Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print
Planting: In fall or spring, when trees are dormant. Pears are at risk for fire blight, a devastating disease that can prove fatal. Because they are more susceptible under high-nitrogen conditions, it's a good idea to plant trees directly into the lawn, if possible, so that grass will absorb any excess nitrogen in the soil. After planting, remove any shoots growing on the bottom 18 inches, and cut the leader, or main central trunk, down to 26 inches. However, if the tree already has many side branches, cut the leader by only 12 inches from the top.
Years until fruit bearing: 5
Pollination: There are three pollination groups of pears. Two or more different varieties from the same pollination group should be planted to ensure a good fruit production, as some varieties will not pollinate other varieties. Check plant tags or consult with nursery personnel for group selections.
Pruning: As with apples, during the first year, when there is about an inch of new growth, choose a strong bud, usually the one just below the leader cut made at planting time, and remove the two or three buds below it, along with any flowers that on the tree. Afterward, when new growth reaches 2 to 4 inches, select 4 or 5 side shoots that are growing from the leader at wide angles, but not directly across from one another, and remove the others. Prune upper branches shorter than lower ones to retain a conical shape that will ensure sunlight reaches every part of the plant. In July remove any side shoots that are competing with the central leader and secure the leader to the stake. During the second and third years again remove any competing side shoots, and if the central leader grew more than 18 inches in the prior season, cut it back by one-fourth in late winter or early spring; if not, remove one-third of growth all around the tree. Continue to fasten the tree to the stake as it grows. Thereafter, prune annually between February and April to remove crowded branches and establish a horizontal growth habit with an overall conical shape.
Fertilizing: Annually in spring, after new growth starts, but do not fertilize trees that have a history of fire blight.
Harvest period: August through October. To prevent a gritty texture, do not allow pears to mature completely on the tree. Pick when fruit is still firm but color has lightened. Ripen indoors at 60 to 70 degrees for about a week.
Storage: Store only unmarred fruit. Pears will keep for a month or more if refrigerated.
Recommended varieties: Bartlett, Gorham, Bosc