Pruning pear trees is very different when compared to pruning apple trees. Many pear tree varieties tend to grow more upright than apple trees, and they are often slower to come into production. There are far fewer growth-controlling rootstock available for pears – most pear trees are budded or grafted onto Quince A or Quince C rootstock.

On the other hand, compared to apple trees, pear trees crop well on vertical branches, especially when the trees are older. Pears are less subject to breaking heavily-cropping branches, because the wood is hard and strong. These points have to be taken into consideration when trimming pear trees. Pear trees are naturally less vigorous than apple trees, and so they can be pruned more lightly than apple trees.

In pears, top quality light is essential for regular cropping. Therefore, whichever training system is chosen – free-standing trees, espalier or fan – it is essential that full-strength light can reach right into the centre of the pear tree.

Watch a video about how to prune a pear tree to retain its correct shape.

It can be difficult to get a pear tree into production early. This is partly due to the fact that in winter it may not be easy to see the difference between wood bud and fruit bud. Things become easier if you delay winter pruning until mid-March.

Do you need some expert help in pruning your pear tree? Contact Dan Neuteboom by email (enquiries@realenglishfruit.co.uk) or by using this web form.

How to prune a 1-year old pear tree

  1. A 1-year old pear tree will probably have just two or three lateral branches. After planting in winter, cut back the central leader to about a metre height, cutting just above a wood bud. This will encourage the tree to grow lateral branches at the right height.
  2. Cut back the other laterals already present by about a third.

How to prune a 2-year old pear tree

This winter pruning session is important because it defines the tree’s basic structure.

  1. Select four or five laterals that will comprise the main fruiting platform. Ideally they should be regularly spaced up the trunk, say 4 inches, 10 cm apart vertically. They should be facing outwards, at approximately 60* from vertical. Laterals at this angle are stronger than branches growing upwards which risk breaking later in life when loaded with pears.
  2. Achieve the correct angle by tying down, using string attached to the stake, and if necessary by pruning back to a wood bud facing in the desired direction.

Watch a video on how to tie down fruit tree branches..

Winter pruning pear trees:

Prune in late winter, early March, so that you can clearly see the difference between wood bud and fruit bud. Be sure to protect wounds using heal and seal.

Be careful to leave the fruiting spurs in place. These generally appear on two-year old wood and will begin to bear fruit one or two years later. They can be recognized by their short, stubby appearance, with intermediate and terminal fruit buds. Over the years they form more and more fruit buds and so have to be regulated by shortening some spurs or even removing a few completely if they are too congested. In this case, cut off the older fruiting spurs first.

Here are the steps to follow for pruning pear trees in winter:

  1. First, remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches.
  2. Remove crossing branches.
  3. Observe the structure of the pear tree. It may be necessary to remove one or two lateral branches in order to attain a fruiting platform with four or five lateral branches. Cut the branch about 3 cm from the trunk.
  4. Prune out vertical branches in competition with the central leader.
  5. Look at the lateral branches, and cut back the previous year’s growth by about a third, back to a wood bud facing upwards and outwards.
  6. Prune out strong shoots growing towards the centre.
  7. Take care with the the young side shoots (young laterals) growing from the main lateral branches. These will develop fruit buds next year. Only remove them if they are too crowded, closer than about 6 inches, 15 cm, at the base.
  8. Regulate flower bud by shortening or completely removing fruiting spurs if necessary, particularly those growing downwards or below the branches, where fruit will be in shade.

Summer pruning pear trees

The pear varieties Concorde, Conference, Onwards, Williams and Beth can be summer pruned like apple trees. Here are the tips for summer pruning the pear varieties Concorde, Conference, Onwards, Williams and Beth:

  1. Trimming pear trees in summer can be done at any time from mid-June until late August, but ideally from mid-July to late August.
  2. Try to space out the summer pruning time-wise. Too much pruning early in the season – in June and early July – may cause too much regrowth in August.
  3. Cut vertical shoots down to a few centimetres above the new spur that will bear next year’s flower bud. Work on the lower part of the tree first. Try to achieve a balance between the need to bring sunlight into the centre of the tree, reaching the fruit, and the need to leave enough foliage to feed the fruit and the tree.
  4. Take care with the darts, shorter vertical shoots that have a terminal bud, which should not be pruned, because they will bear fruit in successive years.
  5. Retain the fruiting spurs and the younger wood.
  6. Remove vertical growth shoots in the top part of the tree, but in moderation. The removal of shoots in the top part of the tree encourages stronger tree growth.
  7. If you have to make any large cuts on branches, seal wounds with “heal and seal” available from garden centres. It is not necessary to seal the cuts on 1-year-old wood.

How to summer prune other pear varieties

For other pear varieties, summer pruning has to be light and careful in order to encourage cropping. Here are the tips for summer pruning other pear varieties:

  1. Trimming pear trees in summer can be done at any time from mid-June until late August, but ideally from mid-July to late August.
  2. Try to space out the summer pruning time-wise. Too much pruning early in the season – in June and early July – may cause too much regrowth in August.
  3. Lightly prune the current year’s growth, cutting back by about a third.
    When trimming pear trees in summer, do not prune older wood at all. This method of summer pruning encourages the tree to produce fruiting spurs.
  4. If you prune a pear tree hard, it will react by producing a lot of new, unfruitful wood in the pruned areas the following year.

How to prune poorly-cropping pear trees

Here are some tips on pruning pear trees that are cropping poorly:

  1. In the first week of June, remove the tips of strongly-growing shoots.
  2. Carry out summer pruning in the first week of September. Lightly prune the current year’s growth, cutting back by about a third. Do not prune older wood at all. This method of summer pruning encourages the tree to produce fruiting spurs.
  3. Do not prune during the winter months.

How to prune espalier pear trees

Once the espalier structure has been achieved after the first few years of training, the winter pruning of espalier pear trees basically maintains the shape that you want to keep, and encourages the formation of spurs. These spurs are regular croppers and produce quality pears. Here are the tips on how to prune espalier pear trees.

  1. Delay winter pruning until March so that you can tell the difference between wood bud and fruit bud. When pruning, be sure to retain as much fruit bud as you need for the crop. This video shows how to distinguish wood bud from fruit bud on pears..
  2. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood.
  3. The espalier tree has a natural tendency to become a normal tree by sending out vertical wood growth. Remove the branches that are growing in directions that you don’t want. It may be necessary to remove branches growing vertically above the top wire. Cut the branches close to the parent branch, leaving a small stub no longer than about ⅜ inch or 1 cm. If you leave a longer stub it will tend to produce new shoots. A totally flush cut is more prone to the entry of infection.
  4. Summer prune first in mid June. Lightly prune the current year’s growth, cutting back down to the first bud on the new shoots.
  5. When trimming espalier pear trees in summer, do not prune older wood at all. This encourages the tree to produce fruiting spurs, which are regular croppers and produce quality pears.
  6. Espalier pear trees tend to produce a lot of fast-growing vertical shoots and so it will probably be necessary to prune again in July and again in August. Just concentrate on removing the new vertical shoots.
    Watch this video demonstrating how to summer prune an espalier pear tree..

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