How to grow pears

Val Bourne

Thinking about planting a pear tree? Val Bourne explains how to get the best results and which varieties are best.

Ancient pear trees are often seen growing on south-facing walls in sheltered positions and the Oxfordshire village I used to live in had a Pear Tree Inn close to the brook - complete with an ancient pear. 

Where to plant

Pears are hardy trees but they produce their white blossom much earlier in the year than apples. So south-facing positions sheltered the flowers from damaging frosts. 

If you want to grow pears try not to put them in a frost pocket. Give them a position on the top of a slope or somewhere where the air moves freely so that the cold air falls away.

Pears crop best on sloping sites where the cold air slides downwards away from the tree. But they also like moist, alluvial soil which is heavy and many of the villages with 'perry' in their name, like Waterperry in Oxfordshire for instance, are close to water but above the flood plain. This is important because pear trees do not survive in waterlogged ground.

If your garden is exposed, opt for a later flowering variety.

When to plant

The ideal planting time for container-grown trees is either autumn or spring. Bare-root trees can be planted between November and March whenever the weather is clement.

How to plant

Prepare the ground thoroughly and add some well-rotted compost to the hole if possible.

Tease the roots out - whether you are planting bare-root or planting a container-grown tree.

Place so that the graft union (the bumpy part of the trunk) is above soil level.

Stake immediately using a 3ft tree stake and tree tie.

Mulch the surface of the ground lightly to keep weeds away, semi-rotted grass clipping will do. You can get mulch mats.

Caring for pear trees

The tip with pears is to water them in dry spells from the moment the flower buds burst until six weeks after blossoming.

Gently tip one bucket of water on each pear tree every day if needed. If you are dry, or your soil is thin, cordons and espaliers are your best option. 

Always thin your fruit and restrict each tree to ten pounds of top quality fruit.

When to pick

When to pick your pears depends on the variety, but it tends to be between September and October.

When and how to prune

Pear Trees should be pruned twice a year. Other types of tree (cordons and espaliers for instance) need different regimes.

Winter pruning a pear tree

The idea is to create an open framework of strong branches leaving a space in the middle to allow the air to circulate. 

  • Lightly prune vigorous trees. But strongly prune those lacking in vigour so that they start into growth. 
  • Remove any crossing branches
  • Space out new shoots - removing some as necessary
  • Cut out the dead, diseased and dying wood (the three Ds) 
  • Tip back one third of the new side shoots by a third of their length

Summer pruning a pear tree

This is usually done to expose the fruit and allow it to ripen and mid-July is the ideal time to shorten the leafy growth on pears. 

Different pear rootstocks

Modern pears trees are grafted on to Quince rootstock, labelled as A or C, and quinces are thirsty plants too. There is little difference in size between plants grafted on to A or C. But C is meant to produce fruit when the tree is fractionally younger. However there seems to be very little difference between the two otherwise.

Quince A

- the most common rootstock
- produces a tree that will reach between 3m to 6m (9 ft to 19 ft) 
- fruit appears after 5 years.

Quince C

- less common - but still readily available.
- produces a tree that will reach 3m to 5m (9 ft to 16 ft)
- fruit will appear after 4 to 5 years.

Different pear varieties

Some varieties are partly self-fertile, while others need a partner to flower at the same time in order to produce any fruit at all. For this reason pear varieties are divided between three pollination groups known as A. B and C. The earliest flowering varieties are labelled A and the latest group are pollination Group C. You will need at least two trees from the same pollination group - because even the self-fertile varieties crop more heavily with a partner. 

There are not as many varieties of pear as there are of apple and three stand out as market leaders. Picking takes place when the pears begin to loosen from their stalks. Twist gently, if the pear is ripe it will come away in your hand. 

1. 'Conference' (Pollination group B)

This is the most popular pear for eating because the long, narrow fruits are very sweet and juicy. The variety withstands unfavourable conditions well, it crops heavily and it’s disease resistant although scab (a disease that produces brown patches on the fruit) can still strike. It is often grown in the north of Britain. 

'Conference', though partially self-fertile, crops better if other pear trees are nearby. Blossom is produced in mid-season and the pears (which are  are ready for picking towards the end September or the beginning of October) should last for three to four weeks in good storage conditions - perhaps longer.

2. 'Doyenne du Comice' (Pollination Group C)

A plump, hard pear that cooks to produce a sweet pear with a grainy texture. This variety is a bit temperamental and appreciates a protected and warm position. Scab is a big problem with this variety too. Blossom appears late in the season.

3. 'Concorde' (Pollination Group C)

Fruit is ready for picking in October and the fruit will keep for two weeks.

Get the best of both worlds and grow this newish variety which is cross between 'Conference' and 'Doyenne du Comice'.  Bred at East Malling Research Station, this variety is compact and self-fertile and ideal for a small garden. It is a reliable, heavy cropper with juicy, flavoursome fruit. Pick in late October. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.