How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Pear Trees
Are you interested in growing fruit trees in your backyard? Pears are your answer. These plants are easy to care for, grow quickly, and produce the classic fruits we all know and love. Gardening expert Madison Moulton dives into the specifics of European pear tree growing, covering absolutely everything you need to know for a thriving tree in your own backyard.
Next to apples, pears are one of the most common fresh fruits in home kitchens. Soft, juicy, and extremely versatile, it’s not hard to see why. And, when grown in your own garden, these fruits taste even better.
Whether you’re starting your own home orchard or want to test out fruit growing as a beginner, pear trees are ideal. They are not majorly difficult to care for, aren’t too susceptible to pests and diseases, and bear plenty of delicious fruits after 3-5 years.
Pears can be used for a variety of different purposes, and are not nearly as picky about their climate or soil compared to other fruiting trees. Plus, the sooner you plant, the sooner you’ll get fruit. Why not start now?
Pear Tree Plant Overview
Plant Type Tree
Species Pyrus communis
Native Area Asia
Hardiness Zone USDA 4-8
Exposure Full Sun
Maturity Date 3-5 Years
Growth Rate Moderate
Plant Spacing 20 feet
Height 20-30 feet
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests Codling Moth, Psylla, Scale
Diseases Fire Blight, Pear Scab
Maintenance Low to Moderate
Soil Type Well-draining
Attracts Birds, Bees
Pears are one of many trees, such as avocados, with ancient roots. Research has shown that ancestors of the modern Pyrus genus likely lived around 65 million years ago, around the same time archaeologists believe dinosaurs became extinct. These trees were widespread around the Western parts of China and were first cultivated by humans around 5,000 years ago.
The pear most widely consumed today, Pyrus communis or the common pear, has a shorter historical record, becoming popular in Europe around 3,000 years ago. The fruit was particularly beloved by the Greeks and Romans, who used the fruit in a similar manner to apples as we do today. They also fermented it to produce a cider in the same process used to make apple cider.
From the lower parts of Europe, common pear cultivation spread to the Northern countries where it remains an important crop economically. From Italy, pear trees were slowly found in cooler zones across France and Belgium and ultimately spread to Britain in the 11th century. When the British colonized North America, they took pear trees with them, spreading the European cultivar from one continent to another.
Production in the US ramped up in the 1800s as farming boomed. The Bartlett pear, originally exported from Britain as the Williams pear, was commercialized and became the most popular pear countrywide. This pear remains the most popular variety today around the globe.
All trees of the Pyrus genus are part of the Rosaceae family, making them related to many other fruiting plants like apples and stone fruits like cherries.
There are thousands of pear varieties with their own characteristics and quirks, but the most commonly grown ones come from three categories – the European or common pear, the Asian or Nashi pear, and ornamental pears that don’t bear edible fruits.
Asian pears, botanically Pyrus pyrifolia, look more similar to apples in appearance and are often confused as an interesting apple cultivar. However, these trees are 100% part of the pear genus. The fruits ripen on the tree and hold their shape, with a firm, crisp bite closer in texture to an apple than a European pear.
Evidenced by the name common pear, European pears are the most widely spread pear trees. The fruits have the quintessential pear shape and ripen off the tree to produce the soft, juicy fruit we all know and love. As the most sought-after pear type, this is the pear tree we will focus on in this article.
Ornamental pears are not grown for their fruits, but rather for their appearance. While the fruits may be small, tasteless, or generally inedible, the flowers ornamental pear trees produce on large, imposing branches are still appreciated in home gardens.
Due to their prolific growth, ornamental pears are used as rootstocks for edible cultivars. Commercially, they are also used to produce timber for woodwork like furniture making.
Unfortunately, growing pears is not as easy as picking up a few fruits from the grocery store and growing from seed.
European pears do not produce true to seed, so the tree grown from a store-bought fruit will not match the tree that fruit was originally grown on. The resulting fruit may be unpalatable, or worse, you may receive no fruit at all. Plus, growing from seed takes an incredibly long time.
For this reason, most pears bought from nurseries are grafted. A bud from the fruiting tree is attached to a rootstock, usually an ornamental tree, to produce fruits true to the cultivar while improving the growth and health of the tree.
Buying from a nursery is the easiest way to guarantee you will get the fruits you want without many growth issues.
Propagating From Cuttings
If you would like to propagate an existing tree in your garden, or potentially a neighbor’s tree if they would allow, you can propagate from cuttings. Growing a fully-fledged tree from a cutting is not an easy feat, however, so it is recommended to plant multiple cuttings to increase your chances of success.
Cuttings should be taken in spring when new growth is developing. Remove a green branch of this new growth around half an inch in width and 8-10 inches in length. Dwarf variety cuttings can be smaller, while cuttings from larger trees can be slightly longer. Cut the branch at a 45-degree angle to increase surface area, just below a leaf node.
Place a soilless mix of coconut coir and perlite into a pot and water thoroughly, leaving the excess to drain from the drainage holes. Strip the bottom part of the cutting and dip it in rooting hormone powder to stimulate growth. Place this end into a hole in the soilless mix and firm down gently around the cutting to secure it in place.
Cover the pot with a plastic bag, ensuring the sides do not rest on the cutting to prevent rotting. Place the pot in a warm area away from direct sunlight to encourage growth. Keep the soil moist by misting frequently with a spray bottle. Ensure the soil is never waterlogged as this can cause rotting.
After about a month, your cutting should have developed some roots. However, the growth will still be tender and vulnerable to damage.
Move the cutting outside but keep it in the pot for another couple of months to allow the roots to grow further. This will prevent shock once the cutting is moved out into the garden and gives you a higher chance of success.
You can plant your pear trees in fall or early spring. When planting in the fall, the roots have the opportunity to become established as there is no focus on new growth. However, younger trees are more vulnerable to weather changes than older ones.
Those in colder climates should opt for planting in early spring once the ground has warmed and is workable to take advantage of the boost in growth.
Pear trees are prolific growers and need plenty of space for their roots to spread. Plant each tree a minimum of 20 feet apart (and yes, you will need more than one for cross-pollination, but we’ll cover that later). They should also be 20 feet from your home and other features in your garden to prevent structural damage caused by the roots.
If you’re short on space, plant dwarf varieties that only need around 10 feet of space between them. Alternatively, you can keep your pear tree in a pot. This will contain its growth but will limit fruit production as a result.
Prepare the planting hole by digging to the same depth as the original pot and double the width. Depending on the quality of your soil, you can mix in some compost here to improve water retention and nutrients. Build up a small mound of soil at the bottom of the hole to improve drainage.
To plant, remove the tree from the container and tease the roots gently. If the roots are bunched together around the base of the pot and are difficult to separate, you can cut through them with clean shears.
Place the plant on the mound of soil so the soil line matches the depth of the hole. Spread the roots gently to access as many parts of the soil as possible. Fill the rest of the hole with compost-amended soil and firm with your hands around the trunk to secure it in place. Water deeply and thoroughly after planting to encourage the roots to spread outwards and downwards.
How to Grow
Like other fruiting plants, including cherries and avocados, pears need plenty of sunlight to produce fruits. Tons of energy goes into fruit production. In other words, the more sunlight you give your tree, the more the fruits and the better the fruits it will produce.
Sunlight also aids in the prevention of fungal diseases which can plague pear trees. Morning sun, in particular, removes any sitting water on fruits and leaves, which is especially important in more humid climates.
Once planted, pear trees require regular watering to establish a strong root system. After the first couple of months, rain should take care of much of the trees watering needs, but it will need some extra help during dry periods or in the intense heat of summer to prevent stress.
Pears are not incredibly fussy about their soil conditions. Good drainage is a must to prevent root damage later on, especially in regions with seasons of intense heavy rainfall. A slightly acidic soil pH between 6 and 7 is recommended, but soil out of that range will not have too much of a negative impact on growth.
Climate and Temperature
Climatic conditions vary by cultivar, but European pears are generally grown in USDA Zones 4-8. Some cultivars are hardy to Zone 3, while others can handle the heat in Zone 9 and don’t require too many chill hours.
Cold-ish winters and wet summers are ideal. Cold winters are needed to trigger fruit production, and most varieties need around 400-800 hours of temperatures under 45F to produce fruit. Wet summers provide the tree with plenty of water to produce fruits, but high humidity in these areas can result in problems with disease.
Pears are not fans of high temperatures and generally grow best in mild, cool weather. Temperatures above 90F for long periods of time can result in heat stress or prevent the production of fruit.
With so many cultivars to choose from, it’s easy to match the climatic and temperature requirements of the tree to your specific region. Take chill hours and disease resistance into account when selecting the right variety for your environment.
In the right soil, pear trees don’t need to be fertilized often. A single application of a slow-release fertilizer once a year in spring is plenty. This will provide enough nutrients to give the plants a boost over the growing season without overdoing it.
It is important to avoid overfertilization, especially when it comes to nitrogen. This can increase your risk of fire blight and will encourage the tree to focus on foliage rather than fruits. Always check the instructions on the package and apply the correct amount or less than what’s recommended if your soil is highly fertile.
Pruning is an important part of pear tree maintenance and will need to be done annually. Pruning improves airflow, limiting your chance of disease, and keeps the tree tidy. Heavy pruning is not necessary – a light pruning to train the branches to the desired shape and remove unproductive branches is all that’s needed.
Prune some branches with upward growth or crossed over branches, leaving most of the branches that face outward on the tree. This helps the tree grow wider and prevents overcrowding. It also makes the fruits far easier to harvest. You can trim the ends of the branches to promote growth and keep the shape tidy.
In high yield trees, thin the fruits too, leaving a few inches of space between each cluster on a branch. This allows the tree to focus its energy on producing the best fruits that remain, rather than plenty of mediocre ones.
Knowing when to harvest pears is a tricky process. Unlike other fruits that ripen on the tree, pears will remain firm until picked. You can’t leave them on the tree until soft, as this indicates the fruits are rotten and inedible. Color is also not a great indicator, as the color doesn’t change drastically when the fruits are ready to be picked.
If you pick too early, the fruits will shrivel rather than ripen, and if you pick too late, the fruits will be rotten on the inside. Timing is key, but knowing the right timing seems almost impossible, especially when growing pears for the first time.
Your fruits should be ready to harvest within three to five years. As a tree is a long-term investment, give yourself a year or two to get to know the size and color of the fruits when they are ripe.
Pick some early and pick some late to test the differences. In the years to come, you’ll be able to spot the signs of ripening on your trees and pick them at the perfect time.
When picking, the fruits should come off the tree without too much resistance. If they are difficult to remove by hand, they are likely not ready yet.
Keep your fruits on the counter at room temperature to leave them to ripen – usually within a week. Some cultivars like ‘Anjou’ need to be cooled for a week or two before ripening, but most will be happy ripening at room temperature.
To test the ripeness, press gently on the neck of the pear. If it feels slightly soft and releases a sweet scent, the fruit is ready to eat. If it is still firm, give it another day or two before testing again.
Pears need to be cross-pollinated to produce fruit, meaning you will need to plant more than one type. The types you choose should also be suitable for cross-pollination, as some trees flower at different times. Some hybrids may self-pollinate, but will still produce higher yields with another pear tree nearby.
‘Bartlett’ is the clear favorite for commercial production and in home gardens. The tree is medium-sized but produces large fruits under the right conditions. It is a long-living tree, often outliving its owners by several years.
‘Comice’ pears are another popular choice, producing succulent yellow-green fruits. This is one of the few pear trees suitable for growing in Zone 9 as it requires fewer chill hours than some other cultivars. It is also ideal for smaller gardens as its height and spread are around 12 feet.
‘Anjou’ is perfect for slow-eaters, as the fruits have an incredibly long shelf life when stored in the fridge – up to six months. Those looking for color should try ‘Baldwin’, an orangey-red cultivar with firm flesh ideal for baking.
There are so many options to choose from, including ‘Bosc’, ‘Seckel’, and ‘Forelle’. Check your local nursery to see which cultivars grow best in your area and ensure the ones you choose flower at similar times for successful cross-pollination.
Pests and Diseases
When it comes to fruit trees, pears are not particularly susceptible to pest and disease problems. There are also many disease-resistant cultivars that limit your risk of encountering issues. However, pest and diseases issues are more widespread in some regions (particularly humid ones) than others, so they are always important to look out for.
Most pear tree pests lay eggs on the fruits or leaves, with their larvae doing most of the damage. For example, codling moth larvae are commonly found in pear fruits, burrowing toward the center as they grow. Psylla and leafrollers are other common issues, with spider mites, aphids, and scale also enjoying parts of the tree.
The best way to control these pests is with horticultural oil. Not only does this prevent pests from settling on your tree, but it also suffocates the existing pests and prevents their eggs from hatching.
Keep an eye out for signs of pests problems, like holes in leaves and fruit or the presence of ants, and take action as soon as possible to prevent long-term damage to the tree.
Pears are susceptible to several diseases, many of which can be incredibly damaging or result in the ultimate demise of your pear tree.
Fire blight is the most well-known in the US and is the most common issue in commercial growing as the Bartlett pear is quite susceptible to this disease. If new growth on your tree is turning black and falling off, or you see liquid oozing from parts of the tree, you may have a fire blight problem.
Remove all affected parts of the tree, including those that have fallen to the ground as this disease can harbor in soil, and watch for signs of further spread.
Another disease is pear scab, caused by Venturia pirina. Dark, circular lesions will appear on parts of the tree, spreading and cracking over time. This can affect the fruit, ultimately making them inedible. Good garden hygiene prevents the spread of these diseases. Prune infected areas and apply a fungicide if the damage appears uncontrollable.
Fabraea Leaf Spot and Septoria Leaf Spot are most commonly found in wet, humid weather. Leaves have clearly defined spots in either purple or grey and slowly enlarge to cover a greater surface area. All infected leaves should be destroyed to prevent potential spread to other parts of your garden.
Once your tree starts producing fruit, you’ll be surprised to find how many pears you’ll harvest in a short space of time. The next question on your mind is likely – what do I do with them all? Luckily, pears are prime candidates for a number of preservation methods.
The easiest preservation method is refrigeration. Most cultivars will last in the fridge for a month or two without any loss in quality. Others will remain edible for several months, ready for use whenever you need them. Always refrigerate the pears before ripening to prolong their shelf-life.
For long-term storage, pears can be stored in the freezer. Cut and prepare the pears before freezing for ease of use and to speed up defrosting without losing quality. Freeze the sections of fruit on individual trays before placing them in plastic bags to prevent each piece from sticking together.
After removing the skins and chopping them into the desired size of slices, dip each section into an acidic mixture to prevent browning. Equal parts water and lemon juice will work without overpowering the flavor, or you can try using salted water.
Pears are also ideal fruits for dehydrating. Their sugar content concentrates into these small slices, reminiscent of a fruity candy (without the guilt). Leave pear slices on a tray in a 135F oven for at least 10 hours, checking frequently to determine the progress. Juicier pears may need drying for as long as 24 hours before they are ready to store.
Many homesteaders experienced in the process of canning suggest it as the preferred preservation method. This method makes use of warm syrup to preserve the pears, making them even juicier.
Place your pear slices in a sterilized jar and pour over hot syrup. Screw the lid on and leave the jar in a water bath for just under half an hour. Leave to cool completely before storing in a cool, dry cupboard.
Most of us are quite familiar with using pear fruits in the kitchen. The sweet, juicy flesh is perfect for eating fresh as soon as they are ripe. Some varieties may be firmer when ripe than others, so ensure you choose a cultivar suited to your desired tastes and textures.
Like apples, pears are also perfect for baking. Here, firmer pears are best as they tend to hold their shape better than soft pears. They are great in desserts too. One of my favorites is the classic poached pear, dyed a deep red thanks to the wine it is poached in.
Aligned with the wider interest in health and wellness sweeping the world, pears also make a great addition to salads. Combine them with walnuts and a dash of honey for a fresh summer salad, and add a few slices of prosciutto for a salty kick.
The brewers out there can attempt making their own cider too, known as perry. This involves fermenting the fruits in the same process as making apple cider. It produces an interesting drink with a wide range of potential flavor profiles.
In the garden, pear trees have a range of uses that make them great plants, even when their tasty fruits are ignored. As large trees with dense foliage, they are great for providing shade and some cultivars grow relatively quickly (in tree terms).
The flowers, like other blossoms in the Rosaceae family, are gorgeous and release a lovely scent that quickly fills up a space.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I grow pears in pots?
Pear trees can be grown in pots, provided the pot is large enough and has plenty of drainage. The pot should be at least double the width of the existing pot and deep enough to allow the roots to grow downwards.
Fill the pot with high-quality potting soil with added coconut coir and perlite to improve drainage. Potted pear trees will need watering more frequently as the container dries out faster, especially in summer. Extra pruning may be necessary for high-yielding trees to reduce the weight on the branches.
How can I grow a pear in a bottle?
You may have seen fully grown pears in bottles, usually surrounded by a brandy or other alcoholic drink, and wondered – how on earth did they squeeze the pear in there? The answer is – they didn’t. These pears are actually grown inside the bottle until they are ready to be harvested, and you can do the same thing with your own home-grown pears.
When the fruit is still small, secure a glass bottle over the fruits and ensure it is placed deep into the bottle to prevent the fruit from squeezing into the neck of the bottle. Angle the bottle downwards to allow moisture to run out the opening. Once the pear is ripe, remove it from the branch and rinse the bottle, filling it with a spirit of your choice. Leave the bottle to stand for a few weeks to infuse before tasting.
Can apples and pears pollinate each other?
Apples and pears do not share the same genus. Apples are part of the Malus genus, while pears are part of the Pyrus genus. This means they should not cross-pollinate.
Pear trees are a wonderful garden investment, providing you with years of fruits with little effort, bar the annual pruning. With so many uses, and hundreds of cultivars to try, you’ll never run out of things to do with your harvest. Growing in your own backyard also allows you to grow pears you may not find in the grocery store, expanding your tastes in the kitchen and in the garden.