Most pears sold in markets and grown in gardens are varieties of Pyrus communis, a European species. The long-lived trees are pyramidal in form, with strongly vertical branching; they grow 30–40 ft. tall (sometimes taller), 15–25 ft. wide. Pears on dwarfing understocks make good small garden trees; they range from one-half to three-fourths the size of standard- size trees. Pears also make excellent espaliers. All types have leathery, glossy bright green leaves and bear handsome clusters of white flowers in early spring.
To produce good crops, pears need winter chill (see care box). In cold climates, their early bloom makes them prone to damage from spring frosts; in such areas, they are often planted in protected locations, such as on slopes. Hybrids between European pears and the hardy P. ussuriensis, such as –Ure–, are worth trying in the coldest regions. Where winters are very mild, choose varieties needing little winter chill. Some low-chill types are Asian hybrids, crosses between European and Asian pears with fruit similar to that of European varieties.
Pears do best in well-drained loam, but they tolerate damp, heavy soil better than other fruit trees. They produce fruit on knobby spurs that remain productive for up to 5 years. Thinning the fruit is not usually necessary. Harvest season is July to late October, depending on variety. Fruit does not ripen properly on the tree; pick it when full size but not yet ripe. Fruit of most kinds should be put in a cool, dark place to ripen.
Fireblight can be a serious problem; in problem-prone areas, fireblight-resistant varieties offer the best chance of success. The disease can cause entire branches to die back quickly; as soon as you see blackened growth call Gruett for recommendations.