Pear trees are not supposed to be difficult to grow. After all, they’re fairly hardy, grow in most soils, and are even more disease-resistant than most other fruit trees. So it’s doubly shocking when you plant a pear tree, it survives and even seems to thrive, but fails to fruit or only bears very lightly. Why?
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself to try to pinpoint what went wrong.
- Does it have the basic conditions it needs to grow?
Pear trees are pretty easy to accommodate, adapting well to most soils, but they do require at least well-drained soil and plenty of sun. Especially avoid waterlogged soils.
- Is your pear mature enough to produce?
Normally a young pear begins producing in its 7th year. Some varieties are faster and start in their 5th year, but usually you can expect to have to wait 7 years. Patience is the name of the game when you’re growing pears!
- Is your pear tree adapted to your hardiness zone?
Almost any pear will bear fruit in zones 5-8 and the colder parts of zone 9 (winter chilling is needed for the tree to bloom), but you have to choose more carefully if you garden in zones 2 to 4. Typically a pear grown beyond its hardiness zone will still leaf out in spring, giving you the impression it’s doing fine, but doesn’t bloom because the flower buds overwintering on the tree were killed: they’re more vulnerable to cold than leaf buds.
Here is a list of pears adapted to cold climates you may find useful.
- Was the previous winter exceptionally cold?
Even if your pear tree is theoretically hardy enough for your local climate, if the previous winter was colder than normal, it is possible that its dormant flower buds froze, in which case there will be no harvest the following summer. The winter of 2014, for example, was exceptionally cold in much of North America and many pear trees of borderline hardiness didn’t bloom.
- Did it produce heavily the previous year?
Many pear trees tend to produce every second years, taking a year off in between. It is normal for these varieties to have an offyear.
- Was there a severe frost while it was in bloom?
Since pear trees usually flower later than other fruit trees, they often sail unharmed through the late frosts that do so much damage to other fruiting species. Still there are years when frost does occur while they are in bloom. If so, the flowers can be damaged by the cold and thus give no fruit.
- Did it rain persistently while it was blooming?
If so, the bees, who don’t like rain, may not have carried out their job of transferring pollen from one tree to another, yet bees are the main pollinators of tree fruits. This can result in a poor harvest or no harvest at all.
- Is there a compatible variety nearby?
Most pears are self-sterile: pollen from their own flowers will not fecundate them. So you need another pear with abundant pollen fairly nearby: no further than 200 feet (60 m) away. In addition, it must be of the same type: a European pear (Pyrus communis), also called common pear, won’t accept pollen from an Asian or Manchurian pear. You’ll need a different cultivar of the same species to ensure pollination. Therefore, another cultivar of European pear. Similarly, Asian pears (P. pyrifolia) need an Asian pear tree as a pollinator and Manchurian pear trees (Pyrus ussuriensis) require a Manchurian pear or a hybrid Manchurian pear (P. communis x P. ussuriensis) for pollination.
Although your nurseryman may have assured that your pear is self-fertile and doesn’t need cross-pollination, in fact, most of the so-called self-fertile pears still produce better harvests when there is a compatible variety nearby to ensure consistent cross-pollination. Those said to be partially self-fertile will not necessarily produce fruit when grown on their own unless conditions are perfect.
Learn more about the complexities of fruit tree pollination here.
- Is your pear tree surrounded by lawn?
Pear trees don’t need much fertilizer to be productive. In fact, when the soil is too rich, yields actually decrease. It’s especially important to avoid high nitrogen fertilizers (ones with a larger first number, like 30-10-10), because they stimulate the growth of longer and more numerous branches rather than bloom. Often pear trees surrounded by lawns grow very quickly, but flower little or not at all due to nitrogen-rich fertilizer treatments given to the nearby grass. Reduce your nitrogen fertilizer applications in about a 20 foot (6 m) radius and the tree should start to bloom.
- Did you prune your pear tree back harshly?
Pruning a pear tree is a much like pruning an apple tree, and is done at the same time of year: late winter or early spring, before the tree flowers. The general idea is to thin out the branches so as to allow better air circulation to the inner parts of the tree while removing any damaged, dead or misplaced stems. There are several Web sites that will give you an idea of how to proceed, but if you prune too severely and remove all the branches that were about to bloom, that would eliminate the harvest.
There you go! The pear trees really aren’t that difficult to grow, but do have certain needs you have to meet. Essentially, if you plant the right variety under the right conditions and supply a companion with compatible pollen, you’ll have pretty much covered all the major problems. All that’s left is to learn to be patient: patience is often a vital key to a green thumb!