.
With a couple of thousand pear varieties out there, it’s impossible to list them all. If you're considering growing pears in your yard keep in mind that there are standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf-sized varieties. Dwarf varieties are great for small properties or for growing in containers.
There are also fruiting and non-fruit bearing pear trees. Fruiting trees obviously bear fruit, while non-fruit bearing types are grown for their foliage. We'll focus on the fruit-bearing kind, here. There are three main varieties of fruit-bearing pear trees that include European, Asian, and Hybrid pears.
European pears (Pyrus communis) are the ones you see commonly sold in supermarkets. They're tasty, but the drawback is that they aren't very resistant to disease. They have an upright growth habit and look beautiful in the garden, especially when they bloom in the spring with pink or white blossoms. Standard varieties get 40 feet tall. Common types include Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, Colette, Moonglow, and Sunrise.
Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) have harder flesh and a slightly different shape than European types. They’re also known as apple pears or Chinese pears. Many types grow 15 feet tall or so and most are partially self-fertile. They bloom earlier but won't ripen off the tree as European pears do. Varieties include Olympic, Hosui, Peggy, Moonglow, Korean Giant, and Maxie.
Hybrid pears (Pyrus communis x) are a mix of the two varieties mentioned above and are better for canning and cooking purposes because they tend to be harder and grittier. They ripen off the tree like European pears. Types include Kieffer, Orient, Comice, and Seckel.
Planting Pear Trees
Sun and Soil Requirements
Pick a location that will provide your pear tree with full sun and plenty of air circulation. When shopping for a pear tree, ensure that the variety you choose is compatible with your zone. Some pear trees are hardier than others. Typically, pear trees are suitable for zones 3-10. Then again, there are so many different varieties out there you can probably find one for nearly any climate.
Pears prefer loamy, sandy soil that is well-drained with a pH between 6.0-7.0.
Many pear varieties are not self-pollinating, so you’ll need two trees since they require cross-pollination between varieties to bear fruit. Note that not all types can cross-pollinate with one another and some variations may self-pollinate. Even then, having two trees increases the chances for successful pollination. You can use a pear pollination chart to determine which types work together.
Because of their tolerance for small spaces, it’s possible to container grow dwarf pears. Some pear trees take as little as three years to bear fruit. Small, dwarf-varieties are best for impatient gardeners as they fruit slightly earlier than regular-sized trees.
Once you’ve purchased your fruit tree, it’s time to bring it home. Time your planting for the spring or winter for best results. Don’t bother fertilizing or amending the soil. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball, so you don't have to bunch and squeeze the roots.
Be aware that the spot you pick is a permanent one. A well-established tree without problems will live at least half a century!
Space full-sized trees 20-25 feet apart and dwarf trees 12-15 feet apart.
Growing from seed is not recommended, you’ll be waiting a while before you get fruit. It’s possible, but don’t expect to harvest from your fruit tree for up to a decade.
Caring for Your Pear Tree
Here are some basic tips for caring for your pear tree.
Regular watering during drought periods will keep your pear tree happy. Give newly planted trees some water 2-3 times a week. Mature trees can handle less frequent watering, but make sure you are giving them a deep soak.
Fertilize your tree yearly but don’t forget to get a soil test first. Using too much fertilizer may encourage rapid growth that can stress the tree. It may also cause disease and discourage fruit production.
Prune each year to encourage growth and fruit production. Check out a pruning guide to make sure you do it correctly. Thin out fruit regularly .
Pear Tree Problems and Solutions
Here are a few problems you may encounter when growing pears.
- No blossoms or fruit –You may be using too much fertilizer, or your tree is too young to bear fruit. Another possibility is the lack of bees. Without bees, pollination won’t occur so you won’t get fruit. You may also need to plant another tree for cross-pollination purposes, depending on the variety.
- Not that many pears –If you’re noticing a lack of fruit, it’s important to remember that young trees won’t produce as many pears as older trees.
- Yellowed leaves –If your tree is looking worse for wear it may be a lack of nutrients or your tree may have been exposed to a disease.
A whitish powdery coating will be the first sign of this nasty fungal infection. Overly moist conditions or introduction via pest are possible causes. Use a fungicide to treat it.
Amillaria Root Rot
This soil-borne fungus causes reduced growth and mid-summer collapse in trees. Avoid it by tilling and solarizing your soil a year before planting if this disease is common in your area. You can also buy resistant varieties, and keeping trees appropriately watered and fertilized will help them resist the disease.
This disease commonly affects fruit trees such as pear and apple. It’s a bacterial disease that is visible on stems and trunks of plants. Blight prevents fruit production via elimination of blossoms. Environmental conditions are the primary cause of this illness.
It’s also important to avoid over fertilizing and poor pruning techniques to prevent rapid growth and nicks in wood that may be an entryway for the pathogen. If the infection is localized, remove the branch or stem affected. Scraping is also possible. Another solution is using copper products designed to control this type of blight.
These little insects that love to attack foliage are fairly easy to control. A strong spray from the hose is usually enough to dislodge these pesky critters.
Originating in Europe, this pest spreads disease and may even kill trees. It can be controlled using biological pest control. This method involves introducing predator insects such as lacewings or parasitic wasps to destroy harmful pests. Chemical control is possible, but must be timed correctly.
Spring Pear Cankerworm
These worms will skeletonize leaves and can nibble on young fruit. They can completely defoliate a small tree. You can sometimes spot them as they dangle on silk strings attached to the tree canopy. Encourage natural predators like birds, flies, and wasps to keep them under control. You can also use sticky traps during the spring when the females are laying their eggs.
Companion Planting for Pear Trees
Wondering what to plant next to your pear tree? The best options are plants that will encourage pollination. Choose bee-friendly flowers as neighbors for your pear tree, and you’ll increase chances for a bountiful fruit harvest.
- Bee balm
- Sweet Woodruff
Don't plant anything that may compete for sun, water, nutrients next to your pear tree. This includes:
Harvesting and Storing Pears
Don’t wait until pears are soft and mushy to harvest. European and hybrid pears will ripen at room temperature. Pick Asian pears at peak ripeness. Pears ripen at different times depending on the tree variety, but typically fruit ripens during late summer or early autumn.
Have a plan before harvest. What will you do with all your pears? You’ll have a bunch to deal with once the fruit ripens and is ready to pick. Leaving fruit too long will encourage squirrels to pick from your tree. Ask friends and family if they want any pears and get your recipes ready!
Store pears in the fridge if you plan on eating them within a week. Pears that have just been picked may also keep in a cool dark place for several weeks.
Are you excited to try growing pears? Did you inherit a tree after purchasing a new property? Tell us about your experience with this type of fruit tree. What are some of your favorite ways to use pears? I’m a sucker for pear danishes myself!
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