There is a perception that Pear trees are only really suitable for the Southern counties and more favoured area’s of the country. There is an element of truth to this but its not entirely true so don’t’ despair if youre reading this in windswept Northumbria harbouring a deep seated desire to grow your own delicious Pear trees!
With a bit of forethought and consideration you can grow these fruits pretty much anywhere. You can buy quality Pear trees here.
It’s certainly true that Pears are that bit less tolerant and hardy than Apples. It doesn’t help that the blossom is earlier – the farther north you are the more likely late frosts are and the beautiful blossoms of the Pear are therefore more likely to be hit. Frosted blossoms seldom result in a decent yield.
Giving a bit of thought to exactly where you are going to plant goes a long way to success with these fruits and they certainly deserve an aspect that’s a bit more promising. Personally I think a perfectly ripe and juicy pear is an unrivalled eating experience and when they do well an established Pear tree can be Lady Bountiful personified.
Siting for the best results
Sunshine and lots of it. Shelter from prevailing winds. Soil that isn’t too claggy or cold. Those are the most important things. Therefore avoid sites that are shaded for more than one quarter of the day, avoid siting at the bottom of a slope and avoid exposed areas with no shelter belt around them. I guess really we’re talking about free standing ‘orchard style trees here. You may be restricted in exactly where you can plant so this is where variety selection plays an important part. Later I will guide you through the most suitable varieties – those which can cope with less perfect conditions and still reward.
In a garden setting things start to look a lot more promising and you will find it easier to find or manipulate conditions to suit. There are also growing methods that will make it easier to give good conditions.
Selecting the right growing method
It makes sense where possible to afford your Pears the protection of a wall or even a fence. The reflected heat goes a long way to protecting your trees from the worst of the weather and it also helps the fruits to ripen properly which is very important because pears more than any other fruit like a warm Autumn to develop and ripen well. So if you have a sunny South or West facing wall or fence – use it! East and North facing aspects are useless for Pears and will not improve performance.
There are three main training methods for walls and pears. The number one most recommended method as far as I am concerned is the cordon – it’s the easiest pruning to master anyone can do it and the trees take up minimal space. You can plant cordons just 2.5 apart! This enables you to cultivate a range of tempting varieties that ripen over longer period and also enables you to choose a good selection of pollinating partners. So even a standard 6’ fencing panel can be a home to two or even three trees at a push. Cordons used to be grown at an angle but these days its more common to see them grown as upright trees. If your’e a traditionalist you can still grow them at a 45 degree angle – if you prefer! All varieties are suitable for cordon growing; pruning consists of simply trimming back the side shoots to 4-6” once during late Summer. The height can be controlled by pruning the leader at the same time if desired.
The espalier style tree is the most coveted of wall trained trees but pruning and training is a bit more involved. It’s a nice symmetrical tree with two or three ‘tiered’ branches and just one main stem. You will need considerably more space for this type of tree – not less than 6-7’ in width and the same in height.
A fan trained tree is a lovely shapely tree; it will require the same space as an espalier. If you aren’t familiar with this type of tree imagine the outline of a dove’s tail and ‘that’s pretty much the shape of a fan trained tree. Again all varieties are suitable in this way and training is a bit easier than with the espalier style. Basically pruning a maiden tree hard back to near’ the base will result in some nice strong semi upright basal growths will will naturally form a fan shape with some selection and removal.
Another growing method you can consider – and one that doesn’t need a wall - is the quaint stepover method. So called because this very low tree – easily the smallest of all – can simply be stepped over! At only 18” tall it suits border edging and would of course be an option for more exposed areas. There are only two laterals – one each side of the main stem which are trained out usually to between 2-3’ each side [making a tree of up to 6’ length when fully grown] The advantage this can give to less promising conditions is that the developing fruits will receive more of the available sunshine and therefore ripen better and have better colour too.
Growing in containers
This is a good option because you can situate the trees in a sheltered corner or patio. The trees receive more sunshine and are easier to protect during especially severe spells – the blossom can be covered with fleece or the whole tree just stood in a greenhouse or well lit shed for a day or two.
Any varieties can be grown in pots – either as small bush trees or cordons/columns. Remember to choose Quince C stock as this is the smallest growing and make sure your container is not less than 20-24”.
Pear trees in containers will ripen and mature earlier thanb those in the open so this is also an especially good way of growing those later ripening cultivars.
This is probably the number one most important aspect of your planting plan. Some Pear varieties will never do especially well in the North whereas others will give reliably. In order of merit these are my 6 top recommendations.
The reason this variety is so, so suitable for Northern climes is because the flowers open in flushes all over the tree – it’s like an insurance policy, if one flush gets frost damaged you’ve got more coming along that can still provide a crop. The tree is strong growing and fundamentally hardy – and nit’s self fertile too so if you only plan on planting one Pear this would be an absolutely ideal choice. The fruits are large, of good quality and quite crispy, pleasantly sweet and juicy.
Another more recent English raised variety and another self fertile one. The blossoms have shown a degree of frost tolerance in trials so it tends to shrug off bad weather. It’s naturally compact in growth which makes it easy to manage. Fruits ripen late September and will keep for a month or more. Excellent sweet taste, the skin is completely pale green, yellowing slightly when fully ripe.
Although quite a small/weak growing tree – which you wouldn’t normally expect to be so great for less promising climates – it’ actually pretty tough and tends to produce reliably no matter what. A valuable late keeper with smallish richly flavoured fruits – an eating sensation!
An old hardy campaigner and a great orchard tree, this strong upright grower bears sizeable blocky, weighty fruits which ripen to a juicy tenderness with a sublime perfumed aroma. This is always one of our most reliable trees, does well across all growing methods and easy to grow. Smooth skinned with greenish white inner flesh, fruits can develop a rosy flush on the sunny side.
An obvious choice but remains one of the better varieties for Northern areas. Hardly needing description, it is self pollinating and for use throughout October and November. Sweet and mild taste, perdoimnantly pale green with some slight russetting.
Capable of heavy crops on a vigorous growing impervious tree. Great flavour and keeps a while – definitely worth considering, although as a triploid variety is best grown as part of a group of trees.
Others to consider include Beth, Ayrshire Lass, Cannock, Williams, Onward.
The way in which you choose to grow your Pears will affect rootstock choice, happily there’s a range to suit all applications and requirements.
For larger scale planting – traditional orchard, paddock etc including poorer soil– for Northern areas I would unquestionably recommend BA29 or as a secondary choice Quince A. These are vigorously growing traditional rootstocks that will impart an added degree of hardiness. Expect trees 15-20’ or more on maturity.
For wall training – be it espalier, fan, or cordon – Quince A stock is recommended first and foremost as it’s easy to work with. Don’t worry about it’s added vigour as these are restrictive growing methods you are using. Quince C can also be used especially for cordons.
For small ‘bush’ trees and container growing Quince C is the most compact generally cultivated rootstock for Pears. You can keep it quite easily to 6-8’, less in a container.
For stepovers – Quince C only should be used or the new Pyrodwarf stock where it is available.
When to plant
You might assume I would recommend against winter planting but this isn’t necessarily so. Where the soil is workable get them in – planting bare root stock in the depths of winter is easy, the trees receive no shock and they don’t need any after watering. Pear trees are hardy enough when completely dormant so living in Scotland shouldn’t deter you from planting during what has always been the favoured time of year for fruit tree planting. Of course an earlier October or November planting is ideal and you can also consider planting container grown stock during late Spring -Summer; this has the advantage of allowing the trees to establish before the winter & you can plant during what is usually a better more clement time of year, but remember they will require regular watering until Autumn, to get them established, even in the wetter Northern area’s.
I hope this article has given you the encouragement, knowledge and confidence to include Pear Trees as part of your fruit tree planting programme, no matter where you live!