Partridge or no partridge, a pear tree (Pyrus spp.) in leaf is a thing of beauty, spreading its branches wide as if to show off its spring blossoms or luscious fruit. It's no surprise that some gardeners invite pear trees into their backyards as ornamentals, with any fruit harvest being an extra benefit. But you don't have to choose between beauty and the pears. A host of different pear tree cultivars provide flowers, fruit and autumn color, and it's likely one will thrive in your garden.
Beauty and the Pear
If you've ever come across a field of pear trees in blossom, you know how the white frothy flowers take your breath away like a stage full of ballerinas in tutus. The leaves are attractive too -- deep green during the growing season, some blazing in fiery colors as winter arrives. Some are round, some oblong, some the shape of hearts.
The fruits are beautiful as well, some yellowish-green, some red, some gold or even pink. If a particular type of pear or even a fruit color appeals to you, pick a cultivar or species that offers what you love. 'Bartlett', a standard choice for pear trees, produces large fruits that ripen to yellow. 'Abbe Fetel' pear trees produce yellowish-green fruits shaped like bells. 'Bradford' pear trees are considered ornamentals and produce very small fruit in clusters, while Asian pear fruit is round and off-white or gold, darkening as the fruit ripens. Looking for pinkish fruit? Plant 'Beurre' pear trees.
The final act of the pear tree performance comes in autumn. That's when some pear cultivars put on their fall show. For example, Bradford's broad, flat leaves turn bright red just before winter. And 'Autumn Blaze' blushes deep crimson in fall.
If you've ever grown an apple tree, you know something about the insect pests and many diseases that can frequent fruit trees. Pears are relatives of apple trees and propagated and managed similarly, but they are the "easy" kids of the fruit tree family. Apples are subject to attack by a host of insects and diseases, but pears are quite trouble-free. They don't require any sprays to keep pests at a distance. The biggest problem for pears is fire blight, so be sure to choose fire blight–resistant cultivars.
That doesn't mean you should plant a pear tree somewhere and forget it. You'll need to find the right site to keep your tree happy, and provide water, fertilizer and a little pruning. Climate counts. You'll find pear varieties that thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 10, but it only helps if you pick one compatible with your region.
After that, site pear trees in sun, in any well-draining soil. Pick a place that gets good air circulation, and plant a second tree of a compatible species nearby to get the best pollination. A typical pear tree can grow to 20 to 40 feet tall, so select a dwarf cultivar if the space you can offer is less. They usually top out at about 10 feet. Space standard trees 20 to 25 feet apart and dwarf trees 12 to 15 feet apart.
Irrigation is critical for your pear during the first years after transplant. Keep the soil moist during dry spells, and provide occasional deep watering. Keep watering even after the tree's root system is established. Easy does it with fertilizer: Too much can cause excessive growth and possibly leave the tree vulnerable to fire blight. Apply a small amount early in the year, per label directions.
Prune and shape your trees while they are young. Dwarf trees must be pruned to a central leader, with one tall trunk and spiraling branches every 5 to 8 inches. You can shape standard-size trees to a modified leader that is easier to maintain. Once the shape is established, prune out the tree lightly every year, and thin the fruit when it grows in. Leave a full 6 inches between fruit clusters.