Growing pears in the home garden

15 Nov.,2022


Red Fragrant Pear

Initial pruning

A bit of simple pruning should be done when the tree is first planted.

If you plant a larger tree, remove any limbs originating from the base of the tree and any branches lower than 24 inches. If there are 2 or more branches competing to be the leader, choose one and remove the others.

Prune an unfeathered tree (one with no strong branches) to about 30 inches tall, just above a bud. Make this cut at a 45-degree angle.

For a feathered tree (one with several branches), prune out any branches that are competing with the leader, that look weak, or that grow at an odd angle. Leave 2 to 3 strong, well-spaced branches.

If your tree has numerous branches, select 4 or 5 scaffold branches from those that remain, pruning out any other branches that are growing just above or just below scaffolds. The scaffold branches are the main branches that form the shape of the tree. They should have wide angles, at least 60 degrees relative to the trunk.

If you have purchased a small tree with little or no branches, prune the trunk to about 30 inches above the ground. This will cause branching, resulting in scaffold branch options the following year. If the tree has a few small branches, choose 2 or 3 sturdy ones at least 18 inches from the ground to keep as scaffolds and remove all others.

Regular pruning after the first year

Pruning pear trees is very similar to pruning apple trees. Mainly, you want to prune a tree to have well-spaced branches and a balanced appearance, while eliminating problem branches (those that are broken, diseased or dead).

Fruit trees should be pruned every year in late winter or early spring, after the coldest weather is past and before growth begins. Prune minimally, especially with young trees, as excessive pruning will delay or reduce fruiting and create too much leafy growth.

Most pear trees are pruned and trained to allow a central, main stem, or leader, be the foundation of the tree off of which side branches, or scaffolds grow. The tree ends up with a conical or pyramid form. This is called the central leader pruning method and it makes for a compact, balanced, easily managed tree with fruit that has maximum access to sunlight and air circulation.

Once the first set of scaffold branches has been selected, select a second set above it. Scaffold branches should be spaced about 12 inches apart. Always keep the pyramid shape in mind when pruning.

This shows the first three years of pruning in the central leader method. You can see how the central trunk is the main structure of a tree that has a pyramid shape.

General pruning guidelines

  • Remove diseased, broken or dead branches
  • Remove any downward-growing branches
  • If two limbs are crossed, entangled or otherwise competing, remove one of them completely at its base
  • Remove any limbs along the trunk that are getting bigger in diameter than the trunk
  • Remove suckers coming up from the roots or low on the trunk
  • Remove watersprouts, which are vigorous vertical branches
  • Make pruning cuts close to the branch collar at the base of the limb
    • For larger limbs, start the cut from the underside of the limb to avoid tearing the bark
  • Remove large limbs first, starting with the top of the tree
  • Thinning cuts remove entire branches at the branch collar and are the recommended type of cut
  • Heading cuts remove only part of a branch and encourage vegetation growth below the cut, and are not as common

Renovating old trees

Have you moved into a house that has an old, overgrown pear tree? Are the branches overlapping and going every which way? Don't lose hope. This tree is probably fine, it just needs a little work to get it back in shape and productive again.

Reclaiming a mature pear tree that has been neglected for several years can be a challenge, and will take a few years of pruning to make the tree productive again. Here are a few guidelines for renovating a neglected tree:

  • Decide which branch is or will be the leader
  • Then decide which branches you are going to save based on the branch position around the trunk
  • At this stage, pruning out a few large branches in year one will open the tree up and increase light and air flow
  • Don't prune too much or the tree will put all its energy into making new branches and not fruit
  • During year 2, make a few more decisions on where branches should remain and remove a few more
  • Follow the general pruning guidelines to prune out branches that are diseased or broken