Pear growing methods

In good years, pear trees yield heavy crops of delicious fruit – and every spring there’s the bonus of beautiful white blossom.

W herever apples grow, pears will grow too, but they need to be treated with slightly more care. Since their blossom opens earlier than apple blossom, they need a more sheltered position. Ideally, they also need consistently warm growing conditions and frequent watering in times of drought.

Few pears are self-fertile so, to be certain of fruit, buy and plant two different varieties which flower at the same time. A few are ‘triploid’, which makes them unsuitable as pollinators, so they will require two pollinators nearby.

Pear varieties are not grown on their own roots but are grafted on to dwarfing quince rootstocks which also induce early fruiting. Look closely and you should be able to see the graft union between the rootstock and the grafted shoot (scion).

Like apples, pear trees can be grown in open ground as half-standard, bush and pyramidal trees, or trained against a wall or fence as diagonal cordons, espaliers and fans.

Your choice depends on the amount of fruit you want and on the space available in your garden. Bush and half-standard trees yield more fruit, but need plenty of room; dwarf and wall-trained trees are better for small gardens, but give much less fruit.

You can also buy family trees, which have three or four pear varieties grafted on to one rootstock. These are especially suitable for very small gardens, with room for only one tree. The varieties polli-nate each other, and the tree should have a long fruiting season. Yields usually vary each year, depending on the severity of spring frosts and rainfall. As a rough guide, expect 18-23 kg (40-501b) from a bush tree; 10-12kg (20-251b) from a three-tier espalier; 3-5kg (7-1 lib) from a dwarf pyramid, and 1.5-2.5kg (3-5lb) from a mature cordon.

Site and soil

Plant pears in a sunny, sheltered, warm position. They grow well inland, but dislike the salt-laden winds of coastal areas.

Late spring frosts are liable to destroy the spring blossom, and it is usually safer to grow pears against a sunny wall than in open ground.

The soil should be deep, loamy and well drained, but retain moisture in summer. If your soil is sandy, or shallow over chalk, double dig well-rotted manure or compost into the soil, at the rate of two bucketfuls per sq m (sq yd). A week before planting, fork in 90g per sq m (3oz per sq yd) of a general compound fertilizer.

Buying a pear tree

Your nursery or garden centre should offer a choice of one-, twoand three-year-old trees. ‘Maidens’, or trees in their first year, are cheaper than older trees because they need shaping – a job best left to the nurseryman.

Insist on two-year-old trees for bush and cordon forms and make sure espaliers have at least two tiers of branches and that fan trees have four ribs.

A three-year-old tree should fruit within two or three years of planting, depending on its position and the weather.

Ask the staff at your garden centre for advice on the pear varieties and rootstocks that will suit your garden and type of soil.

Planting a pear tree

Plant pear trees in frost-free weather between late autumn and early spring. A late autumn planting gives the best start.

Space bush trees 3.7-4.6m (12-15ft) apart, depending on the rootstock; dwarf pyramid trees 1.2- 1.5m (4-5ft) apart; and cor-dons 75-90cm (2yi-3ft) apart. Espaliers and fan-trained trees should be set 3.7-4.6m (12-15ft) apart if grown side by side on your wall or fence. Allow at least 23cm (9in) between the wall and the planting hole, to give the roots plenty of space.

Dig a hole big enough to take the roots of the tree when they are well spread out. If planting a bush tree, drive a stake at least 60cm (2ft) deep into the soil and plant the tree against it, securing it with strong plastic strap ties.

Plant to the same depth as the tree was growing in the nursery, going by the soil mark on the stem. Make sure that the graft union between the rootstock and the scion is at least 10cm (4in) above soil level. Spread the roots out evenly, so that the tree will be well balanced, and return the soil over the roots, firming it well in. Water in well after planting.

Looking after pear trees

Water well during dry spells, taking special care during the first growing season, but continuing to water for as long as the tree lives.

Mulch in early spring with well-rotted garden compost or manure to help the soil retain moisture.

Each mid winter, apply 30g per sq m (loz per sq yd) of sulphate of potash. It is especially important to give pears adequate nitrogen. Early in late winter, follow this up with 30-45g per sq m (1-1 Vi oz per sq yd) of sulphate of ammonia. Every third year, add 45-60g (114-2oz) of superphosphate to the sulphate of ammonia dressing.


Keep a close eye on bud development and time your spraying accordingly, starting at bud burst and continuing until the blossoms are fully open. Do not spray when the blossom is open, or you may harm pollinating insects.

Overspraying will do more harm than good, so read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

Spray at bud burst with carben-dazim to control scab. Follow this up when the buds begin to show white with a spray of carbendazim for scab and permethrin for aphids and caterpillars.

After about 80 per cent of the petals have fallen, spray every two weeks with carbendazim. Spray with permethrin against codling moth in early summer and again three weeks later.

Every third year in the dormant period, between early and late winter, apply tar-oil wash to con-trol winter eggs of aphids.

Pruning and training

For more detailed instructions on training and pruning top fruit trees, see a future Know-How ar-ticle. Established bush pear trees can be cut back harder than apple trees, so always remove overcrowded branches, particularly in the centre of the tree, during winter pruning.

Summer pruning of cordons, espaliers and dwarf pyramids, is earlier than for apples. Start when the summer growth matures -usually in mid summer in mild areas, later in cooler regions.

Cut back the laterals (the cur-rent season’s shoots), not the leading branches. As the tree matures it produces fruiting spurs (short fruit-bearing side branches) more freely than apple trees. Thin these in winter.

Thinning the crop

Pears generally need less thinning than apples, but a heavy crop of fruit can put a strain on any tree, resulting in poor quality fruits.

Pears should be well spaced out on l large bush trees. Cordons, espaliers, fans and dwarfs rarely present any problems. At the end of early summer there is a natural drop of fruit. After I this, remove any badly shaped or damaged fruits still on the tree, I along with the central pear of any remaining thick clusters. Never pull fruit off, as this may damage the spur. Instead, holding ; the fruit firmly but lightly, cut the : stalk with a pair of scissors.

Harvesting and storing

Most varieties of pear ripen off the tree. Harvest early varieties by cutting the stalk when the fruit is of mature size but still hard; if left f on the tree, they may turn ‘sleepy’, , or brown in the centre.

Pick mid season fruits (ready for eating in mid or late autumn) and late varieties (for eating from early winter) when the stalk of the fruit can be twisted away easily from the branch.

Store pears in a cool room or shed at a temperature of 2-4°C (36-40°F). Lay them on a tray or shelf in a single layer, making sure that they don’t touch each other. Check them frequently – when they begin to soften slightly and change colour near the stalk, bring them into the warmth at 16°C (61°F) for a couple of days to finish ripening.

Don’t store any damaged or diseased fruit – even a slightly bruised pear can cause others to go bad and perhaps ruin the whole crop.

Pests and diseases

Pears are affected by many of the same pests and diseases as apples, although they tend to be more resistant. The most common pests are aphids, caterpillars, codling moths, red spider mites, pear leaf blister mite, pear sucker and tor-trix moths.

The main diseases and disorders are boron deficiency, brown rot, fireblight, honey fungus, scab, splitting and stony pit.

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