Pear Trees – A Guide To Growing & Caring For Pears in the UK

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 pear trees grown in south west England.

pear tree in fruit
Pear trees are widely grown all over the world.

The pear tree belongs in the same plant family as the apple tree (Maloideae, a subfamily within Rosaceae), and bears similar blossom to its cousin. The small white flowers bloom in early spring. Pear trees in the UK are deciduous so lose all their leaves during the autumn months.

Pears are ready to harvest by October and these trees produce their blossom in early spring. The flowers are white, although some feature a yellow or pink tint. The fruit shape differs across the world, but in the UK and Europe the classic shape is that of an oval with a bulbous end.

Pear trees can grow as big as 7 or 8 metres if you grow from seed but the average garden-sized tree grows to around 3 to 4 metres. They normally have a tall, narrow crown, although a few species are shrubby.

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Types of Pear Tree in the UK

The breeding of pears has not been carried out on such a large scale as apples. Some new varieties have been introduced, however, including the Bristol Cross and the Merton Pride. They can be largely classed into two varieties: cooking or dessert pears.

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.

Popular 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

Pear Tree Identification – What Type of Tree Do You Have?

It’s not unusual to inherit a pear tree when moving house. If you’re lucky enough to have found a fruiting tree in your new property, you might like to identify which variety of tree it is. Might it be ornamental or will it produce edible fruit? You might also not be sure if the tree in your garden is an apple or a pear. Their blossom is very similar, and until you see fruit you might not be able to tell.

Do I Have An Apple Tree or A Pear Tree?

There’s a number of things you can look at to try and identify whether your tree is an apple or a pear. Our quick guide takes a look at what a pear tree looks like at key growth stages.

Pear Leaves

The leaves of a pear tree are broad and flat in appearance. They have a rounded base and a serrated edge that looks like double teeth. You’re looking for saw like serrations arranged in distinct pairs. Glossy on top and smooth underneath, the leaves grow singly on the stems coming from the branch.

Pear Bark

For identification purposes, you need to check the colour and texture of bark on your fruit tree. Pear bark on a young tree will be smooth, whilst a more mature tree will develop a rougher texture as it ages. Bark colour will be grey-brown.

Pear Blossom

If your tree is in blossom, you can check for subtle differences that let you know if it is an apple or a pear tree. A pear tree will have have small white blossom with five petals. An apple tree tends to have blossom with a slightly pink hue, whilst pears will be pure white.

Pear Fruit

Whilst pear fruit is still small, it can look quite similar to that of the apple. If you check the texture and find it to be rough, you’ve got a pear. Smooth fruit indicates an apple tree!

What Type of Pear Tree Do I Have?

If you already know your fruit tree is going to produce pears, but aren’t sure which variety it is it can be difficult to identify. It’s probably easiest to wait until your tree has produced fruit before using an online pear identification guide to work out what type you have.

If you have an ornamental pear tree which has been cultivated purely for it’s blossom, your first clue will be the huge amount of blossom the tree will produce. Some ornamental varieties also have a distinct smell which may not be all that pleasant. If your blossom smells a bit fishy, you are unlikely to get any fruit from your tree. Finally, an ornamental tree will produce small brown fruit. The fruit of the ornamental pear tree will be edible, it just won’t taste great. Probably best to leave them for the birds.

How To Grow Pear Trees

Although a fairly robust and hardy tree, pear trees still need care and attention over the the year for healthy growth. It’s this care that will give you a well established and reliable crop each year. Pear trees are easy to establish which goes some way to explaining why so many of them exist across wild parts of the UK. They are also common in gardens due to their low-maintenance nature.

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.

When To Plant Pear Trees

Getting the timing right in regards to planting a pear tree is key to successful growing. If your pear tree is in a pot you can pretty much plant it any time of the year – winter is best however. For bare-root stock, you need to plant trees between Autumn and early Spring.

Where To Plant Pear Trees

Pears need plenty of sun, plenty of shelter, and wherever possible, plant pear trees higher up to reduce the risk of frost damage. They prefer well-drained soil that isn’t too shallow. South-facing is the perfect location for your pear tree and they don’t do well in areas susceptible to waterlogging. Pears should be placed roughly 10m apart, although dwarf trees can be spaced just 6m apart.

How To Plant a Pear Tree

It’s relatively easy to plant a 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.

How To Prune Pear Trees

Pruning is so important for your pear tree’s health and this should take place twice a year. Pruning of a pear tree should first occur in winter, and the task is to ensure only healthy branches remain on the tree. You should also ensure any over-crowding is dealt with at this time. You can also cut back branches by around a third of their length. In the summer any pruning you do should concentrate on allowing the fruit to be well exposed for optimal growth.

When To Harvest Pear Trees

Pears can be harvested around September / October time and the fruit should be picked before becoming soft. Pears like a period of storage before being eaten and this makes for a nicer tasting fruit. Early pear varieties will be best eaten a week after picking whereas later varieties can last a few months in storage. Varieties include Conference, Worcester Black, and Concorde.

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 tree 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.

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.

Pear FAQ’s

If you’re interested in growing pears in your fruit garden, our pear knowledgebase covers off many of the frequently asked questions about this versatile fruit.

How Big Will A Pear Tree Grow?

The size will come down to how your pear tree was planted and how well it grows in your chosen spot. Generally speaking, a bush-shaped garden pear tree will grow to around 3 to 4 metres. However, one grown from seed can be much less predictable and can be as big as 8 metres tall – yep, ladders will be required for harvesting!

How Fast Will A Pear Tree Grow?

Fruit will normally grow on your pear tree during its 4th year but it depends on the rootstock used.

How Do You Pollinate Pear Trees & Do You Need Two Trees To Produce Fruit?

There are a few pear tree varieties that are partly self-pollinating , including conference pears. However, they all do best when supported by another tree to allow a fuller crop to be produced. It’s important to pick two trees that flower at the same time when pollinating your pear tree.

How to Grow Pears From Seed?

Pear pips should be popped inside a resealable bag with some potting soil and then refrigerated for 4 months. Seeds should be kept moist but not wet and this process will mimic the winter season. When you’ve taken the pips out of the fridge you can then pot them about 1 inch deep. Pop one pip in each pot and then put them in a warm and sunny location indoors. Once they begin to germinate and have grown to a decent height, you can plant outdoors.

Are Pear Trees Grafted?  

In the UK, Quince A rootstock is most widely used for grafting pears. Grafting pears provides the best results in terms of the fruit crop.

Do All Pear Trees Smell Bad?

Although pretty in bloom, pear trees don’t all smell as nice as they look – in fact, some just quite simply stink! In the UK, Plymouth Pear trees can have an unpleasant odour and you can usually smell them from afar. The smelliest pear tree is the Bradford pear tree, whose odour is described as fishy, however, these aren’t grown in the UK.

Once you have your glorious crop of pears, you’ll need our pear recipes to use up your glut of fruit!

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