When and where
Bare rooted trees need to be planted between December and early March, when they are in their period of dormancy. Alternatively you can plant out ready-grown, potted trees at any time in the year. The soil conditions should ideally be moist, and avoiding extremes of pH. A firm loam soil is ideal. The planting site should be sheltered from any strong winds; avoid a location where frost settles in a pocket. It is more difficult to establish a pear tree in a location where the soil dries out.
How to plant
Choose which variety of pear tree you want to plant – the factors to consider are the size of the tree (usually between 3 and 6 metres high), the variety and taste of the fruit, and the ease of pollination. Varieties such as conference pears are self-fertile, otherwise you will often need to plant a pair of trees to ensure fertilisation. However, if you only want to plant one tree, in a densely populated area with a lot of gardens nearby, a matching pollinator for a single pear tree is quite likely though not always guaranteed.
To plant a bare root, prepare the soil around one month ahead. Dig a hole 50 to 55 cm deep and 1.2 metres square. Mix in plenty of well-rotted organic material, bearing in mind that the soil needs to be at a medium level of fertility. If the location you have chosen is in the middle of a lawn, mix in a long-lasting fertiliser such as bonemeal.
Place the tree in position and fill in with soil, with the soil surface at the same level as the soil mark on the trunk – ensure that the noticeable grafting ‘joint’ between the rootstock and the scion (the trunk above the join) is above the soil level by 5 cm or more. Firm down the soil with your feet and water in thoroughly. Some varieties of tree will need staking out – tie the trunk of the tree to the stake, which should be placed 8 to 10 cm away. Use plastic ties instead of metal, as these will not damage the tree’s trunk.
If you intend to train a tree to grow along a supporting fence or wall, choose a south-facing location and ensure that the supporting structure is not going to collapse when the tree bears fruit. A framework of horizontal wires will train the tree in position while also allowing it to support much of its own weight.
In addition to bare roots, you can also acquire already espaliered trees in pots. The distance of the wires in the framework should match the distance between the branches or ‘arms’ of the tree – usually around 35 to 50 cm apart. Plant out roots as above, digging the planting hole out from the side of the wall or fence.
Pears ripen from the bottom of the fruit – a sign that they are ripening is that the skin changes colour from the bottom. When the colour change reaches the stalk it is the optimum time to gather the fruit. Varieties of early pear can be picked and eaten straight from the tree – however, they’ll be at their best if kept for 7 days. A storage place with a cool, even temperature is best, with the pears laid out in one layer. Pears can’t be stored for long.
After 18 days they will start to deteriorate quickly. In early to mid June, your pear tree will drop some fruit – don’t be alarmed, this is a natural stage of fruiting. A month later, thin out the fruit further to allow the pears remaining to reach a good size. As a rough guide, you can thin the pears out to leave around 8 to 12 cm between them on the tree.
Depending on the rootstock, a pear tree will produce fruit after 3 to 5 years. After this, according to variety, a pear tree may have a productive life span of up to 200 years!
Through the year
Prune pears when the trees are dormant, during the winter. Prune out a space in the centre of the tree to allow circulation of air. Form the tree with pruning over the first eight years, allowing eight main fruiting branches to develop. Be careful when pruning as pear tree branches are relatively fragile compared to the branches of an apple tree. Keep an equal balance between older growth and last season growth.
Cordons need to be pruned in August, with side shoots pruned back to three leaves. Tie down new growth to keep a trained tree growing sideways. To stop any over-wintering pests, use a horticultural oil-based winter wash in December or January. During the growing season you can use a lighter summer oil, and also protect from moths by applying a grease band at 50 cm above soil level. This is a sticky paper which will stop wingless moths from reaching up into the branches where they will mate and leave caterpillars to eat leaves and fruit.
In late March, spread mulch around your trees to keep the soil water-retentive – if using compost as a mulch, leave a space around the trunk. Expose and kill pear midges when they are still on the ground by raking over the soil surface from late January through to late March