By Kate Torpie, Garden Guides Contributor
Who doesn't love the first bite of a soft, ripe pear? No other fruit tastes anything like it. Now imagine having a Pyrus communis in your own backyard. Heaven! So, can you grow a pear tree? Let's find out!
Pear trees like full sun. Pick a spot where the tree can get plenty of light and not much wind. About a month before you are going to plant the tree, begin preparing the soil by turning it over and incorporating some mulch or fertilizer. If you have very fertile soil, add nothing. Too many nutrients will result in the tree growing too fast for itself. Dig a hole that is about 4 by 2 feet.
Plant the tree in late winter or early spring. Planting a pear tree is actually not so tough. Place the pear tree in the hole you dug, and look at the trunk of the tree. You should see a dirt mark that indicates how deep it had been in its last "home." You should bury the tree up until that point only. Don't add more fertilizer when you place the tree in the soil, as it could burn the roots. Stomp the dirt around the tree. Then, if the ground is dry, water it. You can take an active part in the shape of your tree now by attaching it to a stake for support. If your tree is more than 1 year old, you should immediately prune it after planting. Make sure the trunk contains at least 4 buds. Then, cut the tree above those buds, at about the halfway mark.
The tree requires a lot of sun and a thorough watering regularly. Particularly in the early years, the ground around the tree should never feel parched. Each spring, you should apply mulch around the tree. Other than that, most of the care involves pruning the tree into a wine glass shape. It will need to be pruned for the first 3 or 4 years. Pruning should always be done during winter. The branches that grow off of the main tree will each have several upward-reaching, thin, twig-like shoots growing off of them. Each winter, prune 1/3 of these down. Another task that pear trees require is thinning the fruits. As soon as you see a bunch beginning to grow, remove the center pear (it will be small and of poor quality). This extra space gives the remaining pears more room to grow. Look out for pear midges. Raking the soil around the tree regularly from the late winter to the late spring will help kill the midges before they fly up into the tree.
Choosing a Variety
There are a huge variety of pear trees. To some degree, your choice is a matter of personal taste: some trees produce juicier fruit than others (such as Doyenne du Comice); but other trees tolerate poor conditions better (such as Conference). The Concorde variety is a small tree, which is perfect for a small space. One of the most popular types is the Beurre Hardy, which has some built-in defenses against pests and produces delicious fruits. Also, it has the added benefit of crisp red leaves in the fall, which contrast beautifully with any pears.
Harvesting and Storage
Pear trees begin to produce fruit at about 5 years of age. They are ready to harvest when they begin to turn colors. If a fruit is changing colors but is still hard, you can leave it on the stem for a day or so longer or you can bring it inside and place it on a windowsill for about a week.
Pear trees live more than 60 years on average. Other than pruning, they require very little care,and even the pruning is not too difficult.