Growing Pear Trees

Pear trees pair well with your growing space and taste buds.

| September/October 2016

  • Pear trees provide beautiful fall foliage and delicious fruit.
    Photo by Steve Terrill
  • Red Bartlett is cold-hardy, early bearing, and sweet-tasting.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • Harvest pears when they’ve just become soft around the stem.
    Photo by Janet Horton

The classic pear has a well-deserved reputation for luscious, even decadent sophistication. Where its close cousin the apple has traditionally been a work-a-day, everyman lunchbox fruit, the pear is aristocratic and refined. In grade school the teacher’s pet may have bought favor with a shiny red polished apple; I’m betting he kept that pear for himself. Whether you enjoy them as fresh fruit in September, preserved in syrup and served on a cold winter night, or spiced and brandied for a special occasion, pears are simple, versatile and perfect for any occasion.

Easy care

Pear trees are long-lived and easy to grow at home. The trick is in giving them what they want. They prefer deep, well-drained soil with good sun exposure, but they can tolerate wet feet better than most trees. There’s no need to fertilize your pear trees, though they will appreciate a little compost now and then.

Left to their own devices to grow on their own roots (as opposed to grafting), pear trees can reach 70 feet in height and take up to 15 years to fruit. Most pears are grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, either quince or specially bred pear stock. This practice combined with a regular pruning plan can keep your pears at a more manageable 8 to 15 feet tall. Plus, they’ll bear fruit much sooner when grafted, often in under half the time of a seedling tree.

Pears also tolerate neglectful pruning far better than apples or peaches, often bearing heavily with no attention, although they will reward a careful pruning with a vastly improved crop. Some years they bear so heavily, their branches can shatter under the load without support props.

Pears have fewer pest issues than other tree fruit. When is the last time you bit into a pear and found a worm? Or worse, half a worm!? Pears are largely unfazed by most diseases, bearing attractive, quality fruit with little or no spray treatments.

There is one disease that can wreak havoc on a pear tree – the dreaded fire blight – a disease that affects apples, pears and quince. Fire blight is most prevalent in regions with warm, humid spring weather. It enters trees through blossoms, tender new growth, and damaged tissue and is often carried by wind, bees and other insects. From there, the bacterial infection quickly spreads through the tree’s circulatory system. Affected areas become blackened, cracked and wilted, appearing scorched and giving the disease its name. Left unchecked, fire blight can destroy an orchard in a season. For preventative tips, see “Putting Out Fire Blight” below.

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