Pears can be grown in almost all regions of America but they are especially valuable in cooler areas where some other fruits cannot be grown. With their luscious flavor, juiciness and aroma they have a luxurious air more often found in fruits for warmer areas. The Pear Tree is an attractive tree in spring, with its white blossoms, and in summer it makes a classic picture with the branches hanging in ripening fruit.
If planted in a sunny, sheltered position a pear tree is a great addition to any garden, for its natural beauty and also for the bounty it will bring. Pear Trees are quite hardy and will take minus 25oF for short periods and tolerate minus 20oF for much longer times. Since pears bruise so easily all the fruit found in stores has been picked long before it is ripe, so unless you grow your own you will never know how great a pear tastes when it is picked ripe from the tree.
Using Pear Trees on Your Property
Pear Trees are small to medium-sized trees that can reach 30 feet in height, so they make an excellent tree for a smaller garden. They can be grown as an ornamental tree that will be admired for its blossoms and attractive fruit. It can also be part of a home orchard along with apples and other fruit trees that will provide your family with fruit that far-surpasses store-bought produce in quality, freshness, ripeness and flavor. Pear Trees can also be used as a dual-purpose boundary screen or as an attractive avenue along a driveway.
Pear Trees are usually grown as free-standing trees, but in cooler areas a good way to give some protection from late frost and to help ripening is to grow them against a sunny wall. The tree can be spread out in a fan or grown with several levels of horizontal branches. This way you can have a pear tree without it really taking up any room in your garden.
Pear Tree Appearance
Pear Trees grow naturally into an upright tree, but are usually trained into an open shape which improves fruit ripening. The bark is smooth and light-grey when trees are young and becomes more rugged and ridged as the tree ages. Trees flower in spring just as the new leaves are emerging. The flowers are white and appear in clusters. The fruits vary in size from an inch or two in pears used for perry making (the pear equivalent of apple cider) to 4 or 5 inches long in a dessert pear.
Fruits ripen in August or September for most varieties. Not all pears have the classic ‘pear’ shape’, some are round like apples, while others are more uniformly tapering and cone shaped. Most trees grow to around 30 feet if not pruned, but it is also possible to get dwarf pears and semi-dwarf pears. Dwarf Pears are not as hardy as full-sized trees and should not be grown in zones 4 or 5.
Most pear trees cannot pollinate themselves and need another variety of pear to produce fruit. Unlike other fruits there are no complicated rules for this and generally any pear can pollinate any other. Some pear trees, like the Bartlett Pear Tree and the Kieffer Pear Tree will produce fruit without another tree, but the crop will be greater if you grow a second tree near them. Since varieties of pears have different qualities, having two trees just means you have more flavors and textures to enjoy.
Pears Trees are of two main types; European and Asian. The European Pear (Pyrus communis) is the traditional pear, with the characteristic juicy lushness associated with pears. Asian Pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) originate in China and Japan. They have become increasingly popular in many countries and are sometimes called ‘apple pears’ since their round shape and crisp texture makes some people mistakenly think they are hybrids of apples and pears.
There are also hybrid varieties such as the Kieffer Pear Tree which is an accidental cross between a European and an Asian pear which was found by Peter Kieffer, a French nurseryman who had moved to Philadelphia and found this pear growing on his property in 1873. It went on to become a very popular variety because it is disease-resistant and the fruit keeps well. This pear shows its Asian Pear origins in its crisp texture and it is especially suitable for cooking and canning. It is a great heirloom variety for those who enjoy growing historic food varieties.
Hardiness and Growing Conditions
Pear Trees are hardy from zones 4 to 9 depending on the variety. The Summercrisp Pear Tree is a variety selected by the University of Minnesota particularly for its hardiness and grows well in zone 4. Others, like the Warren Pear Tree, do well in warmer regions. Beyond zone 9 a pear tree will not get enough cold days in the winter to do well.
When selecting a site for your pear tree, choose a spot that is in full sun, but not in a low-lying area, as frost tends to collect in those locations and pear trees are sometimes affected by a late frost. They are more susceptible to this than apples, because apples bloom about two weeks later. Pear Trees prefer soil that is well-drained and may not do well in heavy clay soils. Although they prefer slightly acid soils they will do well in most soils except for extremely alkaline ones. If you do have to plant into a heavy soil, choose a higher location if possible, or plant in a raised bed.
The planting spot should be dug over well and you should add some well-rotted organic material like compost or manure. Pear trees can suffer from a disease called fire-blight, which can kill young growth, whole branches or even the whole tree. This disease is found mostly in areas with rainy springs, like the north-east. In those areas choose a disease-resistant tree like the Summercrisp Pear Tree, the Kieffer Pear Tree, or for warmer zones the Warren Pear Tree. In other parts of the country you will be able to grow most varieties of pear trees, since this disease is not likely to be a problem.
If you choose the Summercrisp Pear Tree or the Warren Pear Tree, remember you need another variety for pollination. The Bartlett Pear Tree makes an excellent choice for a pollinator as not only will it do that job well, and also be pollinated itself, increasing its yield, but it is an excellent all-round pear for eating and cooking.
Planting Your Pear Trees
When planting your pear tree, remove it from the pot and slice an inch deep at the sides of the root-ball in three or four places. This will prevent roots from growing around the trunk of the tree and eventually strangling it. Look for sharp angle in the trunk near the base of the tree which is where your tree was grafted to its roots and make sure when planting that this place is two or three inches above the final soil level.
When planting, put back most of the soil and then fill the hole with water. After the water has drained away put back the rest of the soil and put mulch over the rooting area. For the first growing season make sure that you water your young tree once a week. Leave a hosepipe trickling or give it two or three big cans of water. Once your tree is established it will need watering only during dry spells.
When young you should not fertilize your tree too much, as this will cause the tree to grow tall and delay fruiting. A lot of pruning will have the same effect. Although pear trees can be grown with a single central trunk, having several major branches radiating out from the trunk at an angle of about 600 is better. Rather than pruning a lot to do this, use forked sticks or bags of sand on strings to push or pull the branches out from the center of the tree.
The great benefit of this shape is that it allows light and air to reach the center of the tree and so increases flowering and production of fruit. Once you have established the main framework, prune during dry periods in summer by trimming back new branches so they are just a few inches long, to help develop the fruiting ‘spurs’ that carry the flowers and fruit.
If you like pears you will love the joy of eating your own ripe fruit straight from the tree, which is a pleasure impossible with store-bought fruit. The pear is such a versatile fruit since you can eat it raw, use it in both fruit salads and savory salads and cook it into many different dishes as well. If you still have some left over there is always canning and making your own pear cider. Although a little more work is involved than with some other kinds of fruit trees, a couple of Pear Trees make a great addition to any garden.