There are many ornamental pear trees across the globe, and the pear family is a diverse one. Ornamental pears are cultivated more for their appearance than their fruits, and the pears they produce are not always like the ones in the grocery store. Note that in some areas, some ornamental pear tree varieties are actually considered invasive because of their easy seeding and quick growth. Consult a local agricultural extension agent before planting.
The pear tree has been cultivated since prehistory. Ornamental pears are nearly as old as fruit pears, as growers noticed early on that their lush foliage and white flowers added beauty to homes and gardens. The ancestor of most ornamentals, the Callery pear, was brought to the United States from China in 1908 to be used as rootstock for fruiting pears. Others were cultivated from the Callery pear or its close relatives across China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam in the early 20th century.
Ornamental pears are widely used in temperate climates, such as USDA hardiness zones 6 to 8, for street and park plantings, as well as accents to other tree plantings. They also are popular as a screen between or in front of buildings to create privacy, as they grow full and thick. They have a compact shape and dense leaves which turn from green to purple, then to red in the fall, providing an attractive planting until winter.
There are 22 pear species worldwide, but most ornamental pear cultivars now are offshoots of the Callery pear, or are some type of cross-species hybrid created for ornamental purposes. Bradford pear is the most common type. Others include birch-leaved pear, Chinese pea pear, Japanese pea pear, Korean pea pear, and Chinese evergreen pear. All are readily propagated by natural seeding or through cutting.
Plant in the spring. Fall plantings are not usually successful with ornamental pears. Note that the trees cannot reproduce on their own; they must be near other ornamental pears in order to produce viable seeds. If planting a row or grove, a distance within 50 feet is recommended for the best seed production. Plant viable seeds about 3/4 inch deep in a full-sun location. Pear seeds germinate best in rich, well-drained soils, but tolerate some salt and acidity when full-grown.
Plant from cuttings outdoors in the spring, but the cuttings can be tended indoors through the winter after being taken in the fall. Tree cuttings are notoriously difficult to root, but ornamental pears sometimes respond well. Take pear cuttings from wood that is from the current season’s growth and is partly mature; the best timing is from late summer to early fall. For better rooting, cut a small piece of older wood at the base of the cutting as well. Humidity and warmth are key to getting cuttings rooted; use a greenhouse or trays covered in clear plastic, and a well-drained, sterile rooting medium.