Conference is partially self-fertile, so if space is limited, watch out for this variety.
Growing Pear Trees
As with Apples pot grown pears can be planted all year around, however a more popular method is to buy bare rooted trees and plant them over winter when the trees are dormant. This is how most mail order companies will send you their trees, and from experience this is an excellent way to buy your fruit trees – not only are they of a high quality, but they are delivered at the correct time of year and will usually come with a full set of instructions.
Pears are more temperamental than apple trees and need to be planted in full sun where possible, and they hate cold winds, so choose a sheltered spot, or install some sort of windbreak. They also like heavy soils, so if you have light soil dig in plenty of heavy organic matter, both in the immediate growing area, and at least half a metre in each direction from the tree stem.
Pear blossom appears 2-4 weeks before apples, and whilst in a warm climate this is most welcome, in areas that suffer late frosts the blossoms may need to be protected with horticultural fleece, but must be removed afterwards to allow insects to pollinate the flowers – so keep a close eye on the weather.
Pears do not stand drought very well, so keep the tree well watered during the first growing season – especially in dry spells, and for the first few years after planting mulch the area around the tree with some well-rotted manure each spring.
You should also keep the area around the base of the tree free from weeds – they do not like competition, and as a result are not suitable for growing through a lawn.
Pear Tree Rootstock
Nearly all pears are grown on a Quince rootstock, Quince A being the most popular, and will produce a tree between 3-6m high, although with pruning and training they can be kept much smaller than this.
Quince C is another popular rootstock and has a slight dwarfing effect, although this is fairly minimal – and they also require a much richer soil than Quince A.
Pear Tree Pollination Group
Pears are not usually self-fertile, so it is necessary to grow more than one tree (unless of course your neighbours have pear trees!)
Pear trees fall into one of three different pollination groups, and you should choose two trees from the same category for the best pollination. You should also consider your local conditions. If you live in an area that suffers a late frost, then I highly recommend going for late flowering varieties.
- A – Early Flowering
- B – Mid Seasnon Flowering
- C- Late Flowering
Training and Tree shapes
As with apples, pear trees are extremely versatile when it comes to pruning them to different tree shapes. They will happily grow as a standard bush with minimal interference once established or can be trained into any of the following:
- Bush – This is the most popular way to grow pear trees – an open centre and a short trunk make picking the fruit easy, but they do require a good space around the tree.
- Standard – These are larger trees grown on a semi vigorous rootstock, and are more suitable to large gardens and big spaces.
- Espaliers – Ideal for growing against a fence or wall (or as a fence!) in full sun or partial shade. With a spread of up to 4m and branches at 18in apart you can generate a great crop with very little space.
- Step-over – Essentially a single tier espalier. Makes a great border in the garden.
- Cordon – A single stemmed tree grown at an angle of 45 degrees and tied to a fence or support system. A great way to grow several varieties in a small space.
The fact that pears are quite fussy, and can grow quite large if left untrained makes them ideal for training. I personally grow two pear trees as espaliers right on the edge of my plot… and the biggest danger to these comes from fellow plot holders that walk past when the fruit is ripe!
Propagating Pear Trees
As with apples, pear trees are best propagated from cuttings and then grafted onto the appropriate rootstock – usually Quince A.
There are far less pear varieties available than when choosing an apple tree, but there are some important considerations:
- Both desert pears and cooking pears are available but I don't recommend bothering with anything other than a desert pear in a normal garden or allotment, as these are quite versatile, but uses for cooking pears are limited.
- Choose pears from the correct pollination group
- Pick varieties to suit your local climate