How to Grow Pears

, written by gb flag

A pair of pears!

There is a story about a pear enthusiast who sat up all night just for the joy of tasting a pear at the precise moment of perfect ripeness. Extreme maybe, but there’s little more disappointing than biting into a pear that looks like it must be beautifully ripe, only to find it still crunchy as an apple. I only hope that he was still able to enjoy it in his exhausted state!

If you have a passion for pears too, it’s well worth growing two or three. They make a fine tree with beautiful blossom for cheering up a dull lawn, or they can be trained against a wall or grown in containers. There’s little excuse for not including pears in your planting plan!

A pear tree in full bloom makes for a striking landscape tree

Types of Pears

European pears (Pyrus communis) fall into three categories: culinary, dessert, and perry pears. In my opinion it’s hardly worth growing pears that are meant specifically as cookers, because most dessert pears are really dual-purpose fruits that are just as good cooked as they are eaten raw. Perry pears are the best kind for making a dry pear cider, which was once regarded as equal to the finest of wines. You can use a mix of perry and culinary pears if you’re not snobbish though.

Pear trees can grow unmanageably large – far too big for most gardens, and impractical for harvesting – so make sure to choose plants that have been grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock to restrict their size. Most will be.

Good yields depend on a careful choice of pollination partners

When planning your fruit garden, keep in mind that you’ll almost certainly need at least a pair of compatible pears for good pollination. Pears are divided into four pollination groups – 1, 2, 3 and 4, sometimes alternatively shown as A, B, C and D. Make sure your trees are either in the same pollination group or belong to adjacent groups for sufficient pollination. Just to be awkward, some pears are triploids, which need two pollination partners to bear fruit.

The earliest pear varieties fruit in summer, with mid-season varieties ripening in late summer. Remember that they need to be picked a few weeks before they are ripe though! Most pears are ready to pick from early autumn, but they can be left on the tree until hard frosts are forecast, then ripened off the tree.

Planting a Pear Tree

Pears are hardy and will grow well in many areas, but they do need a little cossetting in cooler regions. The flowers appear early and are easily damaged by frost so it’s best to grow them somewhere sunny and sheltered, but not in a low-lying area that could become a frost pocket. If your garden is cold, try training them against a sun-facing wall where the radiated heat will help protect the blossoms if there’s a cold snap. Pear trees take well to being trained as cordons, espaliers or fans.

Train pears against a wall or fence to save on space and help protect blossom from frost
The best time to plant a pear tree is between late autumn and early spring, while they are dormant. At this time of year most fruit trees are available bare-rooted, which is quite a bit cheaper than buying pot-grown plants. I personally prefer planting in the autumn because it gives the tree time to settle in to its new home and put down roots before commencing the hard work of pushing out new growth in spring, but if your garden experiences early freezes you’ll need to wait until the soil softens in spring.

Pears will adapt to most soil conditions but they do prefer a rich, slightly acidic, loamy, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil. Plant your tree in a large hole. Current thinking is that square holes are better for encouraging roots out into the surrounding soil than round ones. Add plenty of compost to the backfilled soil for a slow release of nutrients and to help improve the soil structure.

Or grow your pear in a large container of loam-based potting mix – pears cope surprisingly well in roomy pots.

Caring for and Pruning Pears

Keep newly-planted pears watered while they establish, and treat them to a mulch of organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure or leafmold once year. Give them a boost with poultry manure pellets every few years; an occasional liquid seaweed feed makes a good tonic too. For pears in containers, remove the top 5cm (2in) of potting mix each year and replace it with fresh potting mix laced with a balanced organic fertilizer.

Pears require minimal pruning

Pruning pears is really easy. Unless you’ve trained them to a specific shape, all they need is for the 3Ds (dead, damaged and diseased wood) to be removed each year, plus any badly placed or crossing branches.

Fireblight is a serious disease which causes shoots to die back and blossoms to wilt, and you may also see oozing white liquid or cankers. The disease can affect apples and other related plants as well as pears. If you see signs of it, prune back into healthy wood and burn the infected tissue, making sure to disinfect tools between cuts to prevent the disease from spreading. There are fireblight-resistant varieties available.

Spraying the trees with a winter wash based on plant or fish oils can help resolve problems with aphids, while pheromone traps can be used to monitor codling moth populations. Sugar-hungry wasps can be a problem on fruits in the autumn, so take care when picking up windfalls.

Pick pears while still underripe, and ripen them in storage

Harvesting and Storing Pears

Home growers have a slight advantage in guesstimating when pears are likely to be ripe enough to eat because they know exactly when they’ve been picked. That’s not a foolproof guide though, because European pears are always picked while still underripe. Keep them somewhere cool and dark after picking – in the fridge is great if you have space. Fruits shouldn’t touch in storage to avoid any rot spreading from one fruit to the next.

Pop them into a fruit bowl to ripen up for a week or so at room temperature, and check them daily for ripeness. They should yield slightly if you press gently on the stem end. Pears ripen from the inside out, so a fruit that is fully ripe on the outside may already be overripe near the core. You’re entitled to feel pretty darn smug if you time it just right!

Delicious as your homegrown pears will be they’re probably not worth sitting up all night for, but I’ll leave that up to you...

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Show Comments


"The land we bought has one of those pear trees that grew unmanageably large. The previous owners basically beheaded the tree at about 2-2.5m. It has no branches in reach. Somehow it is still producing fruit. Any way we can help branches grow at a more desirable height? Or any tips, ideas, or suggestions?"
Lacey on Thursday 28 January 2021
"Hi Lacey. If the previous owners cut off all the lower branches (raised the crown) of the tree, that's quite tricky! The lower branches won't regrow, but if you can see any buds on any stubs that are left or arising from the main trunk, these will eventually grow to replace the lost ones."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 30 January 2021
"We have planted 2 dwarf pear trees in our front yard. The one closest to the house grew 3 pears first year! 2 of them were picked by contractors building a house next door and the bugs got the 3rd. My question is the branches are growing extra long and bowing down like a Weeping Willow. Is this normal? We believe its a Bartlett."
Dave on Friday 30 April 2021
"Hi Dave. Bartlett pears shouldn't normally have drooping branches (although they might do if stressed, for instance by over or under watering). There is a form of ornamental pear (scientific name Pyrus salicifolia) which does look very like a weeping willow however - it's commonly called weeping pear or willow-leaved pear. The fruits are technically edible, though not said to be very tasty! "
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 5 May 2021
"Hi, useful article. The one think that is never mentioned in pear guides is frost when the fruit are maturing. Is it ok to leave late fruit such as Comice on the tree during mild frosts? We have a good crop of them nearly ready to harvest but last night dropped to around 0 to -1°. Will that harm the fruit? Should we harvest or leave on the tree? Will the fruit stand many nights at around freezing? What temperature range is the "hard" frost you mention? We don't have a spare fridge to store them in at -1°but our basement is cool, a few degrees below average daytime temps, which are about 12° this week (Oct 10th). Will the pears will keep ok? Many Thanks. Rob (Leeds, UK)"
Rob on Tuesday 11 October 2022
"Hi Rob. A hard frost is one that's cold enough to kill off the top growth of perennials, so probably a couple of degrees below freezing. Bear in mind too that cold air sinks, so even when the grass looks frosty the temperature in the tree canopy could well be a few degrees higher. I haven't ever heard of pears being damaged by freezing conditions so don't worry - just pick them at the recommended time (usually late October for Comice I think) and they should be fine."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 11 October 2022

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