Planting Pear Trees
Successfully establishing a young fruit tree in your yard starts with your planting site and method. Once a fruit tree is established, it needs little assistance to grow and bear fruit; but you’ll want to make sure you give your trees the right foundation.
NOTE: This is part 3 in a series of 10 articles. For a complete background on how to grow pear trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.
Fruit trees require fertile soil for good growth, so before you plant, check your soil pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. If the soil pH where you plant your tree is 6.0-7.0, you’re in good shape. Take a look at the established trees and plants around the site. If they look healthy and are growing well, just follow the recommended fertilization program for your fruit trees. Steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.
- Before planting: soak tree roots in a tub or large trash can of water for one to two hours to keep its roots from drying while you dig. Do not soak more than six hours. DO NOT expose roots to freezing temperatures while planting.
- Dig the hole deep and wide enough so the root system has plenty of room. (Keep the topsoil in a separate pile so you can put it in the bottom of the hole, where it’ll do the most good.)
- Roots grow better in soil that’s been loosened, so mix in our Coco-Fiber Potting Medium into your pile of topsoil. You can also use dehydrated cow mature, garden compost or peat moss (up to 1/3 concentration).
- Fill the hole, putting the topsoil back in first. You can avoid creating air pockets by working the soil carefully around the roots and tamping down firmly.
- Create a rim of soil around the planting hole 2” above ground level. This allows water to stand and soak in. (In the fall, spread soil evenly around tree to prevent damage from water freezing around the plant.)
- Water your new tree. Deep, thorough soaking is best, with a solution of Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer. (If planting in the fall, wait to fertilize until spring for best results.) This effective starter fertilizer helps trees and plants grow quickly and vigorously. After watering, if soil compacts, be sure to add enough soil to fill the hole to ground level.
Grafted trees need special planting attention. All Stark Bro’s fruit trees are grafted or budded, the only methods for growing true-to-name planting stock. You can see where the fruiting variety on top is joined to the root variety on the bottom by a bump in the bark, change in the bark color or a slight offset angle. For certain dwarf trees, it’s very important to keep this graft above the ground. Otherwise, roots could develop from above the graft; then your tree could grow to full size by bypassing its dwarfing parts.
Most Stark fruit trees are budded to specially selected clonal rootstocks. For dwarf, semi-dwarf and colonnade apple trees, the bud union should be planted 2-3” above the soil line. Standard size apple trees as well as our Custom Grafted trees should be planted 1-2” deeper than the soil lines from the nursery row.
For dwarf pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries and plums trees the bud-graft line should remain at or above the ground and for standard size trees they will do better with a slightly deeper planting.
Stark trees that are grown and shipped in bottomless pots are part of our continuing quest for producing better and stronger trees for the home grower. By following these simple instructions, you will be assured of getting your young tree off to the best possible start.
- Before planting: When your tree arrives, carefully take it out of the package, making sure not to damage any of the branches. The potted tree has been watered prior to shipment and should arrive moist, but it does need another drink when it arrives at your home. Be sure the container is moist clear through. If you can’t plant your tree immediately upon arrival, keep the pot moist until you can plant it and keep the tree in a sheltered location. DO NOT place your potted tree in a bucket of water. This could cause the roots to rot, and kill your tree.
- Your tree is ready for planting as soon as it arrives at your home. Then, simply grasp the sides of the container and carefully slide the tree out. The potting soil should remain intact around the tree’s roots. You will want to keep this soil with the tree and plant it, soil and all, into the prepared hole.
- Fill the hole with soil and water thoroughly with a solution of Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer.
- Your potted tree may have come with a bamboo stake, which helped straighten the baby tree as it grew in the pot. We recommend that you keep the tree staked when you plant the tree, as we recommend staking for all young trees of any type. You may remove the stake and replace it with a different style if you prefer. Tree Stake, the perfect strapping system for Stark Bro’s trees, comes with a sturdy fiberglass rod, and a revolutionary flexible strapping system that allows for movement and growth, available from Stark Bro’s.
One final point: Please be sure to remove the name tag from your tree. As the tree grows, this small piece of plastic can choke off its circulation, damaging or killing the tree. If you’d like to keep the tag on your tree, retie it loosely with soft twine.
In This Series
- Soil Preparation
Care & Maintenance
- Pest & Disease Control
asian pear tree care
Asian pear trees are typically best trained and maintained using the central leader method. The idea is to create a tree that has a central leader (a single dominant trunk from the roots to the uppermost top) with very well spaced radiating main branches. These main branches are called scaffold branches. The over all shape of the tree should be openly pyramidal (Figure 1).
Start training the first year by selecting a strong central branch as the main leader. Prune off any other branches that have an angle of less than about 65º to the central leader. This will likely result in removing most, if not all, of the extraneous branches. Don‘t worry, more branches will grow during the next warm season. The next step is to begin selecting the scaffold branches. First determine what height you want the lowest branch on the tree to be at. If you select a branch 2’ above the ground to remain as a scaffold branch, it will always be 2’ off the ground. Tree trunks don’t grow longer. They grow from the branch tips up and out. If your tree is short now and you wish to have bottom branches that are taller than the branches available are now, you will need to wait until the tree grows and a branch develops at the height you wish.
Start from the bottom and select only 3 to 5 very well spaced radiating branches to keep as the bottom most scaffold branches. Avoid selecting branches that are directly across from each other, vertically, on the central leader (Figure 3).
Next, select another 3 to 5 well spaced branches about 2 feet above the top most scaffold branch previously selected. The idea is to have space of about 2 feet vertically between branches all the way from the base of the tree to the top branches. Prune off everything except your chosen central leader and your chosen scaffold branches.
If your tree is not yet big enough to be able to select branches, you will have to wait until following years. New buds will develop annually along the central leader. Initial fruit tree training usually takes 4 or 5 years. If some of the branches chosen to be scaffold branches are very long, you can cut off the end of the branches to encourage more branching.
Continue selecting scaffold branches up the tree as it grows, and continue to remove all other branches. As you train the tree, you may wish to reassess and remove branches previously planned to serve as scaffolds, leaving new shoots to serve in their place. Remember, you are training the tree for an ultimate goal of 3–5 well spaced and open scaffold branches for every 2-3 feet of vertical trunk height.
During the training process, you may wish to employ extra methods to space the scaffold branches other than selecting naturally grown branches. Pieces of wood can be placed between branches to improve spacing (Figure 2). Gently altering branch shapes with ties such as rope or twine also is effective (Figure 2). Shaping with objects or ties should be done for as short a time period as possible and should be done carefully so as not to damage bark.
Annual maintenance pruning consists of thinning twiggy branches to allow light and air to penetrate further into the canopy. Also remove any dead, damaged, diseased or crossing branches. Remove any branches growing from the central leader that have not been selected to be scaffold or scaffold replacements. You may remove the ends of scaffold branches annually to keep the tree at a desired size.
Scaffold branches do eventually get old and slow or stop producing fruit. When you identify an under performing scaffold branch, remove it and cultivate a replacement.
Knowing when to harvest Asian pears is much easier than European pears. When the predicted time of ripening arrives, taste one of the larger fruit on the tree. When they taste good, harvest them before your neighbors get to them. Ripe fruit also often have a slight softness to them. If you get too many fruit, bring them to Swansons and we will help you eat them.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
The best defense against pests and diseases is to provide the plants with lots of sun, air drainage, adequate water drainage for the soil, and deep supplemental irrigation in the summer. Pears are susceptible to certain diseases and pests, and monitoring for problems is a good idea.
Good garden hygiene is also important. Use sharp, clean pruners to prevent damage and the spread of disease from other plants. Cleaning up dead leaves beneath the plants in the spring is also a good practice. This will help eliminate any diseases or pests which may have overwintered there.
Pears need soil with moderate fertility. Frosts during the bud and blossom period can damage the flowers and reduce yields significantly. Try to locate pears on a slope for better air drainage, or on the north side of a building to retard flowering. Space standard trees 20 to 25 feet apart, dwarf trees 12 to 15 feet apart.
Keep young trees weed-free, and water well during dry spells to help the roots get established quickly. Fertilize lightly in early spring of the second and succeeding years about 2 weeks before bloom. In moderately fertile soils, use ammonium nitrate at 1/8 pound or its equivalent per tree, multiplied by the number of years the tree has been set. Use less if you have highly fertile soil. If shoot growth on the tree is more than 12 inches in a season, use less fertilizer the following spring. If the leaves are pale green or yellowish in midsummer, add slightly more fertilizer the next year. Be careful applying fertilizer around your pear trees. Too much nitrogen promotes succulent growth, which allows fire blight disease bacteria to enter the tree’s tender young shoots more easily.
Also, pears require several months to harden off in the fall. High nitrogen levels after mid-summer delay this hardening-off process. If your pear tree is located in a lawn area, cut back on turf fertilizer applications when you feed your lawn so as not to give your trees too much nitrogen.
Dwarf pears are often trained to a central leader. Semi-dwarf and standard-size trees also yield best when trained to a central leader, but they are usually trained to a modified leader because that form is easier to maintain with a larger tree. In an area prone to fire blight, you can prune your tree to multiple leaders. That way an infected leader can be removed while the others keep growing.
Pears are trickier to prune well than apples because all their branches grow nearly straight up. This growth habit promotes weak branches and dense foliage around the center of the tree, which encourages fire blight, fungus diseases, and pear psylla. Once you get the knack of pruning, the results will be worth the trouble. Prune regularly, though generally very lightly. Spreaders will help direct the tree’s scaffold branches to a more outward, horizontal direction, and will encourage early development of fruiting spurs. Fortunately, pears are easier to train than most trees. Start in early summer of the first year. Toothpicks or clothespins can be used when branches are small; later, use wooden slats with the ends notched in a “V” to hold them in place. Sharp ends of spreaders can poke into the trunk and branch slightly, but won’t hurt the tree. (An alternative practiced by some growers in the West is to hold branches down with a string tied to a clip in the ground). Pears bear their fruit mainly from terminal buds on short branches or spurs. Mature trees need only light pruning during the dormant season, mostly to thin out unfruitful, diseased, or crowded branches.
Avoid heading back cuts during dormant pruning since this will result in new, long, unfruitful shoots. If you have a variety that bears at an early age, such as ‘Bosc’ or ‘Bartlett’, remove fruit developing on the ends of thin fragile branches to keep the limbs from breaking.
Pollination can be a problem with pears because bees are not partial to their blossoms; pear nectar contains less than 10 percent sugar, compared to nearly 50 percent in apple nectar, and pears often flower when it’s too cold (below 55° F) or wet for the bees to fly. To make matters worse, pear blossoms are fertile only for a short time. Pollination is most likely if the weather is warm during pear blossom time. If you’re fortunate enough to live near an ocean coast or large lake, the cooling influence of the water in the spring promotes later blooming of pears and facilitates pollination. Ask other pear growers if pollination in your area is erratic from year to year; if so, you may need a beehive when your trees are coming into their bearing years for consistent fruit set. Move it to within 50 feet of your pear trees when blossoming starts. Even with a beehive, you may have occasional years of near-total crop failure owing to frosts or poor flying weather for the bees.
How to Identify Pear Trees
There are over 800 species of pear trees, and many of them are quite similar. All pear trees have medium sized, oval-shaped green leaves that turn colors and drop in the fall. All pear trees have white blooms in clusters of five. Some are ornamental, while others do produce edible pears. Identifying a particular variety of pear tree comes down to thinking about where you live and carefully examining the fruit of the tree.
Consider where you live. If you live in an urban area and your pear tree is located along a street, there is a good chance you have a Bradford pear tree. Bradford pears are very popular in urban areas for their tolerance of pollution. The tree could also be a Chanticleer pear, which in recent years have begun to replace Bradford pears.
Smell your tree when it blooms. Some ornamental pear trees have a rotten smell to their beautiful flowers. If the flowers smell “fishy,” you can narrow your pear tree down to one of several ornamental pears.
Look at the size and shape of your tree. Callery pear trees can grow up to 40 feet tall, but other pear trees usually mature at around 20 feet tall. Common pear trees have branches that are more spread out than that of the Bradford or Chanticleer pear, which tend to grow in a narrower, oval shape.
Examine the fruit. Ornamental pear trees, such as the Bradford, produce fruit that is small (about a half-inch in diameter), dark and hard. Birds love them, but they are not the type of “pear” that a person would want to eat. Each variety of fruiting pear trees produces a distinctive type of pear. The Bartlett pear, for example, is large, soft and bright yellow when ripe. The sugar pear is smaller, with thick red or green skin. Examining the pear is the best way to determine what type of pear tree it is. For photos of many different types of pears, visit the link in the Resource section.
Pear Tree Planting Guide
When picking a location for your tree, try to find a well-drained area with sandy loam soil. This is the best for pears, but as long as there is good drainage your tree should thrive. Place your tree in full sun for the best growth and production rate. Avoid frost pockets- trees may be damaged by unseasonable frosts.
Pears prefer slightly acid soil (pH 5.9-6.5). Now dig a hole about three times the size of your pot and the same depth as the root ball. Set the soil you have dug out aside and mix it 50/50 with aged mushroom compost, aged manure, or rotten pine bark. Remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball. Cut any roots that swirl around the edges of the root ball. Place the plant in the planting hole and replace the soil with the mix 50/50 and gently pack down the dirt. To avoid planting too deep make sure the plant is at a position with the top most roots at the soil line. Next we need to thoroughly water the tree to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets. DO NOT PUT FERTILIZER IN THE PLANTING HOLE! Only apply fertilizer at the correct time of year.
If desired, construct a water basin at the base of the tree about 36 inches in diameter. Mulch in the spring & summer time should be about 4-6 inches deep. Keep mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the tree. Good mulch for pears in the spring, is a mix of compost and weed-free hay, while summer use weed-free hay or grass clippings alone.
Spacing for pears should be at least 15 feet apart but no more than 20 feet apart in order to cross-pollinate.
Chemical or organic, whatever you may choose makes sure that it contains iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, copper and boron. These elements are crucial to the plants growth. Application rates may vary. See chart below:
10-10-10 or 10-0-10 with minerals
1 cup per each year of tree’s life
-Max out at 9 cups for mature tree
Espoma Citrus Tone (Organic)
6 cups for 1 year old
10 cups for 2 year old (4-6ft)
18 cups for 7-9ft tree
24 cups for tree over 9ft
The fertilizer should be spread under the entire canopy avoiding the 5 inches closest to the trunk. Zones 8a, 9, and 10– fertilize 3 times each year in late February, late May, and late July/early August. For plants further north (Zones 6 and 7), fertilize in March or after bud break. NEVER FERTILIZE AFTER AUGUST (June in Zones 6-7)! This can promote growth too late in the year and damage the tree if it freezes.
Excess fertilizer or pruning stimulates too much vegetative growth, promoting fireblight. An average of 6 inches of shoot growth on bearing tree is optimal. If trees need to be pruned heavily (for an older tree that needs rejuvenating), don’t fertilize for a year or two.
The first year is a critical time for your new pears. It has not had time to establish itself yet and therefore is not as strong as an older tree. To prevent the tree from dying, it must be watered twice a week in light soil and once a week in clay soil. Be sure to soak the entire root system deeply, this will take about 40-50 minutes. For best growth and production, pears should receive at least one inch of water a week. During dry spells water is mandatory. If not properly watered during droughts fruit may drop prematurely. Keep at least 4 feet around the pear tree clear of grass and weeds to reduce the competition for water.
The pears natural tendency is to grow upright, creating narrow V’s that tend to break under heavy fruit loads. To avoid this, training your tree early is crucial. Pegging the tree will insure it can bear heavy fruit loads. When planting, select 3-4 scaffold branches spaced equally around the trunk and remove other branches flush with the trunk. These scaffold limbs should be pegged down to insure a form that will bear heavy fruit loads. Pruning these limbs will also help the tree to get good air circulation in the interior. For the next 5 years keep training your pear tree. Pruning will teach the tree to grow upward and outward, by thinning the crossing branches and the ones that grow inward toward the trees center. The trees can be held in their allotted space by mold and hold cuts, heading cuts are made into two year old wood. Do this by topping back the main scaffold limb to a weaker outward growing shoot.
With a mature tree it is better to prune during its dormant season. Thinning out branches and head back long shoots as needed to maintain the trees height. Remove water sprouts. If left un-pruned the tree will get bushy and lack vigor and produce small and poor quality pears. While pruning remove and damaged or diseased branches.
To avoid any spread of fireblight, prune the blackened shoots as soon as they appear. Cut at least 8 inches below the infected area, and bleach your pruning shears between cuts. After you have cut all the infected limbs off, burn them. This will prevent any way for the disease to spread.
Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, with a bite into a juicy home-grown pear. Be sure to pick your pears when the background color starts to lighten. Most pears will turn a beautiful yellow-gold when they are ready to be picked. If they aren’t fully ripe yet, put them in to a brown paper bag and it will speed up the process. This will also help to avoid large grit cells in the ripe fruit.