Pears produce a large crop of fruits in autumn that are delicious raw, cooked, preserved or used in baking, They are probably the most reliable pip fruit we can grow in our gardens, needing little in the way of specialized care or feeding. They grow well on many soils and in a wide range of climates. One or two well looked after trees in your garden can reward you with a bumper harvest of around 30kg – 40kg of fruits per tree. The average mature size for a pear tree is between 3 and 5 metres and just how tall your tree will grow is dependant upon what type you select and where you grow it. There are lots of varieties of pear tree available and you can choose to suit various factors – things such as growing conditions, climate and the sort of fruit you like. There is a range of fruit flavours and textures to consider when choosing pear varieties - some sweet and juicy, others more suited to cooking in pies and preserving. The great thing about planting pears in you garden is that you can choose some of the more exciting and old fashioned varieties that you are unlikely to see in shops and supermarkets.
Companions Marigold, borage, chamomile, chives, garlic, comfrey, alyssum, dill, nasturtium
Quantity 1- 4 trees per family
Pears are grafted onto two different rootstocks – Pear rootstock produces vigorous growing large trees that need space. Quince rootstock produces smaller tress – often these are pruned into pyramid shapes, espaliers or fans. The best way to work out what suits you is to order catalogues from growers in late summer and match available varieties with your tastes, growing conditions and climate. Many pear trees are partly ‘self fertile’ meaning they can be grown on their own but some need another tree to help with pollination – this information is normally included on labels or in plant descriptions in catalogues. Take a look at some of the old-fashioned heirloom and heritage varieties that are returning in popularity, you’ll find some great apples not only rich in flavour but rich in history too.
European pear varieties
Beurre Bosc produces large, brown-skinned juicy fruit with delicious sweet flavour. Pollinate with William’s Bon Chretien or Doyenne du Comice.
ConcordProduces a large, elongated juicy yellow pear that ripens in mid-autumn when fruit take on a pinkish blush. Self fertile but improved if grown with an Asian pear variety.
Doyenne du Comice regarded as one of the best pears when it comes to flavour. Fruit are green skinned with a pinkish blush. Very sweet and juicy. Pollinate with Concord.
Packham's Triumph heavy cropping variety with large greenish-yellow skinned fruits. Great for bottling and preserving. Self fertile but pollination is improved by growing with Wiiliam’s Bon Chretien.
William's Bon Chretien produces an early crop of fruit that change fro pale green to yellow when ripe. Pollinate with Beurre Bosc or Packham’s Triumph.
Asian pear varieties (Nashi)
Nashi Housi these are early cropping trees with large golden-brown skinned fruits that ripen on the tree. Nashi pears have thin skins and crunchy flesh that is very juicy.
Pear trees are generally planted during the winter months. This is when ‘bare root’ trees (saplings with soil washed off their roots) are available at nurseries and the widest choice of variety is available. Pear trees are sloe sold as container grown plants.
Give pear trees an open, sunny spot with good airflow – put them where you’ll be able to enjoy easily walking around them. You’ll find that they will produce fruit if grown in partial shade but avoid planting them in the shadow of buildings and tall trees. If you can, avoid planting them directly in the path of any prevailing strong winds. Blossom in early spring can be damaged by late frosts so try not to plant them in any hollows if you are in a frost-prone area. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Pear trees grow in a wide variety of soils but for best results they should be planted in a fertile, well-drained soil. Sandy soil can be improved with the addition of rotted compost and sterilized topsoil and sticky soil also benefits from the addition of rotted organic material but also grit, coarse sand or fine scoria to improve drainage. If your soil is really unsuitable you might consider planting trees in large raised beds or mounds of suitable soil.
Pear trees come as container grown trees and bare root trees that can be ordered from growers in late summer/autumn for mail order delivery in winter.
Container grown pear tree: Before planting dig a hole about 20% larger than the size of the container the plant comes in. Half-fill with well-rotted compost, rotted manure and some coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Mix together with garden soil at the bottom of the hole. Soak the container-grown tree before gently lifting it from its pot. Check the roots on the root ball and loosen any that appear to have grown around the inside of the pot – this should help them to get away and grow into the garden soil. Stand the root ball in the hole and adjust soil beneath it so that soil level is the same as ground level around it. Back fill with the soil/compost mix and firm with downward hand-pressure as you go. The container soil level should be the same as soil level in the garden with the union (scar at bottom of main stem just above roots) about a thumb’s length above soil. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the root ball. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground. Water well.
Bare root pear tree: Soak the roots of your bare root tree in a bucket of water. Dig a hole - about a full arm length wide and deep. Half-fill the hole with compost and mix with soil at the bottom - if you want to you can add a couple of spades-full of coarse sand or fine pumice to help with drainage. Make a shallow mound in the centre of your hole and sit the bare root tree on the mound with the upward-pointing stem in the middle and the roots radiating around it. The union (scar at bottom of main stem just above roots) should be about a thumb’s length above the soil when the hole is backfilled (you can judge where this will be by placing a bamboo cane across the hole from one side to the other and noticing where this comes against the stem of the tree). To back fill, gently work the mixture of soil and compost around the roots, firming the soil as you go until you have all but filled the hole to ground level. Fill the low depression that is left with water and allow soil to settle around the roots. Then finish filling the hole up to finished ground level. Drive three stakes in at even spacings around the outside of the spread roots. Using a suitable tie – rope, cloth, plastic tree tie (but definitely no wire that will damage bark and stems) – secure the stem of the tree at about knee-height above ground.
Water around the base of your young trees in dry periods, making sure that soil gets enough water for roots to be fully soaked. If you have a number of trees growing and live in a dry area it may be worth setting up a basic irrigation system to take care of this.
Mulch around base of newly-planted trees, especially if you have sandy soil. Cover a circle as wide as the spread of the branches with a finger-deep layer of compost, rotted manure or old straw and replenish mulch when necessary. Make sure the mulching layer doesn’t touch the stem of your tree as this can cause it to rot. This should be done for the first three years after planting, Thereafter you can plant borage, comfrey, dill and fennel beneath your trees to draw nutrients from deep in the soil and to attract beneficial pollinating and predatory insects.
Feed: Trees can be fed with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around the outer edge of their drip line (widest edge of outer branches) in early spring. There are slow release fruit tree feeds available but they can damage soil microbiology. Keeping the ground beneath your trees weed-free and well-mulched when its dry should help to reduce the amount of feeding that is required. Over feeding can lead to a susceptibility to diseases such as Fireblight.
Pollination: Pear trees are only partly self fertile so for best results plant with another variety that flowers at the same time.. Bees do most of the business so encourage them into your gardens with companion flowers like borage and lavender.
Pears ripen at different times from season to season, depending on weather. Generally though, harvest is around late summer to early autumn. European pears ripen to perfection after they have been picked from the tree. Pears are ready for picking when their colour becomes richer and they have reached full size. Handle fruit carefully when harvesting to prevent bruising. Line your bucket or basket with soft material such as cloth or newspaper.
Storage: Pears ripen off the tree – usually within a couple of days if stored at room temperature. They don’t last in their fresh state and are often preserved by being bottled in syrup.
There is a range of pruning techniques – some of them quite specialized and complicated – for pruning apple trees. The basic principles are as follows:
Always prune during winter when the tree is dormant.
In general, when removing stems follow them down to the point where they are growing off a main stem. Cut the stem you are removing just above the point where it joins the next stem so that this leaves a small protruding collar that will heal over.
Remove any dead, diseased or otherwise damaged stems.
Remove any rubbing stems that are crossing each other and opening up wounds.
Remove stems that are growing into and crowding the centre of the tree. The aim is to let in light and to promote good air movement through the tree when it is in full leaf during summer. This helps to prevent fungal disease from taking hold.
Remove any shoots from the base or lower stem of the tree.
Remove any stems that are rocketing vertically from main branches. Pear trees are kept low to make harvesting fruit easier.
Cutting out the center stem on young trees generates a more umbrella-shaped tree that makes picking fruit easier as they are lower down.
Pear trees can be grown against walls and fences - trained into decorative fan shapes. There are special pruning guidelines for these in books on pruning.
The more you grow pears, the more you will learn what particular pests and disease might be an issue in your location. The extent to which you might lean towards chemicals is up to you, but remember that these chemicals are seldom used without side-effects that can be detrimental to the wider environment of your garden. To reduce the likelihood of your trees falling victim to and suffering from pests and diseases look after your trees. Plant companion flowers to attract predatory insects such as lacewings into your garden.
Remove and dead or diseased stems and fruit regularly.
Sweep and compost fallen leaves.
Mulch and feed, ensure constant moisture during dry weather.
Spray fresh spring foliage with Neem oil spray to kill aphids, scale insects and mites.
Coddling moth is a particular pest and numbers can be reduced by hanging traps amongst your trees in mid spring.
Fireblight is a particular problem with pear trees that have lots of soft fresh growth. Signs of infection are leaves shoots and fruiting spurs turning black. Reduce the likelihood of an outbreak by not over-feeding with nitrogen-rich manure or fertilizer. Once infected, trees can’t be helped other than by cutting out diseased wood and burning it. Dip secateurs in disinfectant between cuts.
For best advice on how to deal with fruit tree related problems in your area seek out local organic growers and talk to them. A half hour chat can save on years of trial and error.