Biting into a succulent, perfectly ripe pear is one of the joys of autumn. You may be lucky enough to have a tree in your garden already, but if not, they’re easy to plant and you can even grow them in containers.
Pear trees announce the arrival of spring with a froth of joyful blossom, then swell their young fruits as the weather warms, to provide a plentiful harvest of sweet succulent pears from late summer into autumn.
Young pear trees are very easy to plant and like a warm, sunny, sheltered spot in fertile soil that drains freely. There are many varieties to choose from, producing fruit of different sizes, shapes and flavours.
Pear trees need little maintenance once established, although it’s beneficial to prune them annually to keep them in good shape and fruiting well.
The fruit should be harvested just before it’s ripe and brought indoors to complete the ripening process, which can take a month or more depending on the variety. This means you can enjoy your harvest gradually, savouring each sweet juicy fruit as it reaches perfection.
Month by Month
Jobs to do now
There are lots of delicious varieties of pear to choose from, both for eating (dessert) and cooking (culinary). Take your pick from traditional favourites or more disease-resistant modern cultivars. In colder regions, it is preferable to choose an early ripening cultivar. Varieties with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) have performed consistently well in our growing trials, so are recommended by RHS fruit experts – see our list of AGM fruit and veg.
Before choosing, why not also visit the RHS gardens, where you’ll find many fruit trees, including pears, growing in the orchards and fruit plots. You can see how they’re grown, compare the varieties and pick up useful tips.
As well as choosing the variety, you should also choose the ‘rootstock’, which controls ultimate size of the tree. Pear trees are not grown on their own roots, as they would get too large for most gardens reaching 6m/20ft or more. Instead, the top of the tree (the variety) is grafted onto quince roots (the rootstock), and it’s the roots that dictate the tree’s vigour and size. The widely available rootstocks are:
‘Quince A’ – is a semi-vigorous rootstock, producing a tree 3–4.5m (10–15ft) tall. It’s also suitable for espalier.
‘Quince C’ and ‘Quince Eline’– are sem-vigorous rootstocks , producing a tree 2.5–3m (8–10ft) tall. This semi-dwarfing rootstocks are suitable for trees in smaller gardens, for training as a cordon or growing in a container, and it can also be used for a smaler espalier. The trees are slightly quicker to produce fruit than trees grafted on ‘Quince C’.
What and where to buy
A pear tree is a long-term investment, so always buy from a reputable specialist nursery or garden centre. Fruit or tree nurseries will offer the widest choice of varieties.
Pear trees are sold as young trees, ready for planting, in two forms:
Bare-root trees – these are only available from late autumn to early spring, while dormant, for immediate planting, and are generally cheaper than trees in pots.
Containerised trees – these are available all year round and can be planted at any time, but autumn to early spring is preferable.
If you want to grow a trained pear tree, such as an espalier or fan, decide if you want to train it yourself from scratch starting with a one year old tree (maiden) or buy a (more expensive) partially trained tree. These are available from specialist nurseries.
When buying a tree in person, look for tree with several good shoots growing from the central stem (leader).
You can then train and prune it into any of the popular tree forms if you wish – see Pruning & training, below.
The soil should be deep, fertile and free draining. Pear tree roots can rot in poorly drained soil. Avoid planting in a spot prone to late frosts, which can damage the flowers and reduce the crop.
The best time to plant a pear tree is while it’s dormant, from autumn to spring. Trees bought in containers can be planted at other times, but avoid planting in hot, dry weather.
Prepare your tree for planting by giving it a good watering if it’s in a container or by standing it in a bucket of water for half an hour if it’s a bare-root tree.
If planting in a lawn, remove a circle of grass at least 1m (3¼ft) in diameter, so the tree’s roots don’t have to compete with the grass for rainwater and nutrients while they get established.
Pear trees are easy to plant and should settle in quickly – you’ll find lots of advice in our easy planting guides.
Planting against a wall
For trained trees that will be grown against a wall, you need to prepare the planting site particularly well, as the soil at the base of walls is often poor and dry. Dig lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost into the entire area, then plant the tree at least 25–35cm (10–14in) from the base of the wall. You’ll also need to attach horizontal wires to the wall to support the branches – see Pruning & training, below.
Planting in a container
Pear trees grow best in the ground, but if you don’t have a suitable site, you can plant in a container instead. Choose a tree on a semi-dwarfing ‘Quince C’ or ‘Quince Eline’ rootstock, which will keep it compact – see Choosing what to grow, above.
The container should be 45–50cm (18–20in) in diameter. Choose a heavy, stable pot that won’t blow over in high winds. Before adding the potting compost, move it into its final position – a warm, sheltered, sunny spot – as it will be very heavy once full.
Use a soil-based compost (John Innes No. 3 is ideal) or peat-free multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume of grit, to improve drainage.
Then plant the tree using the same method as for planting in the ground – see above. Take care to water it in well, and continue to water regularly throughout the growing season.
Once established, pear trees need little maintenance, apart from watering in dry spells and feeding to boost fruiting.
Water newly planted trees regularly for at least their first growing season.
Established pear trees in the ground rarely need watering, except in long dry spells when the fruit is starting to swell. Fruitlets may be shed if the tree goes short of water.
Trees in containers require generous watering throughout the growing season on an ongoing basis, as the potting compost dries out quickly.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, around the base of pear trees every spring, to help hold moisture in the soil and suppress weeds.
In early spring, apply a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 or fish,blood and bone. Scatter two handfuls per square metre/yard around pear trees growing in bare soil, and two and a half around those in grass.
Pear trees naturally shed excess young fruits in early summer, known as the June drop. But if your tree is still carrying a heavy crop by midsummer, it can be beneficial to remove some of the overcrowded fruits. This may seem like a shame, but the fruits may not all develop or ripen well, and a large crop can put a strain on the tree, so it may fruit less well the following year. This can lead to cycle of uneven fruiting known as biennial bearing.
It’s easy to thin out fruits on smaller trained pear trees – here, reduce the crop to one fruit every 10–12cm (4–5in). On free-standing pear trees, if you can reach the fruits, thin them to two every 10–12cm (4–5in).
Pear trees are usually propagated by grafting or budding, which are quite skilled processes, but well worth a try – see our guide to grafting fruit trees, our guide to chip budding and our guide to T-budding.
Pear trees grown from seeds or cuttings will grow much larger than those grafted onto a chosen rootstock and will be slower to start fruiting. Named cultivars will not come true from seed. See our guide to growing trees from seed and our guide to taking hardwood cuttings.
Pruning and Training
Pear trees should be pruned every year to ensure you get the best crop. When and how to prune depends on the type of tree:
Free-standing pear trees should be pruned in winter, to keep them healthy, in good shape and to promote fruiting. Start with pruning a newly planted trees
Trained pear trees should be pruned in late summer, to restrict their growth and improve fruting.
Cordon – a single stem, usually at a 45 degree angle, with very short side branches that carry the fruit.
Espalier – a central trunk with several tiers of horizontal branches on each side.
Fan – a short trunk with a fan of branches radiating out at the top. See our guide to fan training.
Arch or tunnel – tall vertical cordons (see above) can be grown on either side of a path and trained over at the top to meet in the middle. They make a highly ornamental feature, especially when in blossom.
Test early varieties by tasting one of the fruits for sweetness. Later varieties should come away from the tree easily when lifted and gently twisted. Harvesting fruit from a tall tree can be tricky – if you use a step ladder, take extreme care. It may be safer to use a long-handled or telescopic fruit picker.
Unripe pears should be stored in a cool dark place, such as a garage, on slatted trays or crates with good air circulation. Make sure the fruits are all separate. Then check them regularly for ripeness, so you can enjoy them at their best.
Pear trees are generally robust, hardy and easy to grow, but a few pests, diseases and weather conditions can cause problems, including:
Frost damage to blossom – cover smaller trained trees with fleece if late frost is forecast when in blossom, or bring containerised plants indoors. Avoid planting trees in sites prone to late frosts. See our guide to protecting fruit from frost.
Poor harvests – late frosts (see above) and spring storms can damage blossom and deter pollinators, leading to fewer fruits. Pear midge and lack of water can cause young fruitlets to drop in summer. Pear trees may also crop more lightly in alternate years – see our advice on biennial bearing. Fruits may be eaten by birds, squirrels and wasps – it may be possible protect fruit with bird netting on smaller, trained trees, but a larger tree will usually produce enough fruits to allow for some to be shared with local wildlife.
Rotting fruit – brown rot is a widespread fungal disease that affects many tree fruits, especially in wet summers. Remove any rotting fruit to prevent fungal spores spreading.
Distorted or scabby fruit – pear scab is a fungal disease that can damage pear fruits. Remove affected leaves and prune out infected growth to limit its spread.
Orange spots on leaves – the fungal disease pear rust has recently become more common. In severe cases it may reduce harvests. Clear away affected fallen leaves.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.