A Guide to Growing Pear Trees
Discover how to plant and care for these plentiful fruit trees, earning juicy pears straight from the garden.
The buttery texture and delicious taste of pears make this fruit a must for any garden. They have a reputation for being tricky to grow but are as easy as apples, their only weakness being susceptibility to early frosts.
How to Grow
Pears require a warm, sunny spot and should be planted away from frost pockets, where their early spring flowers could be destroyed by hard frosts, resulting in little or no fruit at harvest time. The site should also be sheltered from strong winds that could damage blooms and cause fruit to fall early.
Pears prefer a rich, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter dug in, such as compost or manure. Bare root trees should be planted while dormant, from late fall to late winter, but container-grown pears can be planted at any time if kept well watered until established.
In smaller gardens, pears can be grown in containers or trained as space-saving espaliers, cordons and fans against walls and fences, although they are too vigorous to grow as stepovers. Remove all fruit for the first couple of years after planting to allow the tree to establish a strong root system and a healthy framework of branches.
Pear flowers must be pollinated to fruit, so unless there are pear trees in neighboring gardens, you must plant at least two varieties from the same pollination group. Trees are termed A to C (early to late), according to when they flower. Triploid pears need two pollinators and certain varieties don’t cross-pollinate, so seek advice when buying them. 'Concorde' is a tasty variety to eat fresh from the tree.
Varieties to Try
Remember that pear trees will bloom early to late (A to C) before considering which variety will work best in your garden. Dessert varieties include: ‘Aurora’ (C), ‘Bosc’ (B), ‘Conference’ (B), ‘Flemish Beauty’ (C), ‘Golden Spice’ (B), ‘Gourmet’ (A), ‘Parker’ (B) and ‘Pattern’ (B). Cooking varieties include: ‘Clapps Favorite’ (C), ‘Lucious’ (C), ‘Nova’ (C) and ‘Spartlett’.
Pear trees are always grafted onto quince rootstocks to restrict their size. Trees left growing on their own root system would become too large for most gardens. For example:
- Quince C — Semi dwarfing, suitable for trained specimens. Needs fertile soil. Trees grow to 10 feet.
- Quince A — Vigorous and less fussy about soil conditions. Can be used for fans, cordons and freestanding trees. Trees grow to 20 feet.
Fruitlets that have managed to avoid the spring frost and "June drop" will need thinning in midsummer to ensure they grow to their full potential. If allowed to over crop, the fruit will be undersized and may fail to ripen fully; overladen branches may snap.
Thin out pear clusters to one or two fruitlets every 4–5 inches on freestanding trees and to single fruitlets at the same spacing on cordons, fans and espaliers. When thinning fruitlets, take the opportunity to remove any that are especially small and those that show signs of disease or damage.
Picking and Storing
Judging when pears are ready to pick can be tricky since culinary varieties only soften when cooked, and eating varieties should be picked when slightly under-ripe — the final ripening is done in the fruit bowl. To test if an early- or mid-season pear is ready, taste for sweetness — it should still be firm. Once picked, late pears need storing to ripen in a dry, dark, well-ventilated place, such as a garage. Check them often because pears can quickly go from being under- to over-ripe in a matter of days. Be careful when picking pears; the skin damages easily, and the fruit will then spoil.
Watch Out for These Pests and Diseases
Scab causes corky patches on apples and pears, which may shrivel and fall. Remove infected fruit and spray with fungicide.
Pear midge can also be a problem for pears, laying eggs on the flower buds in spring. Maggots feed inside the fruitlets, causing them to blacken and drop. Destroy infested fruitlets. Birds and wasps will also attack mature fruit, especially if the skin is damaged. Net small trees, and hang wasp traps in the branches.