Grow Guide for Pear Trees

How to Grow a Pear Trees – A Step by Step Guide

pear fruit looking delicious
Photo by Forest and Kim Starr

Pear trees are generally easier to maintain than, say, plum, peach, or even apple trees. Pear plants tend to have fewer pest and disease problems, and they usually live longer and bear more fruit than other home grown fruit trees. It might take five or more years for new pear trees to produce significant crops, but once they start producing, they can bear a lot of fresh pears for a long time, even more than 100 years! Growing pear trees is easy, fun, and rewarding with easy care and minimal maintenance. Use this guide for planting pear trees when you decide it’s time to add a new addition in your landscape.


Types of Pear Trees

pear fruit pyrus communis
Pear (Pyrus communis) fruit, like all fruits in the Rosaceae subtribe Malinae (including apples), is a pome. Photo by Peter O’Connor

There are three main types of pears: (1) The European pears(Pyrus communis), including most of the standard “pear-shaped” cultivars we know from the grocery store; (2) the Asian pears (P. pyrifolia), including the gritty “sand pears” and other, usually hard, apple-shaped types; and (3) hybrids between the two (P. X lecontei), including the popular ‘Kieffer’ and ‘Leconte’ varieties. 

Variety Selection

Like many other large fruit trees, pear trees require a period of winter dormancy called “chill hours” before they will produce blossoms in spring to fruit set. Note that the chill hour requirement is different from the USDA hardiness zones, which are based on the average minimum temperatures for each area. You need to select pear varieties that (1) have the proper chilling requirement for your particular location, and (2) are adapted to your particular USDA zone. Both statistics are normally specified by the seller for each variety and we certainly do here at Perfect Plants.

Chilling hours are the total number of hours in the winter that the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F. (The hours need not be consecutive.) Use this interactive source to get the average chilling hours for your specific location:  http://agroclimate.org/tools/chill-hours-calculator/

pear blossoms
Pear blossoms break dormancy in early spring – photo by Sean McMenemy licensed under CC

There are a few exceptions, but most pear varieties require cross pollination, so you will need at least two different cultivars to get fruit. Which species doesn’t matter: European pears can cross-pollinate with Asian pears and the hybrid pears work with them both. Bartlett pear and Kieffer pear are good pollinators for almost all other pears. The critical thing is that the different varieties must be blooming at the same time. An early blooming variety will not be able to pollinate a late blooming variety. 

Perfect Plants offers seven varieties of pears, including European, Asian, and hybrid pears, and pears adapted to most regions of the United States. 

Site Selection

flowering pear trees
Flowering pear trees like the Cleveland Pear do not produce fruit therefore they do not need to be spaced farther apart. Photo credit to Carol VanHook by CC.

To be close enough for cross pollination and yet far enough apart for adequate room to grow, standard size trees should be planted within 20-100 feet of each other. Dwarf tree varieties can be 12-75 feet apart. Semi dwarf pear trees should be somewhere in between.

Pears do best in a loamy, humus-rich soil that is somewhat moisture retentive and not too sandy. They do better in heavier soils or clay soils than do apple or peach trees, but excessively fertile soils can lead to disease problems. Well drained soil is best.

A soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is best, although 5.5 to 7.5 is OK. Have the soil tested for pH level before planting and make adjustments with lime or sulfur as recommended in the test results. pH adjustments to the soil should be made 6-12 months before planting.

Like other fruit trees, pear trees need full sun, and you should plant yours in the sunniest location possible. Do not plant where they will be shaded or get root competition from other trees. Consider the ultimate height of the tree and pay attention to overhead wires. Avoid low spots where drainage can be slow. If possible, plant pear trees on hilltops or slopes which provide what commercial growers call “air drainage” which can protect tender blossoms from late spring freezes and frosts. 

The growing conditions are essential to keep your tree happy and healthy! Choose your planting spot wisely. If you are wondering how to plant pear trees read on!

Planting Pear Trees

pear orchard with fruit
Pear orchard laden with fruit that is waiting to be picked

Wondering when to plant pear trees? Containerized trees can be planted any time of the year. (Bare-root trees, not treated here, should be planted when dormant, during the winter.) 

Thoroughly wet the soil line in the pot before starting. Place the pot on its side and slide the root ball out. If the plant is stuck, you can slip a long-bladed knife around the inside edge to loosen it. Gently loosen some of the roots along the sides and bottom, and pull them outward so they are not encircling the root mass. It might be necessary to prune some of the roots if they are growing in a circle around the inside of the pot. 

Dig a hole a little deeper and 2-3 times wider than the tree was in the nursery pot. Do not add fertilizer or soil amendments to the planting hole or base of the tree. Build up a rounded mound of soil in the middle of the planting hole. Place the root crown on top of the mounded soil and spread the side roots out over the mound.

Root systems that are too long should be shortened rather than allowed to encircle the hole. The top of the crown should be at or slightly above ground level, and the graft union between the scion and the rootstock should be 2-6 inches above the ground surface. 

Work the soil in and around the roots. When the hole is half filled, give it a good soaking of water. When the water has drained, readjust the depth of the stem if necessary and finish filling the hole. Gently tamp the soil down.

Build up a 3-6 inch high dike of soil on the ground around the outside of the root zone. This will help impound water over the roots while it sinks into the soil. Water the tree thoroughly. Spread a layer of organic mulch 3-5 inches deep over the root zone and beyond for a foot or two to help hold in soil moisture. You can use organic matter such as hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or compost.

Do not use mushroom compost as this contains lime and will raise the pH. If the central leader is long and whip-like, head it back to about three feet tall. Do not fertilize. If you have made it this far and are still wondering how to care for a pear tree after planting continue reading below!

First Year Pear Tree Care 

Do not fertilize your new pear tree. Do water frequently and deeply for the first year. Pear trees should get about an inch of water each week from rain or irrigation. If rainfall is insufficient, water enough to soak several inches into the soil once a week. For newly planted trees, two gallons per week should be adequate except in drier, sandier soils where 6-8 gallons a week might be necessary. 

Pull competing weeds as they appear, maintaining a weed-free zone of about three feet around each tree. You may have to protect the little trees from deer and rabbit damage. You may need to support the trees with wires and stakes for a year or two if they are weak and leggy. Mulch will help control the weeds too.

Training and Pruning Pear Trees

prune a pear tree
Pruning techniques you should consider for your new pear tree

Begin training your pear trees during their first dormant season. If there is more than one upright shoot competing to be the trunk (central leader), select the strongest one and remove the others. Pear trees are pruned to a vase shape, with the modified central leader system, much like apple trees. Learn more about Basic Pruning for Trees and Shrubs. Don’t summer prune as this is when growing fruit are set and you may prune the fruit off. Prune fruit trees before the growing season and before flower buds appear.

Choose 5-7 side branches with wide crotches to serve as scaffolding, and remove all other side tree branches. The scaffold branches should radiate evenly around the trunk and be at least six inches apart vertically. The lowest scaffold should be around 18 inches above ground. The angle between a scaffold branch and the central leader (trunk) should be between 45° and 60°.

You can train the scaffold branches to grow more outward with weights or with spreaders inserted between the branch and the trunk. If there aren’t enough appropriate scaffold branches, finish the job the following winter. 

During the second dormant season, cut off the top of the young pear tree 24-30 inches above the uppermost scaffold branch. This will cause new shoots to grow and sprout upward. During the third dormant season we will select the strongest upright stem to be the central leader (trunk), and we will remove all side branches from the scaffold branches except for the strongest two or three.

Do not prune off the short shoots that may develop on the tree trunk. They aren’t hurting anything and they are helping to provide food for the tree. Continue using spreaders to widen the crotches of the scaffold branches. 

Mature pear trees should be pruned as needed to maintain the desired full size and shape, and to remove dead wood, crossed branches, suckers, and overly vigorous upright shoots (called water sprouts). Thin the inside of the canopy to improve air circulation and let sunlight in. Perform the annual maintenance pruning in winter when the tree is dormant but before buds have formed

Pears are produced on short branches called spurs, which grow on wood at least two years old. Young trees may take 3-5 years after planting to develop fruiting spurs, but then the spurs may be productive for many years, so don’t cut them off. 

How to Care for Pear Trees in Subsequent Years

heavy bearing limb with too many pear fruit
Too many pear fruits on one limb can cause the branch to break. You don’t want to lose all your fruit so thinning is necessary. Photo by Lee Coursey

In general, pear trees should not be fertilized. Applying fertilizer with nitrogen stimulates too much vegetative growth which then leads to fireblight, the bane of pear cultivation. The exception is for young trees (2-4 year old) in the poorest, sandiest soils, which may be given a complete fertilizer once a year in spring. Mature pear trees should not be fertilized at all. 

Fruit thinning is usually necessary for mature trees. Too many pears on a tree can lead to broken limbs, smaller fruit size, and alternate-year bearing. Strive to have one or two pears in each cluster, spaced every 4-5 inches along the branches. Thin when the pears are about an inch in diameter for best results.

The pear is ready when the skin is soft to touch. You can leave the pear on the tree to finish ripening or pick the fruit earlier and hold it in storage. Allowing the fruit the ripen on the tree will lead to sweeter pears! Harvest pears in late summer or early fall.

Pear Tree Diseases and Pests

Keep your tree in good health!

pear fire blight
Pear fire blight MUST be treated. If left unstopped, it can devastate crops

Pear trees are very susceptible to fire blight, a bacterial disease spread by sucking insects. Fireblight is most prevalent in early spring when the tree is growing its fastest. The disease attacks young, fast growing shoots, and can lead to the death of the tree. The best prevention is to discourage overly strong, lush growth.

Minimize nitrogen fertilizers which encourage vegetative growth. Minimize heading back pruning cuts which encourage vigorous upright shoot growth. Instead, you should encourage side branching and lateral spur growth by training the scaffold branches outward with weights or spreaders. 

If young twigs and shoots develop brown or blackened leaves and look like they’ve been burned, fireblight has struck. Cut back diseased branches to 3-4 inches below the infection. Disinfect your pruning shears with bleach between cuts. Dispose of diseased material. You also can try Serenade® Garden Disease Control, or Ferti-lome® Fire Blight Spray. There are some blight resistant varieties such as Orient Pear and Pineapple Pear.

Trees infested with pear psylla get a shot of fungal pathogen spores
Trees infested with pear psylla get a shot of fungal pathogen spores from biological technician Sharon Jones. USDA photo by Keith Weller – licensed by CC.

Several kinds of insect pests attack pear trees and fruits. Many, including the pear psylla, scale insects, mites, and aphids, can be controlled by spraying the trees with horticultural or dormant oil in late winter, or insecticidal soap directly on the pests when they appear. All three of these products are accepted organic pesticides, and work by smothering insects and their eggs. As always, follow manufacturer’s label directions. 

We hope you enjoyed this step by step guide on how to grow pear trees. Enjoy your new pear trees and fresh fruit! With firm flesh when eaten raw, a juicy pear is a delicious snack or can even be cooked with to make baked goods or treats.