The pear tree is widely cultivated across the world. Its fruit is juicier than that of apple trees and it is generally softer in texture. The fruits can be eaten raw, used in cooking, juiced, or made into cider or perry (a traditional alcoholic drink made with fruit of rare trees grown in south west England). The pear tree belongs in the same plant family as the apple tree (Maloideae, a subfamily within Rosaceae), and bears similar flowers.
Pears trees are medium sized, and reach to up to 17m tall. They normally have a tall, narrow crown, although a few species are shrubby. Most pears trees are deciduous (they lose their leaves in autumn), but some species growing in southeast Asia are evergreen (they keep their leaves throughout winter).
The flowers are white, although some feature a yellow or pink tint. The fruit shape differs across the world, but in Europe the classic shape is that of an oval with a bulbous end.
Types of Pear Tree
The breeding of pears has not been on such a large scale as apples. Some new varieties have been introduced, however, including the Bristol Cross and the Merton Pride.
Virtually half of Britain's pear orchards have been destroyed since 1970. This has resulted in the reduction of many cultivars, including the oddly named Vicar of Winkfield, which had pale yellow flesh and is firm, dry and woolly in texture. This variety can still be bought to order from specialist suppliers, but is no longer grown commercially.
Varieties of Pear Include:
Concorde – self fertile new variety. Taste is similar to the Comice pear but it is much easier to grow
Conference – well-known, reliable pear, most common variety grown commercially
Worcester Black – originates in Worcestershire in the 16th Century
Cultivating Pear Trees
Cultivated pears are derived from a handful of wild species distributed throughout Europe and western Asia. In England the trees can often be found growing wild, where seeds are spread by birds or mammals that have eaten the fruit.
The pear is very similar to the apple in cultivation, propagation and pollination. It is normally reproduced by grafting. This process involves growing a tree from seed, and grafting the cutting of another variety on to it. This maintains the specific type of pear grown, as those trees grown from seed can produce a lower quality of pear, and often an entirely new species.
Pear trees are naturally very deep rooting. As such they suit a light, sandy soil. However many pear cuttings are grafted onto quince trees, which are more shallow rooted. These are more suited to growing in large pots and damp, clay soils.
Growing Pear Trees
Pear trees can be grown in orchards, large pots or as espalier trees against a wall or trellis. Like apple trees, if you choose to grow your own pears you will need at least two trees to ensure the flowers are fertilised to produce fruit.
For espalier-trained trees you can buy a year-old tree and train it yourself, by pruning the branches so the tree grows flat against the wall in a fan shape or along horizontal lines. You can also buy trees that are two or three years old and already trained. This will have the additional advantage of bearing fruit more quickly.
They are best planted in autumn, and should be placed roughly 10m apart, although dwarf trees can be spaced just 6m apart. They should be placed in a sunny position in well-drained, rich soil.
How to Choose Your Pear Tree
Before buying your pear tree, consider what size (height and spread) is appropriate for your garden. The size of the tree can be determined by its rootstock (the lower part of the tree on to which different varieties are grafted). If its rootstock is a traditional pear variety it will need more room than if the tree is grafted on to quince stock. The label should also tell you how fast the tree grows and how high.
Planting Your Pear Tree
Dig a hole, a little wider and deeper than the roots of the young tree. Part-fill it with home-grown compost and place the roots in it. Tie the tree to a support and fill in the hole with soil, firming gently. Water well, and ensure it is well watered during dry spells. You should have pears within two years.
Pear trees provide years of fresh fruit, and there are so many varieties available that you can’t buy commercially. If you have room, treat yourself to one or two heritage varieties, they’ll provide interest as well as delicious fruit.
@Dez - have you considered pear midge? Did you look inside when your pears turned black? If so, you'd find small creamy coloured maggots which are the pupae. It's not an easy problem to treat so you'd have to research it further to find out.
Cal - 20-Jan-17 @ 10:42 AM
I have a young conference pear grown as an espalier on a north east facing wall. In year 4 it produced a dozen large well formed pears, last year they set but all turned black remaining on the tree for a long time. I wonder what went wrong. The tree is also suffering from pear blister mite in the early season - is there anything I can do about this?
Thanking you for your help.
Dez - 19-Jan-17 @ 7:57 AM
@JI - How about the Wild Service Tree (sorbus torminalis) ? Which used to be more common, but are less so now. They are tall, but have maple, rather than willow-shaped leaves. It flowers white in ealy summer and has small pear-shaped fruits. The bark is smooth/greyish, but darker brown underneath. Regards, Pat.
PSGH - 1-Nov-16 @ 11:57 AM
A willow like tree on our drive has tiny and green pear shaped fruits about 1inch long which turn brown after falling and rot within 48hours.what do you think this tree is?
Jl - 31-Oct-16 @ 4:08 PM
I moved my Comice pear tree and leaves have gone brown Should I be worried
Janeta - 24-Oct-16 @ 9:46 AM
jj - Your Question:
I have a pears tree which gives us lots of delicious large conference pears but the leaves look awful They have small brown lumps on them.what are these and how can I help my tree please.
One suggestion is pear rust, please see RHS link here. I hope this answers your question.
FruitExpert - 21-Oct-16 @ 12:07 PM
I have a pears tree which gives us lots of delicious large conference pears but the leaves look awful They have small brown lumps on them .what are these and how can I help my tree please .
jj - 20-Oct-16 @ 4:56 PM
@Casper - hard to say, could be from a tree that's years old, hasn't been looked after and is in poor soil. Had the tree been looked after and nourished your pears may have been resplendent. Anyone any other ideas what this tree might be? Andy.
AJH78 - 20-Oct-16 @ 11:13 AM
Just found a pear tree with pears that are small, similar to a golf ball size, seem pretty inedible, not much to bite off and pretty bitter to the taste.Would you happen to know the type b any chance?
Casper - 19-Oct-16 @ 12:24 PM
I have a pear tree, that is sort of narrow the branches do not stretch out like most pear trees, the leaves are dark green year around in the late spring early summer it grows real small brown pears on them about the size of a tiny nut.It does not flower like most ornament trees do, I was wonder what type of pear tree this might be?I had it for three years now and it is about 12 feet tall.If I could I would included a picture of it.Also it does not change color it just stays dark green leaves and usually it does not lose it leaves.
hughpuppies - 19-Oct-16 @ 8:16 AM
@Lea - you can't really stop the tree blossoming - it's all to do with our freak weather! Cold snaps and then the tree thinking it's spring again.
PeteT - 29-Sep-16 @ 11:56 AM
My conference pear tree came into blossom last autumn then had some tiny pears which fell off. all summer we thought the tree was dying as it had brown and falling leaves but now has started to blossom again. how do I fix this problem?
Lea - 28-Sep-16 @ 10:04 AM
i have a linconite pear tree it has one pear getting ripe it is september and it is setting on some blossums , can you tell me what is going on with this tree
irish - 19-Sep-16 @ 1:29 AM
I have a 5 year old williams pear. Last year I had lots of ant bred aphids but had a few good fruit which promply rotted from the inside within 2 weeks of picking.
This year I installed sticky bark rings and also sprayed at time of flowering with a general insecticide. However, the fruit are few, shrunken and many fell off. The remainders are all cracked, small and mostly rotten before picking.
What do you think?
pip - 18-Sep-16 @ 3:48 PM
I have two different pear trees,and this year they produce pears that the other tree should
have produced,I would like to know if this normal.they have switched fruits.
pete - 26-Aug-16 @ 12:47 AM
We have a conference pear tree and it produces pears but they turn black when very young and drop off.
Evie - 20-Aug-16 @ 2:53 PM
@Emzypear - if they are uniform in size and always the same, they may be perry pears used for making pear cider.
MoirAA64 - 15-Aug-16 @ 2:02 PM
I have a tree in my garden, it is about 20-25ft tall and has loads of pears every year only they are very small, never individually reaching more than two inches tall, what are they? Are they edible? Thanks
Emzypear - 14-Aug-16 @ 8:31 PM
question, my pear tree is old,but for the last 3-4 years it has lost all or most of its leaves around the middle of the summer (it's aug 9th right now and she down more than halfway).
the tree has not produced any pears the last 3 years and the year before when the last full pear baring it lost it's leaves then re-sprouted them then lost the pears.
is my pear tree just old or is there something I can do to help it out?
steve - 9-Aug-16 @ 10:43 PM
I have a small pear tree we got last year and it's in a pot.It has grown a little pear the size of a pear drop, but the tree itself has had leaves with black ends and all the leaves to the top of the tree (about 6 inches) all fell off leaving just a stalk.I cut it above a node and now wonder if this was the wrong or right thing to do.We are watering it plenty as the soil always seems dry even after a downpour
Helly - 14-Jul-16 @ 6:48 PM
Tony - Your Question:
I have a small pear tree that does not bear any fruit, I assume that is because it is not getting pollinated. Is this necessarily the case? and, if so, as there is nowhere else I can plant another to get cross pollination should I move it on to someone else who has other pear trees? I have no idea what variety it is but am I correct in assuming that all the commonly found pear trees need a pollinator.
You don't say how long you have had your tree, but a small tree will usually take 3-4 years to bear fruit. Many trees these days are self-pollinators, but most pear trees need a pollinator. If your fruit trees have an abundance of blossoms but fail to develop fruit, the most likely causes are related to pollination. However, issues such overfertilisation, root competition and weather also could be a cause. It is difficult to advise on without knowing the situation fully, so you may need to do some further research on the specific variety of your tree.
FruitExpert - 7-Jul-16 @ 12:32 PM
I have a small pear tree that does not bear any fruit, I assume that is because it is not getting pollinated. Is this necessarily the case? and, if so, as there is nowhere else I can plant another to get cross pollination should I move it on to someone else who has other pear trees?
I have no idea what variety it is but am I correct in assuming that all the commonly found pear trees need a pollinator.
Tony - 6-Jul-16 @ 2:07 PM
JT - Your Question:
Hello, We've noticed what appears to be pear rust on the entirety of our pear tree. Is there any way to treat the tree or will we have to sadly cut it down?
I have included an RHS link here which should explain further.
FruitExpert - 20-Jun-16 @ 12:57 PM
Hello,We've noticed what appears to be pear rust on the entirety of our pear tree.Is there any way to treat the tree or will we have to sadly cut it down?
JT - 19-Jun-16 @ 6:18 PM
Macky - Your Question:
Hi. I have a two year old conference pear tree, which appeared to be doing well, but now the leaves are turning black. Also, my apple tree leaves are going brown and curling.Any advice would be gratefully appreciated.
Apple and pear scab are two fungal diseases that cause dark, scabby marks on leaves and fruit. It's always difficult to advise as there could be a number of reasons. If still unsure I would take a leaf in a transparent plastic bag to your local garden centre and ask for some help from staff.
FruitExpert - 16-Jun-16 @ 10:32 AM
Hi. I have a two year old conference pear tree, which appeared to be doing well, but now the leaves are turning black . Also, my apple tree leaves are going brown and curling .
Any advice would be gratefully appreciated .
Macky - 15-Jun-16 @ 6:44 AM
David - Your Question:
My apple tree - which is supposedly self fertile - does not seem to be producing any fruit, and my gardener, who specializes in fruit, recommended planting either another apple tree nearby (which makes sense) or a pear - which surprised me.have you ever heard of this, where a pollinating pear can get a neighboring apple tree to set fertilize and set fruit?
Yes, while it is always better that an apple tree is pollinated by an apple tree, but you can have apple/pear cross-pollination as long as both trees are simultaneously in bloom.
FruitExpert - 8-Jun-16 @ 10:58 AM
My apple tree - which is supposedly self fertile - does not seem to be producing any fruit, and my gardener, who specializes in fruit, recommended planting either another apple tree nearby (which makes sense) or a pear - which surprised me...have you ever heard of this, where a pollinating pear can get a neighboring apple tree to set fertilize and set fruit?
David - 7-Jun-16 @ 12:52 PM
I have been given a pear tree I dug a big hole watered it then placed the tree in ,then back filled with soil trod it all firm then gave it a good water.It had fruit on it last year but since putting it in my garden it's leaves have dropped down and now the leaves are going black what can I do to help it back to health again please.
marty - 27-May-16 @ 12:37 PM
My 4yr old pear tree has never given fruit. Last year all the leaves had loads of what looked like a black dash (-) inside the leaf. I could not identify the disease so I took all the leaves off, burned them and sprayed the tree with a bordeux mix. This year it looked healthy, but the problem is back and has started on the leaves at the ends of each branch. Could it be ant larvae. Can you suggest a treatment please. My friends pear tree has the same problem.