Luscious summer pears are one of the most difficult tree fruits to grow in the Bay Area, but the rewards, for many, are worth it.
European pears (Pyrus communis) actually hail from Western Asia and modern day Iraq and Iran. People have been growing pears for over 4,000 years and Bartlett pears have been the standard for over 200 years. In the world gardening and agriculture, that's pretty amazing.
Pears do require a cold rest period, called vernalization, each winter. Silicon Valley only averages 400 chill hours, while Bartlett pears need 800 chill hours each winter. You will need to identify a species suitable to your microclimate. Pears are categorized by the season in which they ripen. Summer pears have thin skins, ripen on the tree in July through September, and most are small to medium sized, and the fruit is fine-textured. Winter pears feature gritty textured fruit that ripens September through November. Below is a list of popular pears with notes, chill hours, and best zones for growing:
How to grow pears
Unless you select a self-fruitful variety, you will need at least two trees for a fruit set. Also, keep in mind that full size trees may take up to 20 years to reach full production, while semi-dwarfs take 5 to 8 years. Most bare root stock available in garden centers are 2 or 3 years old. Choose a site that can accommodate the tree’s full size and provide full sun. Pest and disease problems can be reduced by providing good air flow around each tree. Pear trees are best pruned into a “Y” shape. They tend to grow very upright and need trimming to create a healthier, more spread out growth. Pear fruits do not require as much thinning as apples. You can leave 2 or 3 fruits per cluster without problems.
Pear pests & diseases
More pests attack pears than any other fruit tree in the Bay Area. These pests include aphids, San Jose scale, mites, pear psylla, codling moth, redhumped caterpillars, Eriophyid mites, birds, and squirrels. Common pear diseases include fire blight (Erwinia amylovora), crown gall, leaf spot, pear scab, and apple scab.
Pear tree care
These seasonal chores can help keep your pear trees healthy:
If you allow your pears to ripen on the tree, you will probably never get to enjoy one. Pears are a favorite food of squirrels and birds. I once lost an entire season’s crop because the squirrels were willing to harvest the pears two days earlier than I was. Pears ripen from the inside out. The easiest way to tell if it is time to harvest a pear is to use the Cradle Test. To do this, cup one hand under a pear and use the other hand to swing the fruit from its 6:00 position to a 9:00 position, with a twisting motion. If the fruit falls, it’s ready.
Actually pears taste better if they are harvested when they are mature but not fully ripe. Then place them in the refrigerator for a few days, up to two weeks for summer pears, and 3 to 4 weeks for winter pears. After the fruit has been chilled, bring it back to room temperature and enjoy. Oh, by the way, don’t bruise the fruit at any point in this process. As I said, growing pears is not an easy process.
The sweet, juicy flavor of a fresh, properly ripened pear, however, is exquisite.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!