Pear Trees (Pyrus communis)
Pear trees are rarely grown principally as ornamental plantings for residential yards. There are many other flowering trees that are just as attractive and that are easier to care for. However, none of these offers the combination of lovely flowers, tasty fruits and autumn foliage that pear trees do. The Common Pear (Pyrus communis) is from Europe and Asia originally, but has been in the United States for a long time. It is often used as understock for commercial orchard trees and has found its way into yards and gardens throughout the country. Pear trees require less spraying than peaches, plums, or apples and are easy to train to fit small spaces in a yard.
Height and Spread
Pear trees come in two sizes. Dwarf trees grow less than 15 feet tall but can be pruned to hold at 8 to 10 feet. Standard trees will reach 30 to 40 feet, but can be pruned to stay at 20 feet. Typically, their root spread will be at least half again as far as the distance from the trunk to where the ends of the branches reach (the dripline), and can reach as much as twice this distance. The age of a mature pear tree can be estimated by measuring its diameter 4.5 feet above the ground (measure the circumference and divide by 3.14). Multiply the diameter (in inches) by 3 to get the approximate age.
Flowers and Fruit
Individual pear blossoms are about 1 1/4 inches across. Pale white, they appear in delicate clusters in early spring before leaves emerge. The fruit is on the small side, about 2 inches long on average. They are characteristically pear-shaped, and green. They ripen to yellow, though some varieties are red, and the yellows are often russeted and blushed with red or pink. Dwarf trees will bear fruit 3 to 5 years after planting. After 5 years a dwarf tree will yield about a bushel of pears each year. Standard trees will not bear fruit much before 6 to 8 years after planting, but then will yield 5 to 10 bushels in an average harvest.
Pear tree leaves are shaped like elongated eggs. Foliage is a glossy light green in season, showing a good fall display in October. Some types of pear trees have silvery or greyish leaves. Some types of common pear trees bear thorns.
Where Pears Grow Best
Pears trees can usually be grown wherever apples are successful, though they are somehwat less resistant than apples to extremes of heat and cold. Common pear is comfortable as far north as the Great Lakes and northern New York, as well as along the Atlantic Coast into Maine (zone 4). Properly cared for, they can withstand winter temperatures as low as -10F.
Pears come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and can be used in a number of ways. The most popular varieties for fresh eating are Bartlett, Gorham, Honeysweet, Harrow Delight, Harvest Queen, Seckel, Conference, Sheldon, Magness, Kieffer, Dana Hovey, Bosc, Winter Nelis, and Anjou. Those varieties considered best for canning include Bartlett, Gorham, and Seckel. The varieties most resistant to the troublesome fire blight are Comice, Honeysweet, Harrow Delight, Harvest Queen, Moonglow, Magness, Seckel, Starking Delicious, Sure Crop, Waite, and Winter Nelis.
Plant pear trees as ornamental specimens around the yard. Do not relegate them to the food garden area or back area. Planted in rows, dwarf types can serve as screens. Pear trees are well adapted to espalier training along a south facing wall. They are a good fruit tree for small gardens.