About this Fruit Tree
Pear trees add an extra edible to the garden and landscape, but they can take years to produce large crops of fruits. Select varieties that are cold hardy and will grow well in our region. It’s interesting to note that pears are picked while still hard to prevent the delicate fruit from bruising.
Most pears need cross pollination to ensure a good fruit crop. For cross pollination, plant a second pear tree, of another variety with a similar bloom time. Bartlett pears can be self-pollinating, but a second pear tree will ensure better production. Make sure there’s enough room in the landscape for two fruit trees that will grow to a minimum of 15’ wide by 15’ tall (within 100 feet of each other).
How to Grow Pear Trees
Pear trees need full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Plant pears on slopes or elevations higher than the surrounding area as a method of frost protection. Avoid planting pear trees close to warm microclimates such as near buildings, especially on south and west sides, to prevent early bloom.
Select a sunny spot in the landscape and prepare the soil so it’s well-drained. For clay soils, amend the soil deeply with an organic amendment, like compost or well-aged manure. The best soil for fruit trees is one that allows for good air and water circulation. For sandy or loamy soils mix about 1/3 compost with 2/3 native soil for good drainage.
Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole that’s shallow, but wide, and also amend the backfill before the tree is planted. Make sure the hole is no deeper than the root ball. Planting too deep slows root growth.
To prevent problems in the future, give your tree the best start possible. Keep in mind these planting tips to reduce transplant shock and to encourage root growth:
- Plant the tree at least a foot away from the lawn area.
- Set the root ball on undisturbed soil 1-2 inches above the soil grade. Give roots plenty of oxygen and make sure there is no backfill over the root ball.
- Make sure the crown of the tree (where the tree trunk meets the tree roots) is above the soil line.
- Fill in around the root ball with the soil removed from the planting hole.
- Mulch over the root ball (keep mulch away from the trunk) and around the tree to maintain soil moisture and help eliminate weeds.
- Water newly planted trees deeply, but infrequently.
Fruit trees take time to grow and newly planted trees might not yield much fruit. The yield of fruit crops on older trees may also vary from year to year.
Be patient and continue to care for trees through the year, which may include watering during dry winters. Water once or twice over the winter when the temperatures are above 40 degrees and there is no snow cover. Water early in the day so it soaks in before freezing overnight.
Keep pear trees watered with slow and deep irrigation during the growing season. If the soil was well amended during planting, pear trees won’t require much additional fertilizing, but a low-nitrogen fertilizer is preferred to maintain tree health.
Wait until late winter or early spring to prune pear trees. Aim for a triangular shape, so that branches are in layers that get shorter toward the top. Encourage larger, although fewer fruits, by thinning pears while they’re small. Leave one fruit in each cluster and space clusters about 6 inches apart on each branch.
Special Considerations for Growing Pear Trees
Mites can cause damage to pear tree foliage and the pears, too. Prevent mite damage by spraying dormant oil on the trees in late winter or in early spring before the tree buds begin to swell.
Aphids are another insect problem because they suck the sap from pear trees. Aphids are also managed by spraying trees with dormant oil in late winter or early spring.
Pears are susceptible to codling moths which cause wormy fruit. To avoid worms, spray trees every two weeks from the end of blooming until harvest. A natural spray from chrysanthemums called pyrethrum is one option; another is carbaryl (Sevin). Follow all label instructions for application.
Pear slugs can also be a problem. These slugs come from sawflies and they suck the juices from leaves. A good control is to dust leaves with wood ashes or a general purpose insecticide to kill the larvae.
Fire blight is a bacterial disease that can be a problem for pear trees, especially during a warm, wet spring. Fire blight will cause branches to blacken and leaves to appear as burned. Pruning (but not overpruning) or antibiotic sprays help prevent blight.
Protect ripening fruits from birds by covering the tree with orchard netting.
Pears will feel hard when ready to harvest so don’t wait for the fruits to ripen on the tree. The taste will be affected and the interior will be mealy instead of soft. Keep track of the number of days for pears to mature, then harvest when they are easy to detach from the tree. The best harvest method is to lift up each pear vertically until it easily comes loose. Avoid pulling the fruit off the tree.
Allow the fruits to ripen indoors. Some varieties of pears, like D’Anjou and Bartlett, require refrigeration to help with ripening for a few days first, then room temperature to finish the ripening time.
Materials for Pear Tree Success
- Spade or shovel
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- Dormant oil, pyrethrum, antibiotic spray or other specific disease treatment
- Soaker hose or other method for deep watering
- Orchard netting
- Low-nitrogen fertilizer for fruit trees
- Tree pruners