There is evidence of the cultivation of pear trees dating back to prehistoric times. The pear tree is thought to originate in the foothills of western China, and since then has spread around the world with over 3,000 varieties. There are three types of pears grown in the United States: European, Oriental hybrids and Asian pears. European pears have the best taste and softest texture but are most susceptible to fire blight. Oriental hybrids can range from soft and tasty to hard and good for canning. Asian pears are the most resilient to fire blight and produce fresh, crisp pears with a hard apple texture.
Pear trees are eligible for a $50 Tree Rebate as long as they’re not dwarf varieties or saplings.
The pear tree leaf is deciduous, glossy green, alternate, broad and with serrated edges. The leaves can grow up to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide.
The flowers are single white, with five petals and purple anthers, borne in clusters. A few cultivars are self-fertile, but all fruit trees produce better fruit with cross-pollination.
The fruit of a pear tree depends on its cultivar, but generally it’s rounded to pear-shaped. Many of the Asian varieties look more like apples, although pears are generally sweeter and softer in texture than apples. Pear fruit is distinguished by stone cells, hard cells in the flesh that give it a grit feel.
The branches on a pear tree tend to be thin with narrow-angled crotches and upright branches. To prevent breakage it’s recommended to thin the fruit (one fruit per cluster, six inches apart) and train the branches, either by tying them to the ground or pushing the branches apart with spacer sticks. This will give the crouches a wider angle.
The bark of a pear tree is dark grey, cracking into small irregular flakes in maturity.
Most pear trees are oval and upright in shape.
Pear trees can grow at least 30 feet high and 20 feet wide. Many pear trees are grafted on dwarf rootstocks to keep their height around 15 feet and width at 10 feet.
Most pears do well in hardy zones 4 through 9.
In the fall pear tree leaves will turn dark red.
Pear trees like slightly acidic soil that is well drained.
Pear trees prefer full sunlight, but can survive in partial sun with a poor harvest.
The European Bartlett is the most popular pear cultivar, but because it’s so susceptible to fire blight, it’s not recommended to plant in most of the United States. Magness Pear, Blake’s Pride, Shenandoah, Potomac (more resistant to fire blight) (European); Orient (good fresh), Kieffer (coarse, used more for canning/baking) (Oriental hybrids); Shinko, Korean Giant (good fresh, fire-blight-resistant, apple texture) (Asian)
Depending on the variety, pears will be ready for harvest around late August to October. European Pears must be picked just before they turn ripe and refrigerated for at least a week to ripen. If you let European pears ripen on the tree, they will be too gritty and have core rot. Harvest the European pears just as they are turning deep green to a light yellow. The fruit should still be hard, not soft. Asian pears can be picked from the tree when its ripe. To tell if the pears are ready to harvest, lift the fruit to a horizontal position and see if the pear easily detaches at the stem. Don’t pick any pears that don’t detach easily. For hybrid pears, ask the nursery for the best time to harvest.
The best management decision for a pear tree is to choose a variety that is highly resistant to fire blight. Even with high resistance, it’s still good to watch for signs of the disease. In spring, branch and trunk cankers can appear. These cankers may exude a watery, light tan bacterial ooze. The ooze turns dark and leaves streaks on the branches and trunks. Infected flowers, fruits, small shoots and leaves on the tree will blacken and shrivel up. Infected areas will stay on all year giving the tree a scorched appearance, hence the name. Infections can extend into scaffold links, trunks, or root systems and can kill Pear trees. Once infected, the pear tree will harbor the pathogen indefinitely.
To manage the infection properly, prune any diseased parts of the tree as soon as noticed. Make sure to cut the entire affected branch off at its branch collar to be sure to remove all of the infection. Apply a blossom spray, such as a copper or Bordeaux mixture, several times to help control the spread of the infection. It is very hard to keep infected trees alive and it’s recommended, due to its contagious nature, to dispose of the tree before it infects others.
Pear trees have very few pests to worry about. The pear psylla is the most common pear pest. It is an early-season, cool-weather aphid-like pest that attacks the leaves of the tree. Asian pears are less susceptible to it than European pears are. The pests primarily attack the leaves, producing a honey dew that supports the growth of a sooty mold that causes black russets on the fruit. Several organic sprays, such as Surround or a biodegradable soap mixture, applied before and after bloom time, can help eliminate pear psyllas. Encouraging natural predatory insects by planting more pollinating flowers can control pear psyllas too.
Pear trees need light pruning to open up the inside of the tree for circulation.
As long as the pear tree is not a dwarf or a sapling it is eligible for a $50 rebate.