Attractive from its first spring flower burst to its autumn color display, pears are one of the most charismatic fruit trees for the home garden. Whether chosen for their ornamental or edible value, pear trees require annual pruning and seasonal tending to reach their full potential. These skills take some practice to master and there is no better training than the yearly exercise of creating a pear tree perfectly suited to your landscape.
Pear trees require moderate moisture for best flower and fruit production. Plan your watering schedule based on the soil type and climate of your site. In general, clay soil needs less watering than sandy soil. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10) in a two-foot radius around the tree each spring. Fruit trees absorb most of their water and nutrients from the top six to eight inches of soil, making grass and weeds direct competitors. Mulch two to three feet around the base of your tree to suppress weed growth. Mowing less frequently also helps to keep grass from utilizing the majority of nutrients in the topsoil.
Without cross-pollination, pear trees will only produce a small amount of fruit. Plant at least two pear varieties within 20 to 50 feet of each other for best yields.
Pruning Young Trees
Pear trees tend to have an upright growth habit that if left unchanged results in a tree architecturally unfit for heavy fruit production. If fruit is a priority, you may begin re-shaping young trees directly after planting. This formative training involves a three-year process of developing a central leader and creating a foundation for strong lateral growth. Encourage lateral branching by pruning back to outward-facing buds and, if necessary, staking upright branches in a more horizontal position until they are established enough to remain so.
Pruning Mature Trees
Annual pruning of established trees is done in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant and the danger of frost has passed. Maintenance pruning focuses on thinning out spur clusters (the stubby branches on which pears fruit) to allow more room for the fruits to mature unencumbered, and the removal of older branches in favor of newer growth. Pears set a large quantity of fruit; pinching out all but two to three fruits per cluster while they are still small directs energy into producing a higher quality crop.
Decorative Training and Pruning
Pear trees are suited for training into an espalier, fan or cordon. These decorative forms are ideal for fitting otherwise spacious trees into tight locations, or to allow a gardener the opportunity to grow the multiple varieties needed for cross-pollination.
Pears are highly susceptible to fire blight, a fungal disease that causes blossoms, leaves and stems to turn black and die. Contaminated plant parts must be cut back to at least six inches from the affected area. Selection of resistant pear varieties is the most successful way to control fire blight in the home garden.