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Growing Pears in the Southeast U.S.

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Pears can be tricky to grow. Get advice on soil requirements, pruning, training, pollination, and more.

Pears can be tricky to grow. Get advice on soil requirements, pruning, training, pollination, and more.

Are Pears Easy to Grow?

Most gardeners think pears are an easy-to-grow fruit that are not worth investing much effort into. No doubt the hard-sand pear varieties most often grown in the South have encouraged this attitude. In reality, pears are surprisingly difficult to grow.

History and Types of Pears

Pears were first introduced into the U.S. around 1630. The European pear is noted for its quality but is also known for its susceptibility to fire blight (a disease that damages the tree).

Asian varieties introduced later, like the sand pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), enjoy increased resistance to fire blight, but they're much harder than the European pear. Asian pears, erroneously first called “pear apples,” are increasingly in demand. The fruit is mostly round like an apple, but that’s where the similarities end. The flavor is very mild—some might say bland—and the fruit is very juicy. In fact, you need a bib to eat one.

Diseases

Fire blight isn’t the only ailment that damages pears. Pears in the South suffer from fungal leaf spot diseases that often defoliate trees by mid-summer, causing them to set a new crop of leaves and often causing them to bloom in the fall. Eventually, this begins to reduce tree vigor and hurt spring production. Appropriately timed applications of fungicide will limit this disease.

This is an Asian pear tree.

This is an Asian pear tree.

Soil Requirements

Pears are very tolerant of both soil condition and moisture problems. They grow and produce best in well-drained, sandy loam soil. Pears will grow in clay soil, light sandy soil, dry soil with a little additional irrigation, and wet soil if mounded slightly.

Do Pears Need Fertilizer?

Fertilizing is easy when it comes to pears. Basically, the best fertilization program is none. On very poor soil, one pound of 13-13-13 (or a similar complete fertilizer) can be applied to young trees in February or March. Mature trees, even in poor soil, should not be fertilized.

A mature pear tree with ripe fruit.

A mature pear tree with ripe fruit.

Pruning and Training

Young pear trees should be trained using the modified central leader system. Pears have an upright columnar growth habit. It is critical that you prop the branches at an angle between 45° and 60° as you train the young trees. This will encourage early production, strong branch angles, and better open-growth habits.

Summer pruning can be used to direct growth and increase the development of fruiting spurs and branches. Vigorous shoots can be tipped to slow growth and stimulate the development of side branches. Removal of water sprouts and suckers should be done as soon as they are noticed. You’ll have less regrowth of these sprouts if you break them off as soon as they appear, so check your trees often.

Maintenance of Mature Trees

Mature trees should be pruned as little as possible. Annual thinning of internal shoots, water sprouts, and an occasional older branch is recommended instead of heavy top pruning.

Flowering, Pollination, and Fruit Thinning

Fruit buds or spur development on pears is similar to that on apples. A spur is a short, leafy shoot that terminates in a cluster of five to seven flowers. Any given spur will generally fruit every other year for seven or eight years. This means that about half of the spurs are producing each year.

Also, pears need two or more varieties that bloom at the same time to promote good fruit development.

Dealing With Overproduction

Pears have a tendency to overproduce. Heavy fruit loads can reduce vigor and either bend or break limbs. Before this happens, some fruit should be removed (i.e. thinned). This will help increase fruit size and quality of the remaining crop.

Good Luck Growing Your Pear Trees!

Check out your local nursery for the best pear varieties in your area!

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